I had the pleasure of interviewing Jordan Dollard Chief Retail Strategist of Esther and Elsa Retail, formerly Elsa Fine. Esther and Elsa Retail is a consultancy in Charlotte, NC working with communities and organizations around the region to assess and grow their retail programs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m just five years out of Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, where I studied Apparel Design and Marketing. My entire life I swore that I would be in the fashion industry and that I was good for nothing else.
After graduating, I moved back to Charlotte, NC where I worked for a year and a half at a small fashion brand representative firm, only to be laid off in a city where fashion has a minuscule footprint.
With my options for furthering my career in Charlotte very limited, I opened a small online boutique, which grew over three years to become a small, but mighty spot for women in Charlotte to shop affordably. In those three years, pop-up shops and markets became a norm in Charlotte and I fell into planning one, small tented market for local businesses, Front Porch Sundays.
I used the event to be a platform for the city’s local retailers to find opportunity, a consistent customer base, and test new markets and products. The event grew tenfold over two and a half years.
After long considering if my shop was forever, I made the bold decision to close its doors and jump headfirst into retail consulting and planning.
After three months of Esther and Elsa Retail being my sole focus, I have a small staff, projects across the state, and consult with one of Charlotte’s largest arts nonprofits.
Why did you found your company?
I founded my original company out of necessity, and let it evolve on its own. I said yes to almost everything when I was a shop, and by doing so, made some invaluable connections that would help make my pivotal decision the right one. I saw that retail was evolving, so I decided I was, too. Enter Esther and Elsa Retail.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Charlotte is a city of great people doing incredible things, but the retail scene tends to stick to the traditional side. The brick and mortar shops have steadily been growing their clientele over the years, and I wanted to give those shops and transient businesses affordable platforms for opportunity. Places where they could try a new market, a new product, or simply share their story while making sales.
While having a brick and mortar store location can traditionally be very successful, there are thousands of businesses in Charlotte that have progressively gained success while avoiding being tied to a permanent location. I wanted to create those opportunities and help discover new and innovative ways to keep engaged customers coming around for more.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I have had two exceptional mentors who have really helped me get out of my head to see the bigger picture and look at problems differently. Specifically in retail, a fellow shop owner, Michelle Castelloe of Moxie Mercantile, regularly challenged my ideas in regards to foot traffic, merchandising, and partnerships. A lot of the knowledge I use today at pop-ups and markets started with her.
Additionally, I was lucky to regularly sit down with dynamo Amy Chiou. Amy not only helped me through the transition from shop to consultancy firm, but sat down with me weekly to navigate life, politics, and everything in-between.
How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m currently working on a new flea market for Charlotte, bringing together micro-retailers in vintage, salvage, handmade, and general small business. My goals are to create an equal playing field, where all businesses have a chance to grow and figure out what the hell they’re doing!
The flea will be in a neighborhood that has a lack of retail in general, and this will serve as a way for the community to connect with retailers on the streets below their office buildings and condos. We’re planning for it to be the biggest in the region and for businesses from other regions and states to introduce themselves to the voracious Charlotte market.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Say yes to every meeting you can. Especially as you start out, you should never close yourself off to an opportunity.
I’ve met some incredible movers and shakers and opened many doors through those meetings I’ve almost said no to.
Aim high. I’m not in the business of mediocre and honestly, if you’re in business at all, you should avoid being plain at all costs. The world is filled with people doing similar things, and while you may fail, it’s 110% alright to fail once in a while. At least you can say you aimed high and tried your hardest.
I wanted to be Charlotte’s first choice for women’s shopping and while that didn’t come to fruition, I ended up taking all of that knowledge and creating something no one else is doing
Surround yourself with like-minded people whenever you can. I can’t say how invaluable this is. These people will rub off on you and you’ll find yourself getting stronger for it.
Oddly enough, I physically work in an architecture firm (where we host one of our markets). They kindly offered me a space to come to, spread out, and be on-site as needed. In addition to their generosity, they’re hard working, intelligent, and professional: all qualities that have rubbed off on me.
I get up every morning, attend meetings, then setup at my desk for the rest of the day to focus. While I don’t work with them, they’ve really pushed me to be better, just by being in the same building as them.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
The podcast I listen to the most is “How I Built This”. It’s incredibly humbling to hear where so many of these successful CEOs started and what they consider success to be.
It’s been important to be able to connect with them and hear each of them explain things I would’ve never otherwise understood. It’s also been a good reminder that things can get hard. That every CEO or business owner has gone through something similar and you can come out okay on the other end.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
If I could sit down with anyone, it would be Whitney Wolfe Herd of Bumble (I’ve listened to her podcast segment on How I Built This). To be so young, so successful, and so steadfast in her values is incredible in a world where things seem to constantly be taking a turn for the worse.
People want to tell us that we have to give up our beliefs to be successful, yet she’s made a name on the opposite. I think she’s the exact example female entrepreneurs need right now.
How can our readers follow you on social media? You can find Esther and Elsa on Instagram or Facebook. My personal Instagram can be found here. My largest event at the moment is Front Porch Sundays and can be found here.