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Meet | Sally Coates and Cheryl Rae, The Retail Mentors

We’re catching up with a handful of members from across our industry community to see how they’re navigating these unprecedented times. Meet The Retail Mentors; Sally Coates and Cheryl Rae.

by The AFC

29 November 2020

AFC | Covid-19 Industry Profile Series

We’re catching up with a handful of members from across our industry community to see how they’re navigating these unprecedented times. Meet The Retail Mentors; Sally Coates and Cheryl Rae…

Sally and Cheryl.jpg

Sally Coates &

Cheryl Rae

- The Retail Mentors

Tell us about The Retail Mentors

The Retail Mentors was started by Sally Coates and Cheryl Rae in September 2020 with the goal of creating a powerful community and network for those within the retail industry. A community that is built on forming life changing connections, the sharing of expertise, and providing the tools to empower those within the community to thrive within this dynamic industry.

Sally and Cheryl have both had long careers entrenched within the retail industry.

Sally is currently the CEO of a Fashion Accessories business and has held Senior Executive roles leading Buying, Merchandise Planning, Design, Marketing, Supply Chain and eCommerce teams across Department Stores, Discount Department Stores and Specialty Stores. Sally is a dynamic, passionate and straight forward retail leader, who offers businesses and their teams, innovative solutions for long term growth. Sally’s approach is always focused on developing teams that take a customer centric and collaborative approach to delivering innovative product ranges and customer experiences.

Cheryl is a People and Culture professional who believes in the power of human connection, and seeks to help others be all that they can be. With a passion for coaching and mentoring. Cheryl has worked with many people and businesses in this capacity, including for AHRI (Australian Human Resource Institute) and the YPWA (Young Professional Women’s Association) and was most recently the People and Culture Director for the iconic fashion brand Camilla.

With the tumultuous nature of the retail industry, particularly at present, Sally and Cheryl saw first-hand the difficult challenges the industry were facing. The goal for The Retail Mentors is to connect people so that they can learn from each other, share their experience and reach their own personal goals, which they believe will only strengthen the industry as a whole.

What is unique about The Retail Mentors is the voluntary Mentoring program that it offers. The mentoring program is focused on supporting those within the industry that feel they could greatly benefit from the guidance and support from someone within the industry that has the wisdom, experience and expertise to do so. The program is there to support people who need help and guidance to navigate their future path, through the support of a Mentor.

“Our Mentors are industry experts, who come forward to very generously donate their time to support the Mentees. We are finding that there are many who have had the privilege of having a Mentor themselves at some time throughout their own careers, and now want to give something back to someone else (as someone did for them)”.

cheryl&sally mentors.jpg

What are some of the key challenges that you in your business, AND others in your industry community are facing around COVID-19? How are you navigating these?

There has been a lot of change within the industry in a very short period of time. Both positive and negative. You have had businesses that have thrived from the impact of COVID-19, and then you have seen those that have not. Those that have changed course, learnt and grown and those that have not. There has, of course, been an enormous impact on the people in Retail.

From a negative standpoint, there have been a lot of businesses close, downsize and/or restructure. The impact of this has been that many people within the industry have lost their jobs or gone onto reduced hours. More traditional roles are being questioned and those businesses that have continued to attempt to operate in the same way that they always have, now find themselves outdated and redundant. The people within those businesses find themselves in the same position as the business.

Those that have lost their jobs are finding that not only is there great competition for the reduced roles available but that the expectations of these roles have changed. There has been a very quick transition into digital for those businesses that were either avoiding it or didn’t have it as a focus within the business. This has created a high demand for those with digital expertise and a shortage of people.  

On a positive note, the level of rapid change has been extreme. Businesses developed and implemented plans to deal with the change, with levels of speed that you have never been seen. It has showed businesses that you can make things happen quickly, and that potentially the ways in which they were working were too slow, risk adverse and not uniquely customer centric. It has caused many businesses to review their ways of working and not only how they deal with our “new normal” but to take a different view of what the future of their business could be.


What are some of the opportunities for our industry that you see coming out of this crisis?

There are many opportunities for the retail industry and those within it. There is the opportunity to create a superior customer experience that makes them feel engaged, heard and safe. This would be through a more personalised and experienced based approach of interacting with customers. Genuinely help people solve problems and to make them feel good about themselves.

Technology can and will play a large role in this, which we have already started to see. Businesses within Fashion have been offering online personalised styling services. Wholesalers are interacting with retail customers through virtual showroom and fashion show / trade show style presentations. Cosmetics companies are offering online tutorials, skin diagnosis and product recommendations. Homewares specialists are giving customers the option to virtually see key items such as art or rugs within their own home environments, before they purchase the product. All ways in which people are interacting in a safe and very customer centric way.   

There is also the opportunity for people to personally thrive throughout this time. This is the time to learn new skills, think big with their ideas and make these ideas happen. Learning is key right now and there are so many ways this can be done. Through webinars, online courses, YouTube the list is endless.

We are in a time of significant change. It really is a great time to be a part of such a dynamic industry.


How will you be passing the time during social distancing?

We encourage people within the retail industry (and retail related businesses) that may be feeling lost, overwhelmed or a little confused about their current situation and need some support to navigate a future path, to reach out to us at The Retail Mentors. We have an amazing group of Mentors that have very generously donated their time to support those that need it.

We also encourage those within the retail industry, that want to offer support to those within the industry that have those key traits that are part of a being a great Mentor to also get in touch with us at The Retail Mentors. Their help and support would be greatly appreciated, support they no doubt felt at times during their own career.

The Retail Mentors is a community to be a part of. You have the opportunity to not only support others but gain from them as well.

How can people get involved with The Retail Mentors?

We encourage and of course welcome all people within the retail industry (and retail related businesses) to join The Retail Mentors community.

Visit where you can find out more information about our voluntary mentoring program, keep up to date with information, and where we are continually sharing articles and podcasts.

We are also always open to hearing from people who want to be a part of the voluntary mentoring program either as a Mentee or Mentor.

Register your interest to become a Mentor or Mentee via the forms below:

Or visit The Retail Mentors for more information.

Copy & Imagery by The Retail Mentors

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