Melissa Arnold is the young and stylish owner of Succor Estate Sales, L.A.'s best kept interior design secret. Born from a passion for good design and the environment, Succor Estate Sales helps you recycle your designer, antique, vintage décor and home furnishings, and in return helps other people furnish their homes with good design while lightening local landfills.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I hail from a family of entrepreneurs, from my 83 yr. old grandfather to my aunts, uncles and brilliant younger brother. I've seen ideas succeed and I've seen them fail; I've also seen people get up and try again regardless of which side the coin of success falls. For me personally, it took years of tossing around ideas before something finally stuck and I got up the courage to start Succor Estate Sales. In that time I gained the experience of having a boss, from the horrendous to the inspiring, and I thank those experiences for molding me into the leader I am today.
I am an analyst - there isn't a situation that I don't like to dissect, and I think this makes me hyper aware of my actions and those of other people. Though I'm inspired by the executives who were kind and taught me what a leader should be, I don't think I would've learned that lesson had I not worked under people who taught me what kind of leader I don't want to be.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current position at Succor Estate Sales?
I don't know if there's anything you can do that can prepare you for owning your own business. As a business owner there are 101 hats that you have to wear: I'm a bookkeeper, a graphic designer, a sales executive, a marketing executive, an interior designer, a boss... the list goes on.
I did work as a sales executive in the past, which instilled in me a confidence I didn't have before. Sales is an exhausting occupation and the people who do it learn self-confidence and how to accept rejection, which are both good things to understand as a business owner.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My husband is amazing. He's also an entrepreneur and understands what it takes to make a business succeed, and he absolutely loves my business. He makes it really easy for me to balance life and work because he's constantly helping me move my business forward, and thus I'm able to combine the two. Also, because estate sales are a weekend business, I try really hard not to work during the weekends I'm not hosting estate sales. I try to at least take a partial day off on the Monday following my sales. I think it's really important to take time to recharge our batteries. For me, that might be getting my nails done or taking a hike with my dog.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Succor Estate Sales?
Estate sales are not something that most people host more than a couple of times in their lives. There are a lot of people who don't even know what an estate sale is. As someone who hosts estate sales for a living I'm allowed entrance into people's lives during one of their most vulnerable times. They trust me to take care of their possessions and to sell them in a short period of time for as much money as I can. That in itself is a challenge, but it's also 100% the highlight. Every time I book a new estate sale is a new highlight for me, I get to see that in a world where we're all so pessimistic about people all of us are able to trust a total stranger when we need to.
There really are many challenges, from knowing who to trust myself, to doing the best job I can every day.
What advice can you offer young individuals hoping to pursue a similar business model?
Be tenacious. Read a lot of books on antiques, decorative arts, vintage décor, jewelry, silver - anything you can get your hands on really. Selling vintage and antiques yourself is a great way to learn about the various pieces you might encounter when hosting an estate sale. Go to estate sales all the time! I still do - I go to flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, antiques stores, thrift stores, you name it. I do it on a whim, I do it while I'm travelling, or on my weekends off. Ultimately, you need to really love the stuff!
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think one of the biggest issues for woman in the workplace is also a huge advantage, albeit one that needs caressing, fine-tuning and can also present a major challenge. I don't think it's fair to say that men lack emotion, but unlike women they have been trained to keep their emotions in check and are less likely to "get emotional" in the office. On the other hand, the majority of women have been gifted with an emotional fortitude that can be a huge advantage if we know which emotions to trust and which ones we should reconsider.
A woman's emotions are what make her special; they are what allow us to have empathy, be good leaders, stay in tune with how our actions affect people and also communicate better. But women can run into trouble when we start letting our emotions guide our business decisions. I've personally learned this, as is said, the hard way. As a business woman who works with people who are sometimes going through tough times, I've had my share of moments when business decisions were made using my nurturing emotions rather than my business sensibility. Fortunately, none of these situations were a real detriment to my business but each one has been a learning experience about keeping my emotions out of certain business decisions. Oftentimes when we make emotional decisions, they are not the decisions we would have made with more thought. That's generally true in both our personal and professional lives.
What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
There are so many gems to take away from Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. I think what I took away from reading it may not be the same as what someone else will. In fact, I don't think it should be a book "for women" or a book "for men to understand women" as a lot of what she says pertains to men as well. For example, one of the things that really stuck out to me was reading someone else say that they and many other women just like them feel like a bit of a fraud. I can't speak for everyone but I know men who live by the "fake it till you make it" philosophy - I should know, I've lived by it my entire life and in-turn discussed it with many people. But it never fails to amaze me by how well it really works and I always feel like I'm pulling one over on the rest of world. Learning that a woman in Sheryl Sandberg's position has felt the same way I have many times in the past gave me a feeling of empowerment, as did many of the other notable words she shared. I think Lean In is inspirational and I hope that the people who read this book take away only what they need to in order to be better versions of themselves.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
There have been a lot of people who have inspired me in my life. I've learned lessons from both women and men who I worked under, but I never had a true mentor. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg talks about how more men need to be willing to mentor women but statistically speaking it seems detrimental to the advancement of women in the workplace. I'm extremely proud to say that my husband, who is the COO of Swagbucks.com, holds no gender bias as I've seen him mentor and advance the careers of women. And fortunately for me when he took an interest in my business he became my mentor - someone I can glean advice from and look to for guidance about how to be a better leader. I've always admired the way he manages his team by choosing excellent employees and slowly molding them to help them prosper within the company. I've learned to take advantage of having such an inspirational leader so close.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Kelly Werstler, because she has created a design empire. The woman seems to be a machine and I'm sure she's surrounded herself with an amazing team. She spun an interior design business into a brand. There are books (of course, every popular interior designer gets a book), she's created a selection of home décor from furniture to textiles for well appointed organizations like Bergdorf Goodman and incorporated a clothing and jewelry line into the mix flawlessly. I love to see a business that could have remained stagnate (and still amazing) turn into a multi-faceted empire that continues to think creatively and move in various directions.
What are your hopes for the future of Succor Estate Sales?
Succor Estate Sales is as much about good design around the home as it is about estate sales. Our goals are to help people sell things they don't know what to do with, help people find good design at discounted prices, help the environment by reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. The way I see it we can accomplish these goals on so many levels. My goal is to grow not only the estate sale aspect of Succor but to expand the areas in which we work. Without completely letting the cat out of the bag, I would like to create a multi-faceted business that surrounds the home.