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The future is bright: Michaela Longstaff

As part of a series profiling retailers in their twenties, we heard from Michaela Longstaff, 28. Longstaff comes from a long family history of retailing and she’s always taken a hands-on approach to running her business, Mikko Shoes. The company specialises in European footwear and has five stores across New Zealand.

What’s your background? 
I studied a Bachelor of Fashion Design at AUT, which refined my creative side and my passion for all things fashion and lifestyle. Coming from a family of retailers where the conversation around the dinner table always ended up in that direction meant it was a natural progression for me to move toward fashion retail. 
What business support have you had since you started your business?
My family has been fundamental business support and helping to keep me on track. There are a lot of relationships that my family has built over the years that I continue to support, which is a great help. 
 
Has your age been much of a factor in running the business?
I think perhaps being a young person, very engaged with the state of ‘now’ means that I don’t have any hang ups about how things used to be.  
I do a lot of research and make decisions on what is right for our business at the time. I am open to new technology and systems, which is very powerful.
I think my perspective in a buying sense has contributed to our success too. I don’t believe that women should be put in a box due to their age. Everyone has the right to look stylish no matter what age they are.
 
What drove you to start the business?
I think it was a bit of naivety and a lot of hope. I wanted to make a difference and to be creative while maintaining a commercial business. Being my own boss came in to it. It enables me with creative freedom and fun along the way. On a practical note it was about providing women with a solution. I am still very passionate about providing women with shoes that not only feel amazing, but look great too! 
 
How creative do you have to be in terms of marketing these days? Does traditional marketing still work?
Traditional marketing has its place; but there are so many options available now and consumers are savvy. It is about telling your story and connecting with customers on a different level that does require some creativity and experimenting.
As a smaller size family business we have to be creative with our budget too as we have to make every dollar work for us.
Where do you want to take your business?
It’s an evolving process. I don’t think there is a magic number of stores or business size. It is all about reacting to the market and moving with the customer. This is a luxury we have as a family-owned business; we can react to the market and make decisions quickly. 
We are spending time investing in our team and making sure our product is right. Getting the basic right is what I believe to be one of the key successes for any business.
 
What wisdom and skills can young retailers bring to the industry?
Wisdom may be the one thing young retailers lack, but we make up for it in many other ways. It is important for young retailers to remember that we don’t know everything and that we need to surround ourselves with talented people who hold the same values and support us.
Age is just a number, it’s about the way you approach your business or your role that matters. I employ people of all ages, who bring different skills and passion which is very inspiring.  
 
Any suggestions on how different demographics can work together in retail?
All ages have something to offer in retail, whether it is advice through experience or new ideas and fresh thinking.
We need to be open to new ideas and change when required, but we must respect experience and tried and true ideas. The fundamentals of retail haven’t changed for hundreds of years and it is important to remember that before rushing off in a new direction. Somebody has probably been there before and can have a lot of valuable insight to share.  

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 750 June / July 2017

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