FROM THE FIRST TIME I MET JENA, I knew she was the right person to manage the sales for SAMANTHA WILLS in North America. I had instant admiration for her, being a young woman running her own business, and I was instantly drawn to her 'no bullshit' approach. Most agencies offer an 'all approach'; sales, marketing, PR, strategy.... and the list goes on & on & on.... What I was looking for was someone who did one thing, but did it well; with precision & focus. And that is exactly how Jena has built her business - Not trying to be everything to everyone, but rather being really damn good at what she (and her team) are good at - Sales. I am thrilled to work with Jena & her team on the growth & management of SAMANTHA WILLS in the USA, and am excited Jena graciously took the time to share her story....
NAME: Jena Weir
COMPANY: Jena Weir Sales Inc
(Representing: Adina Reyter | Samantha Wills | Wonderland | Private Party | Dylan Kain )
TITLE: Founder + Owner
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Honest, Hardworking, Determined, relatable & caring
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I grew up in a small town in Upper Michigan. Growing up in a family business that was started by my great grandfather which was then passed down to my grandfather and finally to my father. Being around a family business I knew owning my own business was definitely something I wanted for my life. I didn’t always know exactly what I wanted to own but knew that it was going to be a major life goal for myself. My parents always embedded in my brain that if I wanted something in life I need to work for it and obtain it for myself; Nothing is going to show up on a silver platter.
I started waitressing at the age of 14 and starting saving every penny I made because I knew I wanted a car the second I turned 16. I have always told myself that no matter what I do in life I am going to be the best at it. After developing a strong work ethic at a young age while maintaining a successful athletic and school life, I was excited to start my adult life. I went to Michigan State where I studied merchandise marketing. While I was there life hit hard, I honestly think the most important thing I learned was life balance. How do you juggle school, a new social life, maintaining physical health and figuring out what you are going to do with the rest of your life. I was here for two years and after my second year the University had decided to close down the college that my program was in due to budget cuts. I took this opportunity to decide what was going to be best for my career. I had utilized my time at Michigan State talking to alumni who had worked in the fashion industry and I knew this is the industry I wanted to be in. Being determined to make this happen I moved to Los Angeles to finish my schooling at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. I was 19 years old and decided in less than 2 months to make the move, needless to say my family thought I was literally out of my mind.
I have always been fearless and independent so I knew it would work out. At the time when I was at FIDM they only offered a two year program so with my past schooling I was only in school for just over a year. I managed to maintain a full time job working retail, which I knew I did not want to work in. A guest speaker had come into one of my classes and spoke on the wholesale industry. I remember him saying if you like a competitive work environment than this is the area of the fashion industry that you are going to love. I was instantly intrigued and utilized my career center to secure me an internship. After interning in an independent showroom I was hired full time upon graduation.
The showroom specialized in swimwear and lingerie and I was given the Midwest territory to sell. This really taught me how to sell as I was trying to sell Brazilian bikinis in the dead of winter. The showroom was small so I really got to see the ins and outs of how it ran. I also began to really observe the way people were running their businesses and develop ideas of what I would want as an employee. Needless to say I fell in love with the challenge of taking small brands and growing them into something recognizable.
Throughout the way I had met a lot of great people who later down the road would be super helpful in helping me get started. After 3 years in the showroom I had hit a dead end. I didn’t feel challenged anymore and just didn’t see the growth potential I was hoping for. It was November of 2008 that I made the decision to go out on my own and try to start my own business. Everyone always asks me if I had a business plan, not really. My plan was that I was going to work harder than anyone around me and with passion and determination I would be successful. I also knew I was gong to keep my overhead as low as possible for as long as possible as I didn’t want to start a business in debt. I began with a brand new clothing brand that had no stores no sales and a fresh face designer. It was my only hope, so I drove to a different area every day of the week and went into stores and relentlessly showed the line until the orders started rolling in. I was working alone in a one bedroom apartment and was able to build a semi successful brand. I then picked up a jewelry brand that was also brand new with no sales, no stores and a fresh designer. I moved myself into a two bedroom apartment and started to utilize interns from FIDM to help me get the brands off the ground even more. Throughout the time working out of my apartment I sold several different categories from sandals to perfume to swimwear until I finally found my niche in accessories. I started to make a name for myself as someone who gets results, someone who works hard and goes out and gets the business. After three years of working from home I had built the brands to multi million dollar companies so I decided to move the business out of my home and into a showroom space in downtown Los Angeles. At the same time I opened a showroom in NYC. All the pieces of the puzzle just started coming together, I had started hiring some incredible employees who would become crucial pieces to the success of the business.
Seven years later my showroom is still booming producing multi million dollars in sales and continuing a reputation of a showroom that “gets it done”.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? I own a wholesale showroom in the fashion industry. We are responsible for the sales of each brand in the United States and for some brands globally. The showroom specializes in accessories but I have sold almost everything and am open to anything so long as the market needs it. I have successfully taken several brands from nothing to something over the seven years I have been in business.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) Absolutely. I have always been someone who knows exactly what I want, and when I set my mind to something….. watch out because nothing will stop me!
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? Success to me is being excited to get out of bed every morning. Yes, I consider myself successful. I have strived to create a work environment that is challenging, exciting and fun. I want everyone to feel excited when coming to the showroom, and accomplished by conquering the challenges that I give to them.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally)? Professionally I would love to start investing in other business ventures outside of the showroom. I love the challenge of growing a business and it would be fun to work with something new and fresh. There is so much in the showroom business that is yet to be done, I truly feel we are just getting started! I have a solid team right now and we are looking forward to a super successful 2016. Personally my goal is to buy some real estate by the time I am 35, this goal has been set for a while!
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I studied merchandise marketing in college. I had a speech class and a selling techniques class that was honestly the most beneficial. I had to speak in front of a group every class and it really built up my confidence. Interning and networking throughout the way is where I learned the most. I am very observant and would constantly be taking mental notes on what I liked and disliked about businesses.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Being able to hire people and create a life for them is really the most satisfying. I love to be able to inspire people and strive to do this everyday for them. I also love watching brands grow and the owner of each brand’s quality of life grow. I like to say I change lives by selling accessories lol.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace?: My workspace is a 750 sq ft loft style showroom. I try to create a comfortable, fun and relaxed environment for both employees and buyers. The office space where we all sit is extremely cozy, all white and full of excitement, always. We are like a little family! Challenging each other to be the best we can be. We have a long table in the front where you can find 2-3 interns from FIDM helping us out with whatever is thrown at us that day. The showroom is always action packed, there is never a dull moment in there. Since we are all in the same room everyone hears everything, which keeps it interesting.
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey? The biggest frustration I have experienced is finding the right type of people to work for you. I am an extremely loving and generous person but I also work really hard and demand my employees to be the same way. Not everyone is ready for the hard work. I didn’t realize that there are lazy people in the world, but there most certainly are. My business is my life that I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into so having a bad seed in the crew is not going to work. It took a while to find the perfect formula, currently I have that. I also wasn’t expecting people to be shady and try to cheat you. I have developed a very tough skin and have learned that as a woman in business you have to stand up for yourself. People are going to always try and walk all over you but if you don’t learn to stand firm for what is right, they will just keep on walking.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? I get the most stressed out during trade show season. It is a lot of planning and a lot of expenses on the designers end. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure everything is PERFECT! It is very stressful if there are samples missing from the booth, or if the appointments you made aren’t showing up, or maybe the buyers are not into the collection. So many factors go into these shows. When something goes wrong I always get really down on myself and feel like I have failed the designer. I want to provide them with the best service and the best results so when this doesn’t happen, there is a good chance a tear might be shed in the shower.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself, I hate to fail. I will do everything I possibly can before I throw in the towel and have been like that my entire life with everything. I think over the years I have learned to manage the pressure better, which is why it feels less.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? I compare being a business owner to being an actress. When you are in front of your team you are the leader, no matter what is going on outside those four walls you need to forget about it for those eight hours of the day. When I am having personal issues I deal with it before and after work. I always try to be present in what I am doing. Sticking your face in deeper to your work is the best way to get your mind off something personal.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? Of course. My business is my life and comes first before my social life. Since I do travel a lot I don’t have a ton of free time to catch up with friends, but makes me cherish the time we do spend together more. I really make an effort everyday though to carve out time for myself. I workout everyday no matter what as I believe your physical health is a direct reflection of your mental health. If I feel good physically, my mental game is on point. Luckily a lot of my friends are the same way so we catch up doing active adventures.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? It gets lonely traveling sometimes, especially if I am alone and don’t know anyone in the city I am in. Otherwise I have an amazing support system and the cutest little pug baby that if I am ever feeling lonely I just give her a big squeeze and everything is better.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Wondering if I am doing a good job. I always want everyone to be happy with me, everyone from my designers to my employees. The thought of letting someone down is the absolute worst.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? Honestly no. I have made a lot of mistakes but without making those mistakes I wouldn’t know how to handle or react to them
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Buckle your seatbelt, because you are going to be in for a ride. Don’t let the hard times get you down because you are strong and will always preserver. Be firm in your beliefs and don’t let people persuade you to be something that you are not.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? I know it might not be the typical business women but I admire professional female athletes the most. It is the ultimate life sacrifice in order to take your “business” which is yourself to the next level. Ronda Rousey is an amazing example, the look in her eye of just sheer determination and confidence is incredible and inspiring. She has literally sacrificed everything to become what she is, from the food she eats to the practice she puts in day in and day out in order to bring her body and her game to the ability it needs to be at to win. She has also managed to create herself into a brand, taking her talent to movies, endorsements, and an author. She also saw a female void in her athletic world and instead of sitting back, literally created a womens division and grew it to become bigger than mens #girlpower!!! To be able to do all of this successfully is super inspiring to me. It is a direct reflection looking into how to run a business and create when there is a void and make the sacrifices to create success. There is also a designer in my showroom, Adina Reyter whose life balance is super inspiring to me. She is a mother of 3, loving wife and successful business owner. I have learned a lot from her over the last few years in the wholesale world. She is probably the best person to learn how to sell from. She preaches confidence and always thinking larger than life. She has also showed in her actions that you can have it all and still make it home to make dinner every night.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? I surround myself with people who challenge me and who I can learn from. I have a very tight group of friends all of which keep me on my toes. Whenever I am with them I can honestly say they make me a better person. They are honest with me, they show integrity, they are humble and they are generous.
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? Yes this exists and is very important. I am a huge advocate on having balance in life, I say it is the ultimate success. My days may be very robotic and scheduled but there is balance. I start my morning everyday with a 6 am workout, I then head to the office where I do nothing but focus on work for a solid 8-9 hours. Depending on how my day goes, I may throw in another quick workout to calm my brain or just relax on the couch and unwind. On the weekends I always try to see friends and catch up on personal chores. I am certainly on call 24 / 7 but I always try to have my personal time.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? When I first started I thought about quitting almost everyday. I didn’t have complete confidence in myself that I could get this off the ground. Once the pieces started coming together I had the confidence to keep going. I always tell people when you own a business you are going to have extremely high highs and extremely low lows. Being and entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, you have to have a determination like no one else. You have to have confidence in yourself. You have to be prepared to fail, but in those failures have enough grit and courage to pick yourself up, learn and move on. Nothing in life is easy, you are going to get knocked down but it is what you do when you are in those situations that make your successful.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That the fashion industry is glamorous. Our suitcase of samples weighs 90 lbs, try looking cute schlepping that in and out of stores in the dead of summer. I always describe our job as glorified telemarketers. We call so many people all day long and get hung up on, yelled at etc. etc. You have to just learn to laugh it off and move on.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? For someone who is starting in the wholesale industry I would say make sure you look into the background of the brands you are working with. Make sure their business ideas are in line with what yours are. Also be prepared to work really hard, and never take no for an answer!
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? The only other thing I wish I would have been in life is a professional athlete, I just never pushed myself in that direction. I love what I do, I love the challenge of the job, the competitiveness and the uncertainty of what each day is going to bring. I need something in my life that is going to keep me on my toes and this side of the fashion world certainly does this.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? I would want people to remember me as an inspiring woman on the inside and out. I like to set a good example for everyone around me and push them to be the best person they can be. I want to be known for being successful in business and also a helpful, loving, dependable person.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? I think it is important for women in business to come together because there are certainly things that women will experience throughout the journey that men won’t understand. I also think you can gain a significant amount of confidence from having strong women around you who have a voice. When going through my business process it would have been nice to have a conversation board to ask questions, or bring up scenarios and see how other business women handled them. It is always interesting to listen and learn from others journeys and what worked for them.
What are some of your favorite quotes? “I can do all things in he who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13