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Mark Pinn and Katrina Parris of NiLu: “Balance is key in anything you do”

Because vendors have so many opportunities to sell directly to customers, you may be in competition with your suppliers and creators. This is the future of retail, so it’s a good idea to have a plan to deal directly with consumers. Get on board with the online and social media shopping experience. Consumers have become […]

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Because vendors have so many opportunities to sell directly to customers, you may be in competition with your suppliers and creators. This is the future of retail, so it’s a good idea to have a plan to deal directly with consumers.

Get on board with the online and social media shopping experience.

Consumers have become more savvy and will want to know all about you and what you stand for. Be ready to be accountable and show receipts!


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Pinn and Katrina Parris. They have lived and worked in Harlem for the past 20 years. After running their own designer flower shop in Harlem, they recognized the need for a retail store, above 96thstreet, where people could shop for elegant, eclectic, beautiful gifts that reflect the people and culture of the Harlem community. They sold the flower business but kept the retail store, opening NiLu in 2015, named after their two sons Nigel and Luke. Featuring an eclectic array of home décor, art, jewelry and gifts, NiLu functions not only as a retail store, but as a showcase and community center for local Black and multicultural makers and creators.

Over the last five years, Mark and Katrina have seen the need for more visibility for multicultural creators and have expanded their brand and e-commerce website to support makers beyond the Harlem community.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My mother was only 66 years old when she suffered a severe heart attack in her sleep that took her life. The phrase, “life is short” truly gave me meaning and made me realize change was needed and necessary. It was then that I decided to reinvent myself, and my life as an entrepreneur began. My first business venture started with Katrina Parris Flowers, a floral boutique in Harlem, New York. My husband and business partner Mark and I built the business and grew it over 15 years. In 2015 we sold KPF, and five months later opened up our shop, NiLu Gift Store. It has been twenty years since I have stepped “outside” the box and I don’t see any turning back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Since we opened NiLu there have been many interesting stories shared. Most of the time, they are stories that customers have shared with us. There is a vibe, or energy, that makes people really want to engage. Customers come into NiLu either with a specific purpose, or happen to walk past the shop and are curious about what’s inside. More frequently than not, conversations will begin and in a matter of minutes, people will share their inner most thoughts, ideas and feelings over the POS counter. That is the most interesting thing — how forthcoming people are with complete strangers.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

As with all businesses, you need to market yourself. For us, that meant reaching out in all forms of marketing. We put together a postcard that was to be sent to several zip codes in our area. We painstakingly went over what images we were going to feature, carefully chose the right words and finally, we decided on the right time to send out the postcards. After a few weeks the postcard had been dropped, and we received ours in the mail along with everybody else. We looked it over, pleased with our efforts and relieved the task had been completed. There was one thing that was wrong though… we had neglected to place the name of the business on the postcard! After all the “careful” checking and rechecking, laboring over the right pictures and words, and scrutinizing about when to send it, we left out the MOST important detail. So, the lesson learned is no matter how many times YOU may review something, always have a fresh pair of eyes look over your work. This lesson pertains to anything you are too close to. Always seek advice, recommendations and feedback from others. You may not always take their advice, or agree with other people’s opinions, but you may find that other perspectives will reveal things that you may be too familiar or close with to notice.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Our new and exciting project is pivoting from Covid-19 (out of necessity). We have decided to double down and move forward. We have and will continue to offer a curated collection of eclectic items. We will continue building our Black and People of Color makers from Harlem and beyond. We truly believe that when you support a maker, you support a community, and that is what NiLu is all about. We live, work and contribute in our community and we want that to continue, long after Covid-19. We are expanding our platform beyond the NiLu shop location in central Harlem and will be re-launching our website, ShopNilu.com in early October. This is our “new exciting project,” come check us out.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Find balance. Balance is key in anything you do, and with retail, this is extremely important. When you work with the public, you subject yourself to all kinds of people and experiences. You have to give yourself permission to take time out for the things that give you some peace of mind. For me, its riding my bike. I love riding my bike! I ride all over the city. Some people feel intimidated riding the streets of NYC, but for me, it’s like meditation and like flying on the ground. Balance is the key, you’ve heard it a thousand times. The trick is however, few are successful at finding it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My husband Mark and I have been business partners for nearly as long as we’ve been married; we just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. As with every great partnership, there are challenges along the way, especially if you achieve some level of success. I am grateful for Mark and the partnership that we have. We don’t always agree on the methods of which things should be done, but we do agree on where we want to land. He brings an element of structure, business acumen and creativity that is sometimes missing or just different than mine. Mark believes that you must always have a plan; by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

On the onset of this pandemic, Mark insisted that we come up with a plan. We did some real soul searching and contemplation on where we not only wanted to position our business, but our life goals as well. He is always thinking about the outcome and where that will lead us. It’s true that you never know where life may take you, but if you take the time to think and plan on what you want out of this life, that plan can help you get back on course if you’re ever lead down an unexpected path.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In the short (although at times, feels like long) five years since we have opened NiLu, we have always tried to bring goodness to the world. We provide a platform for makers and other small businesses. We truly believe that when you support a maker, you support a community. We are based in the community of Harlem and have vested ourselves in that community. We own a home, are raising our two sons, and have been entrepreneurs in Harlem for 20 years. We are setting examples not only for our children but for our community as well. The focus, hard work, dedication and commitment we make to our business shows our community, customers (from near and far) and family that investing in yourself and supporting others can pay off. NiLu is about community, culture and craft, and we honor these things from the past, present and future.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

Retailers will need to do the following things to adjust to the new consumer shopping experience.

  1. Because vendors have so many opportunities to sell directly to customers, you may be in competition with your suppliers and creators. This is the future of retail, so it’s a good idea to have a plan to deal directly with consumers.
  2. Customer experiences are still relevant — what experience will you offer?
  3. Get on board with the online and social media shopping experience.
  4. What makes you so special? Figure it out and let your people know — Create a marketing plan!
  5. Consumers have become more savvy and will want to know all about you and what you stand for. Be ready to be accountable and show receipts!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement that embraces people who truly express themselves creatively. Just imagine if from a very young age you were encouraged to express yourself creatively. I mean in the most small and insignificant ways, and even at the most inopportune times. How many times have we told children to “use their inside voice,” “color within the lines,” “keep still,” and “don’t make a mess.” From a very early age, we stifle kids from being and expressing their inner creative selves. We grow older and have further restrictions set upon us, and with each year and with every restriction, we become less expressive in ways that could be enriching. We give accolades to athletes, actors, singers and artists all the time. These individuals, at some point in their early lives, were in a position to express themselves in a way that gave life to who they would become. Just imagine if there was a movement that encouraged people, from all walks of life, regardless of resources and without judgment, to express themselves — WOW!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook — ShopNilu

Instagram @shopnilu

Twitter ShopNiLu

Website: www.shopnilu.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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