Still Standing, Standing Still: A Story of Steps
"Some people stand and look at the sky. We reach out and touch it."
I wrote that in 2011 when I launched my first company, Lynear Thinking Strategy & Communications Ltd., a company dedicated to helping business leaders take steps up the hill of vision.
This is my story of steps. One pair of shoes at a time. One dollar at a time. This is a story of standing still and still standing. This is a story of what it means to be a woman entrepreneur in 2021.
Hello, my name is Lynn Armstrong. This week we are celebrating Saskatchewan Women Entrepreneurs Week. I am a woman entrepeneur and ZÖE is my vision and my business. And this is how I got from there to here, and what I know for sure about life and where we're going in 2021 and to answer the top questions that everyone wants to know.
ZÖE is not a person, or a puppy to answer two of the most asked questions. It's a word that means life, and a place where lives are lived one step at a time. ZÖE is a mirror image of how I see her and the world as a woman, a worker, a provider, a mother, grandmother, daughter, wife and sister. I see her as a place of respite, where there is laughter and sometimes tears, where women come to celebrate life, and each step they take.
People often ask me how I came to be in the shoe retail business.
Most entrepreneurs (if not all) can point to a single moment in time when the ground beneath shifted, or opened up. I did not intend to become an entrepreneur. My career spanned journalism, communications, policy, business planning, risk management and executive leadership. My plan was to keep building my dream career helping corporate leaders climb the hill of vision, and communicate it so that others could see it too.
In 2011, an event at work happened that was devastating and changed the course of my life. I journaled every day to clear out the stories that were holding me back, and then one day, these words fell on to my page that brought me back to my raisin d'être:
"I would publish stories that are read world-wide about interesting and inspiring people who live and work in their passion. I would be an instigator of personal freedom. I would inspire people to accept and live in their own vision, and be inspirational to others to do the same. I would publish the book that changes the way we look at work. I would inspire a revolution of living in colour. I would paint the sky all the colours of possibility."
Over the course of my 25 year corporate career, I was successful because I am a good listener, an exceptional writer, and I have the ability to speak the language of business in a way that others will understand it. Being invited into boardrooms to witness and support change gave me a perspective that very few have - which has served me in navigating COVID19.
One thing that I know for sure is that building the future is a process of taking steps, guessing as correctly as possible, moving as quickly as possible, and being prepared to change direction on a dime.
2016 was the year I took the leap into the shoe retail business with admittedly no understanding of the business model in retrospect. But I had a vision for what it could be, and to be honest, I have never done anything I knew how to do, but I became good by practice.
I created the shopping environment and experience that I envisioned that would celebrate women going places in their lives. 2017 I launched an online store as an add-on to the brick and mortar shoppe, and learned the art of instagram and social media.
From 2016 to 2020, the word that I would describe my shoe store life is "adaptive". I renovated my first store to bring it to my brand vision. That same year, I learned that my building was going to be renovated, so I had to relocate, and so I created my second store and relocated in November 2016. However, by 2018, it became apparent that the location was not optimum for retail and so I built and moved into a new space on 12th Avenue.
In February 2019, I wrote an article about the continued shift to online shopping and the impact of made in China, shipped to Regina. In my article, I wrote that given the trajectory of events, the only thing that could change it would be an event that would tip the world upside down for a time.
That happened. Enter COVID19 in March 2020, and the world went home and stayed there. ZÖE was closed by the government from March to May. This was unknown territory to literally every person in the world. And here I was - a one person show running a store that catered to women who were going places - professionally and personally in an environment where we were literally standing still, and have been for 14 months.
In the 25 years of corporate boardrooms, nobody every said that a pandemic could bring the world to its knees. And yet it happened. In 2020 I learned that the plan was out the window. That there was no plan. There were only steps.
Step 1: Get up.
Step 2: Get dressed.
Step 3: Go to work.
I created a reset plan based on inputs from the government, local Chamber of Commerce, and Regina Downtown BID to understand the risks that could have a devastating impact on my health and wellness, my family and my business in that order. That analysis gave me comfort because I could see it in black and white, and I could begin to see what I could do to offset or lessen the damage to my life and wellness, my family and my business.
Each step, however large or small, created the opportunity for another step, and another, and another. I also learned that being right is not the point; the point is to keep on moving and keep on fighting. And I learned that is the new definition of success.
What does the future hold? Nobody knows.
Today, my plan is to continue to offer shopping by appointment, and to ensure a safe environment for my guests and to safeguard my own health and wellbeing as well as my family's.
It's May 21, 2021, and I'm still standing. And that is my definition of success today.