Retail think tank founder boosts women to c-suite


CHICAGO – Being the only woman surrounded by men in a professional environment runs in Kelly Stickel’s family—her mom was an engineer at Boeing.

“My father passed away and she was a single mother of four children, and had to go back to get her degree, and then her master’s degree. And I just saw the way she fought through life,” Stickel explains.

Stickel is the founder and CEO of Remodista, a social think tank that examines global retail disruption.

“I’ve been pretty scrappy in my business life, and I got down and did the business development path and management consulting where there’s not a lot of women,” Stickel says.

Stickel got her idea for her think tank while doing business development for Acquity Group, a digital marketing and eCommerce company later acquired by Accenture Interactive. Stickel says she began to see a stark difference between how men and women interact in the business world, and that observation inspired her to start Remodista.

“I realized the men were focused on selling, and I was focused on education. Women want to innovate and collaborate; we want to be more knowledgeable.” Stickel explains. “There are enough of us women getting into executive leadership or buying and selling technology that I felt we could really re-architect this.”

When Stickel launched Remodista in 2009, she says she made predictions that ended up highlighting her foresight and ability to see what many others couldn’t.

“I made a bet that technology would break, women leaders would matter, and we’d go global. All this innovation, insight and thinking is happening right now, so I placed good bets back then.”

Stickel has spent the past six years tirelessly building connections, and says that’s the backbone of Remodista’s success.

“It took about two and a half years to build the community. You can’t just buy a community, you have to have purpose and attract like-minded people,” Stickel explains.

Stickel says she has about 3,000 people in her community, and works closely with about 300 executives.

“Right now, my clients are people like Capgemini, PayPal, Avionos, and a lot of the tech service partners that go to retail—probably 40 over the last three years.”

Stickel is a one-woman show but works with about 10 independent subcontractors: digital strategists, content writers, researchers and product developers.

“I had the inspiration for six years, but I didn’t really have a business until a year ago,” she says.

Remodista’s revenue model is unique in that her company makes money from think tank sponsors who share her passion for investing in female leaders.

“I take all that money, and I put it right back into the business. So what’s cool is I’ve had no investors. It’s all been partners investing in me along the way, to help me.”

And Stickel’s hard work has paid off—Remodista brought in close to $300,000 in revenue over the past year. Stickel now plans to switch over to a subscription business model to generate more revenue.

“It has the potential of being a $100 million company,” she says.

Stickel is driven by her passion to help women climb the corporate ladder and become successful executives. She launched the program Women2Watch in Retail Disruption last year, which facilitates female executives coming together to network and collaborate.

“Businesses make more money when women are involved,” she explains.

Stickel says the rate of promotions among women in the program is remarkable, and far above the rates normally seen in corporations. The program has expanded to Australia, and will be launching in Europe next year.

Stickel says she was looking forward to seeing Hillary Clinton break the “ultimate” glass ceiling, and was heartbroken when that didn’t happen.

“There are so many organizations that are rallying around helping women entrepreneurs, and I feel like it’s a setback to breaking the ceiling, but we’ve had those setbacks before. We’ll just reorganize, lead by example, and get our ducks in order. And in four years we’ll come back and make an impact.”

Stickel says the key to success is continuing to get back up after you’ve been knocked down.

“As an entrepreneur, you really have to have passion and belief in what you’re doing,” she says.

“You have to have resilience, you have to be able to be disliked and live feeling pretty afraid most of the time. But you learn that great leaders didn’t make it because they weren’t afraid, they made it because they can be afraid and still walk forward.”