CEO Conversations: Mickey Quinn from Vanity

Written by: Fargo Inc Staff

Queue the Johnny Cash because Mickey Quinn‘s been everywhere, man. 

The president and CEO of Fargo-based specialty retailer Vanity has spent time at five different companies in six different cities during her 30-plus-year retail career, and with her cross-country experience has come a unique understanding of what it takes to be a leader in a constantly changing industry.

#1 Don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do.
One of the things I feel strongest about is surrounding myself with experts in their field who really know what they’re doing. I stay in contact with them and I want to be aware of what they’re up to and what their plans are, but I lead by letting my experts do their jobs and by not being a micromanager. I also understand that I have to adjust my style to them because they’re not going to change.
Everyone needs a little bit different management, but I find my greatest success is getting out of my people’s way. It’s also about trusting them—challenging but still trusting that they’re doing what they’re doing for a reason. No one in our company feels like they have the final say. Not even me. It’s a collaboration.

Employee presses clothing at Fargo Vanity Store

#2 Good ideas are everywhere.
A great example is our director of IT. He’s been at the company a long time and understands why things we’ve tried in the past haven’t worked. And he’ll share that knowledge. Not in a way where he’s saying we shouldn’t try it again, but he’ll share it as, ‘We did try that, here’s what happened, things have changed. So it could work now.’ It’s great to involve all areas of the company together. Sometimes I think they might feel a little like, ‘Ugh, I could be back at my desk doing MY job rather than listening to IT talk about PCI,’ but they’re stronger because they’ve heard what everybody else is working on and somebody—it doesn’t matter from what area of the company—might have an idea that makes us say, ‘Ah! We didn’t think of that.’

#3 Do the dirty work so your team doesn’t have to.
A big part of the position I’m currently in is getting things out of our people’s question from whether that’s a board member or a government regulation or the slowdown at the LA port last year, which was a huge problem and caused us a lot of pain.
When the (LA Port slowdown) was going on, I started calling our US Senators and said, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing to help us out here?’ I see my role as cheerleader, supporter and challenger, but ultimately the person who helps get the obstacles out of the way so that (our employees) can do the very best for the company.

LA Port Shutdown
Photo of the LA Port Shutdown

The LA Port Shutdown
A 2015 dispute between shipping companies and dockworkers at the 7,500-acre Port of Los Angeles—one of the largest port complexes on the West Coast—threatened to cripple trade between the US and a number of international trade partners—China, Japan, and South Korea, among others. While a contract between the two sides was eventually agreed to, the dispute proved that business rarely happens in a vacuum, as some of the companies that would’ve been hardest hit were ones like Vanity—thousands of miles away and which rely on the Port to import the bulk of their supply.

#4 With Millennials:
1) Seek to understand.
2) Change your mindset.
Vanity is my first experience working with a lot of Millennials, and I’ve come to understand that what motivates them is different. They’re very protective of their time and their work-life balance. Giving them a project that’s going to really help them shine but is going to take a lot of extra effort and time is not as much what they want. They’d rather understand that what they’re doing now will eventually get them that time they want (to do other things). You just have to phrase things in a slightly different way: ‘If you do this now and take the time to train your team really well, you’re going to be able to take your vacation and you’re not going to have to work double-time when you come back because you have to fix everything that wasn’t done the way you wanted.’ It’s a different mindset.
At first, I thought Millennials were just not as motivated and acted entitled, but the more I work with them, the more I realize that’s a generalization and isn’t true. There are just as many Millennials who want to move ahead and are as driven and hard-working and I was when I was their age. I’m sure  there are stereotypes of my generation from the group that was 20-30 years older than me when I was first starting out. You just have to cater to the individual and not lump them all into one group.
Their preference in a perk is different than what mine was when I was starting out. And just because I think something’s a great perk doesn’t mean they do. But I can change what I think and I can change what I’m doing. It’s taking the time to listen and find out what they want. Because they’re not going to change their opinions. I’ll change.

#5 Brick-and-mortar still matters.
Web is doing great and is the wave of the future, but it’s not offsetting any losses you take in brick-and-mortar. It’s our largest-volume ‘store,’ but it can’t make up for our 143 (physical) locations. There’s still great value in having brick-and-mortar. While all of the technology and all of the ‘press-a-button-and-it-shows-up-at your doorstep’ is great, there’s still a human desire to have a conversation and a connection. And in our business, there’s such opportunity in being able to help with that. It’s women dressing themselves. We can help them feel good, feel fashionable and feel better about themselves. Yes, you might get some satisfaction by pushing that button and having it show up to your doorstep, but it’s not as emotionally visceral as having that face-to-face conversation.
Think about when you’re in the fitting room and you’re so discouraged, and then somebody tosses something over and you try it on and you’re like, ‘Wow, I look great.’ That -ization trend—personalization, customization—is very powerful in our industry right now. In our sector, the moderate-price-point sector, it’s difficult to get help in the mall or sometimes even in a boutique. That’s where we stand out. That’s our point of differentiation. You can walk into a lot of our competitors, and they greet you and tell you what the promo is, and then you’re on your own. We really focus on selling and assessing the customer’s needs. We ask, ‘What is she looking for?’ and then try to tailor to her based on what she wants.

Clothing display inside of Fargo Vanity
Mickey Quinn Vanity USA Map
This map shows where Mickey Quinn has worked prior to working for Vanity

#6 Consumers are changing. You should, too.
Malls, in general, will tell you that their traffic is fine and that it’s retailers that are not doing as much traffic. That could very well be true in what are called A malls, but I would really challenge that in B and C malls. What we do know is that our shopper used to visit five to seven stores when she made a trip to the mall and now she visits three to five. That’s a huge 40 percent decrease in location that she’s shopping when she goes there. She’s spending a lot less time there, too. And she has a plan. She knows where she’s going. That’s what that tells us. But it’s a definite change in her behavior, and that’s the chaos that we’re all going through. She’s still going to the mall, but she’s going to fewer places. So how do we get her to come into our store? There are some malls that have re-invented themselves and added a Dave & Busters or a golf simulator. I’ve been to a couple of rural malls where they’ve taken over a former restaurant and now it’s a mini-golf course. For our customer, if she’s going to take her family out, it’s become more of an outing. Dad might go do mini golf with the kids while she then does her thing and shops. It can actually improve traffic opportunity and the experience because then the kids have something to do with dad while she runs in and grabs a pair of jeans.

#7 A rewarded customer is a loyal customer.
A huge majority of  our transactions are rewards customers. They spend more than a non-rewards customer. They’re more profitable than a non-rewards customer. And because of that, they get the best deals. There’s great value in target-emailing to a group when we know we have a grand opening or are changing locations and we want to target-market to specific customers to give them specific information. There’s a significant opportunity for us right now with the underserved plus-size demographic. The average size of the US woman is 14 and yet designers are still using size eight as their fit model and then grading up and down from there. It doesn’t grade well when you have to go from a size eight up to a size 22. You lose the fit integrity. Fashion is an attitude, not an age or a size. And if you have product that fits the larger sizes and is fashionable, she will be very loyal because there are so few options for her. And it’s a significant opportunity when we find out that a customer purchases a certain size because we can then market to her and say, ‘We have even more fashion available online.’ Or, ‘You bought this online, and we have this offering in the store and your collection is landing.’

Local warehouse houses rows of apparel and garments

#8 Company size and stature shouldn’t dictate community involvement.
At first, I didn’t quite understand why it would be important to be involved with things like Emerging Prairie or Women’s Startup Weekend, but it definitely makes you more in tune with the community. I find it to be invaluable, the connections you make and the conversations you have with people. It’s one of the things I’ve tried very cautiously, but consciously, to work on in Vanity’s culture is to encourage that kind of involvement in the local business community. We’ve been supporters of United Way and always participate in the Day of Caring, but it’s all very surface-level and that’s just been the culture of the company. It’s always been very frugal and heads down, ‘You’re working for Vanity. You work on Vanity all day long and not this other stuff.’ It’s been about broadening that horizon. We used to be members of the Chamber. We’re not right now, but that is something that I want to change. It’s baby steps. We just became a gold partner with the YWCA, and that was a big move. Vanity’s never done that before, but our chairman and majority owner recognize there is a need for giving back to our community. They are totally supportive. I find great value in getting to know other business leaders in town. You can think you’re in totally different worlds and that there’s just nothing you could possibly have to talk about, and yet we do. It’s very powerful and very beneficial.

#9 A web presence is no longer up for discussion.
You don’t have to have all the bells and whistles and you don’t have to go out and spend millions of dollars in order to get yourself up online, but having an online presence is almost a non-negotiable in order to do business today. One of the first things the customer does when they find a brand or a name they like is search online. Even if you’re a small boutique and even if it’s just a landing page with who you are and your story, having an online presence is necessary, whether or not you sell your product online. At the very least, you need to have ownership of your brand online. And that’s true whether you’re a brewery or actually selling product (online). I think the challenge, especially with a more established brand that’s been around for a long time, is that it’s difficult to see the return on investment. It’s software, it’s technology, and it can be hard to see the value in it. If you adopt it early, you spend so much money because it costs so much. And  if you wait, you have economies of scale, everybody’s doing it, and the prices have dropped, and then it’s not that big of a disadvantage to enter in a little bit late.

Mickey Quinn touching up a mannequin display at the local Fargo Vanity.

#10 Don’t confuse your preferences with your customer’s.
The Vanity customer is very specific in what she likes from a fashion standpoint, and that can make it challenging for the buying team. They go to market in New York and see what’s happening on the runways in Europe, and while they may personally want to wear something, they always have to remember that the Vanity customer might not. There are some trends that are fully adopted by the US consumer, but the Vanity customer is like, ‘I’m not wearing that.’ It’s the constant balance of: this is going to be in the all the fashion magazines, it’s going to be in every trend article, our vendors are showing it to us, but is it right for the Vanity customer?
We always have to be thinking about that.

Visit the Vanity website to learn more and see all that they have to offer at

Check out Mickey Quinn on the cover of the November 2016 Fargo INC! and read the full magazine here

Fargo INC! November 2016 Cover



Share This Article
Fargo Inc! Publishes 12 Business Magazines Per Year!