Sheena Thorpe opens the glass doors to her airport duty-free store, The Gallery, with a gentle tug. It’s her second store in Trinidad – and with a few weeks before Carnival and a couple days before Valentines’, Thorpe is anticipating an upswing in sales.
The luxury store offers travellers a modern shopping experience and a cozy, customer-friendly layout, brought to life by interior designer, Euzhan Horsham. The Gallery boasts the first ever ‘store in store’ Mont Blanc boutique, and four distinct zones, each offering specialty items, including fragrances from Acqua di Parma, Dear Rose, Atelier Cologne and Grossmith London, fine jewellery from Suzanne Kalan, Sydney Evan’s and Emanuela Duca, as well as Charbonnel et Walker Chocolates. Travellers can also enjoy the store’s Angostura wall, stocked with alcoholic beverages and its world-renowned, Angostura Bitters.
“I wanted to introduce these brands to Trinidad because people always buy the same things. There are a lot of brands we ignore, simply because we do not know them. I wanted to change that,” Thorpe tells Caribbean Insight while adding that shoppers can soon look forward to local coffee and chocolates at The Gallery.
A businesswoman for most of her life, Thorpe has poured all her energy, time and finances into her company and while it has been a tough time for retail, she remains undaunted.
“Being a business owner is not for the faint-hearted,” she asserts. “Confidence is everything, you have to believe in yourself and your product, your brand. You also have to read the signs the economy will signal to you, ever so often.”
Thorpe’s first store at Long Circular Mall opened seven years ago, at a time when the economy was pounded by the global financial downturn, which meant people were less willing to part with their hard-earned dollars. Businesses across the country suffered from the crisis and Thorpe’s new business was not exempt.
“It really was a tough time,” she admits. “But the difference between a hustler and an entrepreneur is that a hustler jumps from place to place when hardship arises but an entrepreneur sticks it out.”
Armed with business survival tactics and fortitude, Thorpe also credits her strong faith in God and the encouragement from her late father, himself a successful businessman, who owned his own auto repair shop in San Fernando, for her perseverance.
“One thing I always remember my father saying to me is, ‘where there is no vision, the people shall perish.’ The words were always an inspiration for me to go harder,” she recalls.
A lover of all things creative, Thorpe studied Art History at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology but realised that her true calling was in retail, after landing the CEO position at the popular retail company, Stechers. She managed the company for nine years, establishing the brand as a profitable household name, and became a force to be reckoned with in the industry. Her talents did not go unnoticed by her friend, the late Calvin French, who encouraged her to open her own retail business.
“He said I needed to open a store because he thought I was an amazing retailer. So nine months later after leaving Stechers, I opened The Gallery. I loved to entertain in my gallery, so it was a fun concept. I wanted The Gallery to feel authentic, like a gallery of artisans,” she explains, when asked how she came up with the name.
Thorpe insists that while her stores focus on luxury items, she ensures that she caters to everyone.
“Life is aspirational,” she says. “The Gallery customer is that person who feels it’s okay to come into a store and buy something authentic, something beautiful and simple like a candle or something more luxurious. It’s going to be that person who comes in at duty-free and says, ‘I’m going to get something special for my colleague or a member of my family’. Whether you spend a little or a lot, it’s about an experience. That is important to me and I truly enjoy what I do.”
Time flies when you’re having fun. This year, Thorpe, who looks considerably younger than her 58 years, celebrates her 20th work anniversary in luxury retail. But she’s showing no signs of slowing down, as she already plans to expand her brand regionally and internationally.
“Doing what I love,” she says, keeps her going. “It’s been a wild ride but looking down, I know my father would be very proud,” she says, smiling. “Very proud.”