Interview with Lisa May, founder of Strut Solutions

Lisa May, founder of Strut Solutions which provides retail support for growing brands. Before setting up her consultancy Lisa worked for over 20 years in retail and now uses her expertise to help companies of all sizes – start-ups to well established businesses. 

What’s your career background?

Before starting Strut Solutions, I had worked in retail for almost 20 years. Working for brands such as Jack Wills, Joules, Diesel, and department stores such as Debenhams and House of Fraser. Finally becoming the European Brand Manager at Eileen Fisher. The early years of my career were spent in Visual Merchandising, before moving into Sales and Buying.

When did you get the idea for Strut Solutions?

Like so many, the pandemic devastated retail brands and companies. I found myself on unpaid leave, followed by redundancy all before we came out of the first lockdown. 

I had always been part of female networking communities and quickly realised that where corporate companies were struggling, independent brands were thriving. Some seeing astronomical growth and customer demands. 

Realising that high street and luxury retail were potentially about to embark on a big downward spiral, I decided to use my expertise and offer guidance to independent brands. I use my corporate experience and knowledge to support them to build sustainable and thriving brands which have since gone on to achieve huge success. 

Four years on I continue to support growing retailers with in-house consultancy and strategy planning as a “temporary CEO”, while also running a boutique marketing agency for female-led product-based businesses.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

My business grew organically. While initially on unpaid leave at the start of 2020, I reached out to various networking communities to offer my time and experience as a way of supporting independent brands trying to navigate their way through the pandemic. Within a month I had spoken to over 40 female founders, all needing guidance on how to tackle the effects they were experiencing due to the lockdowns. 

When I was then made redundant and realised there was an opportunity to support growing retailers, almost half of those businesses came back and signed up when I officially launched my consulting and marketing services. 

What’s your USP?

I think my biggest USP is that I have over 20 years’ worth of retail experience, working across multi-billion-dollar brands, to small British start-ups. 

I haven’t owned a retail business myself like other retail consultants and I’m not sharing my personal experience of building a product brand. Instead, I’m using my years of experience, knowledge and learnings to guide retailers. Every retail brand is different and what worked for one brand, may not work for another. 

I’m not sharing a formula to success (because there really isn’t one!) Instead, I immerse myself in a business so that I understand each aspect of it and create strategies that are tailored just to that brand, the product, the market and the consumer. Pulling on many years of experience and real-life learning enables me to offer the best solutions for my clients.

Who’s your target audience?

Female-founded product-based business owners. Women with retail brands who want to see growth. 

Whether that is supporting them in navigating their next step with a growth strategy – or acting as a temporary CEO figure to review, refine and realign the operations and functions of their business. 

Women who are passionate and enthusiastic about their brands; those who are motivated to seek out the solutions that will allow their business to thrive.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Most of the brands that we work with come from recommendations by clients that we are already supporting. 

I also use LinkedIn and I have been on the platform since my corporate days and have continued to be active on it as a business owner. I love the community there and through new connections made on it I’ve also create new business partnerships. 

Why is work so important to you?

My dad always used to say that you spend a long time working and therefore you need to find something that you are passionate about and enjoy! I don’t think I necessarily chose retail; I fell into it at a young age, but I love it. 

I feel incredibly lucky that I get to work in an industry I love as well as helping to support, empower and guide female business owners to achieve success. 

Often I work with overwhelmed, disheartened or confused business owners. Helping to reignite their enthusiasm for something they were so excited about at the start of their journey is really important to me. 

Who inspires you?

There are many professionals that I admire in the retail industry and also as entrepreneurs  – Mary Porter, Sharon White, Eileen Fisher, Jo Malone, Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow. 

I am inspired by the phenomenal women I get to partner with now. Women who are making waves and carving out their paths like Tillie Peel, founder of The Pop Up Club, Amelia Peckham, founder of Cool Crutches and Jennifer Morgan, founder of Simply Scandi Magazine. And, so many other female founders who have had the determination to turn an idea into a thriving business. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

Wow…where to start. 

Firstly, there is no such thing as a quick win or overnight success. In my experience, the long game is the one that has always served me the best. It’s not always the way you want to do things, but creating solid foundations, building consistency, and aiming for quality over quantity, has always in my experience proven to be the best course of action. 

Next, I would have to say, worrying about what everyone else is doing is never going to support you or your business. I spend a lot of time doing competitor analysis for our brands, but it is always from a strategic perspective. Often business owners can become emotionally attached to the success of other brands – and not once have I ever seen anything good come from it. It ends up as a distraction and pulls energy and focus from their own business. 

Finally, and this is something I have become very good at as the business has grown (and I have gotten older!!) – It’s important to build your business on your terms, in a way that feels right to you, and how you want it to operate. We are flooded with information about all the things that we “should be doing” – but if it doesn’t reflect the brand you want to build then in the long term it probably isn’t what you should be doing.

You are going to have to run your brand until the point you aren’t….so you need to feel passionate and excited about the decisions you are making and the direction you are moving in. If you don’t, you will probably not achieve the results you desire, and you’ll end up changing things further down the line anyway.

Find out more about Strut Solutions.