Take 5 with Parker Wilson
Helping small businesses succeed with Sparked Consulting
PARKER WILSON grew up in Lexington, North Carolina, a small town of about 14,000 famous for barbecue and furniture. As a young girl, she spent a lot of time with her grandfather, whose rags-to-riches story rivals anything from storybooks.
“He was raised in an orphanage. When he turned 18, they gave him five dollars to start his new life and sent him on his way,” Wilson says. After working odd jobs around town, her grandfather decided to start National, a catalog company for women’s apparel which is still in operation. “I always focus on that part of my backstory, because it’s such a big part of why I do what I do,” she says.
After an informal education spent in her grandfather’s office after school and a formal one at Baylor University, where she studied fashion merchandising and French, Wilson kicked off a career in marketing. Eventually, she made her way to business school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she focused on sustainable enterprise and entrepreneurship.
This led to a job at Lululemon Athletica, the athletic apparel retailer famous for yoga and running gear.
“Lululemon was like a second MBA,” Wilson says. “I quickly learned that although you can’t mimic company culture, any business can have incredible strategy and great people development.”
While working at Lululemon Athletica, she continued to moonlight for small businesses, helping them with their marketing strategy and business development. Seven years ago, her side hustle had grown so much that she made the decision to leave Lululemon and go all-in on her business Sparked Consulting.
Today, Sparked Consulting continues to focus on small businesses, which is where Wilson’s passion lies. “Over 90% of the business population represents small- and medium-sized businesses,” she says. “They drive economic growth. When the small business community suffers, communities suffer. When they thrive, we all thrive.”
“So many businesses have a marketing plan in place, but no one to help them execute that plan. They’re often bootstrapping, they don’t have the resources, so they aren’t able to take those next critical steps,” Wilson adds.
As a consultant, Wilson fills in those gaps.
“I look at my clients’ business and evaluate what’s working well and what’s not, then pull the pieces together so they can invest in what will help them grow their business quickly and effectively,” Wilson says.
For some businesses, that might mean a rebrand or better messaging. For others, it might involve optimizing a website or defining company goals.
Recently, Wilson decided to take her own advice and start a second small business, which will launch this summer. Zizi will be an online marketplace for independent retailers that allows consumers to shop niche small businesses from all over the United States on one, easy-to-use website, according to Wilson.
“The majority of people say they prefer to shop local, but we don’t actually do it,” Wilson says. “We don’t have the time! Instead, we find ourselves shopping on Amazon at the last minute.”
Zizi will serve as an alternative that helps consumers live their values, while at the same time helping small businesses by providing important insights into various trends, products, and geographies.
“Most owners stock their stores based on last year’s data, and they don’t have visibility into what other stores are doing nationwide,” she explains. “Our platform will fill that gap. It’s store-supportive as well as consumer-supportive.”
While startup life can be grueling, especially as a mother of three young children, Wilson believes the rewards make it worthwhile.
“I love seeing someone’s vision come to life and the impact one person’s idea can develop into a business that helps its employees pay their mortgages, feed their families, and give back to their communities,” Wilson says. “Successful businesses create a ripple effect. Being a part of that—outside of being a mom—has been the greatest honor of my life.”
Take 5 with Parker Wilson
Startup life is not for the feint of heart. Luckily, PARKER WILSON loves a challenge. The founder of Sparked Consulting, a consultancy that helps small businesses fuel sustainable growth, she is currently in the process of launching a second business called zizi, which will serve as an online marketplace for independent retailers. “I love being in conversation with people I admire and leaning on them for insight, but I have to remember to filter their feedback,” she says. “At the end of the day, a founder needs to be able to stay true to their vision and trust their gut.”
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST BRANDING CHALLENGE BUSINESS OWNERS FACE WHEN THEY’RE FIRST STARTING OUT?
“Simple: Where do we begin? The biggest challenge for my clients is the starting point. A brand is more than a logo, color palette, and typeface. It’s how your customers interact with you, experience your product line or service offering, remember you as a possible solution when searching the internet, share information with friends and family, and so much more. At the end of the day, your brand is an experience, and that can be daunting. That’s why strategy is so important.”
HAS THE PANDEMIC CHANGED THE WAY YOU WORK? IF SO, HOW?
“The pandemic hasn’t affected how I’ve worked – outside of losing my coworking space – but it has altered how I find my clients. Business development was effective pre-pandemic. Networking was second nature with weekly events, seminars, etc. When the world went virtual, I had to pivot my internal marketing strategy. I focused on developing thought leadership content deployed via LinkedIn, overhauling the Sparked website, increasing our digital presence, and identifying new business channels.”
RUNNING A BUSINESS CAN BE VERY DEMANDING. WHAT DO YOU DO TO RECHARGE?
“In full transparency, finding space to recharge has been incredibly challenging during the pandemic. We have three small children, one of whom is considered at risk for respiratory illness, so we’ve been extremely conservative throughout 2020. Pre-pandemic, I found renewal in time with friends and my family. My husband and I relish time outdoors and enjoy exploring North Carolina when time permits. More recently, I’ve become very intentional about creating space to recharge, which can mean a pre-dinner walk with the kids or a workout by myself.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SPOT IN WILMINGTON?
“Wilmington has so many gems! I’m captivated by the water, so a cocktail at the Bridge Tender is tough to beat – short of sipping that beverage from the sunny shores of Masonboro. Outpost is my newest stomping ground, as I am wildly inspired but the commitment to sustainability and unique atmosphere developed by The Cargo District team.”
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE THINKING OF STARTING A BUSINESS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
“Don’t. I’m kidding! Well, half kidding. I offer the same piece of advice to every entrepreneur who asks, and I’ve had to give it to myself more times than I can count. Commit to the why. When you anchor your business to the why, all other details eventually settle around it. As your business grows and you make tough decisions, bringing it back to your why will always make the right choice clear.”
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA newsletters and announcements.