museums&MORE Winter 2015
Manager’s Corner: Ronnie Shaw, The Sankofa Center

MM: What is your retail background?

RS: The Sankofa Center is an arts-based HIV prevention charity I founded in Africa years ago. I began designing the product line baring its name borne out of a need to finance charitable work abroad and provide fair-trade employment to reduce poverty in the communities we serve.

After showcasing Sankofa’s line at the L.A. Mart in 2007, I gained almost immediate entry into the retail/wholesale world. Exhibiting the line in markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York allowed me to work hand-in-hand with retailers across the nation, and globally, to test product trends through the sale of our line in real market terms.

Through the process of wholesale exhibition and resell I became quite learned on which types of products sell, which do not and the ever-changing variation of market preference based on regional differences. After my designs were featured in Vogue, my consultation with independent boutiques on product placement, trends, cross-selling and merchandising intensified.

More recently, I have been recruited for private label product design by a few major retailers in the U.S. and abroad. I currently oversee U.S. wholesale, retail, online sales and product development stemming from our manufacturing cooperative base in Ghana.

MM: What is the best retail advice you’ve received?

RS: The very best advice I received was simply to know and love your customers. This entails paying close attention to the ever-changing wants, needs and motivations that keep them interested in your product. Creating a sense of community and personalizing your interactions with your base helps build an understanding that they simply do not walk away with a commodity, but rather a gift that reflects that you have taken the time to understand and care about their needs.

A monthly e-newsletter can be a great way to mobilize this sense of community, ask for ‘wish list’ requests, take suggestions, present prizes and giveaways and celebrate various moments in your customer’s lives that have meaning to them. An online search will give you a list of many significant days that may provide you a way to commemorate and strengthen your understanding and bond with your supporters such as Breast Cancer Awareness Day, Earth Day, Mother’s Day, a particular sporting day, etc.

MM: What are your biggest frustrations? How do you handle them?

RS: One of my biggest frustrations is low turnout of customers due to factors out of my control. Perhaps there is low turnout because of bad weather or a local sporting event taking precedence over the shopping experience I am creating. The result is lack of sales.

The best way I handle this is again, to build community using e-newsletters to strengthen bonds, emphasize our product features and to build urgency. Every missed sales event is an opportunity for me to tell my customers just how much I’ve missed touching based with them, often through a personalized email or e-newsletter.

This allows me to reiterate some of the great features of the artisanal handmade products by our cooperative or a current success. It allows yet another chance to explain new interesting details about the process of the design to pique interest of one of our best sellers they missed out on. Lastly, the missed opportunity presents a chance to create urgency and excitement as I extend an invitation to the next sales event, keeping me current and connected with my customers.

MM: How do you stay passionate about what you do?

RS: Staying passionate is more of a journey than a destination for me. The business aspect of the retail world may offer many challenges that can stifle passion. However, experiencing first-hand how the purchase of our products affects the lives of so many people abroad through the funding of a health service reinvigorates my passion.

Sometimes, I reflect upon the personal excitement I get through my creative process and the deep friendship I share with the cooperative making our line and it revitalizes me. Lastly, taking moments to interact with my customers and even watch that genuine glimpse of child-like joy on their faces from time to time keeps me passionate.

MM: If you had $10,000 to do whatever you wanted to your store/business, what renovations would you make?

RS: If I had $10,000 to renovate my store I would invest it in online marketing strategies. Many people are vastly becoming more comfortable with online shopping. Therefore, I would enhance my audience visiting my online store through paid online marketing promotions that are targeted to my customer demographics. However, paid online marketing can only be effective if one’s online store has the optimal look that honors the esthetics, feel and tone of the line.

MM: What are your goals for the upcoming year?

RS: My goal for the upcoming year is to show more love to my customer base. I will do this by running constant promotions on my website and through newsletters and email campaigns thanking them for their business and support. I will show in more detail how their purchase helps create such deep meaning for the organization’s efforts and impact. Another goal is to partner more intrinsically with our retail partners who carry our wholesale line to build a network of impact and community.

MM: What’s one thing you wish someone had told you before you started in retail and what is one thing you would tell someone else?

RS: The one thing I wish someone had told me before I started in retail is the fact that customers must always have something new and fresh. I would tell anyone entering the world of retail to first know exactly who their customer is and what they want. After getting a sense of the changing trend cycles of their customer base I would tell new retailers to sample a variety of products within these range categories and pay close attention to the general response, suggestions and reactions of their customers. This will guide them to source new, fresh and exciting products that provide their clients with the motivation to buy.

Do you know of a person in retail that we should feature? Let Zeke know at

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