Having the courage to let go

Two generations are working side by side at Modena and Muzt in Sarpsborg. Together they have their sights on a promising future.

It all started with Modena, which Mariann C. Nilsen has been running for many years. In 2020 she opened her second shop, which she called Muzt x Modena.

“People get a bit confused about it, but that’s actually cool, because that was my intention. If they don’t go to Muzt x Modena, they go to Modena,” Nilsen told us the last time we talked to her.

“We hope that 2023 might be a good year, thanks to all the steps we’ve taken: buying stock in advance, keeping costs down and adopting a new strategy.”

When you have two shops and a big online store to deal with, it’s obvious that you’re going to end up with more work to do. That’s where talented staff come in:
“For example, Grethe Hammerstad, who has worked here for many years, is brilliant at displays. It’s vital that the shops look good and stylish, and Grethe has a really good eye for that. We are a really great team now, we spar with each other.”

Sofie and Emma have always both come up with ideas, and they are brilliant at introducing something that doesn’t cost the earth.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

In fact, Mariann Nilsen’s passion for what she does is so strong that it appears to be hereditary. Because her two daughters Emma Nilsen (25) and Sofie Nilsen (30) both work with her in the business. They are both extremely interested in clothes, hair and make-up, and social media gives them the opportunity to express their creativity:
“We get a lot of praise because we’re so good on social media, where both the girls shine. They hold events, have a lot of campaigns – we put ourselves out there. I think that’s very important.”

“Generally, it’s the younger daughter and me who are on the videos. Sofie tends to be behind the camera, but she does a fabulous job and has been on all sorts of courses. We jump at every chance we get to develop the business. There’s always more to learn, about service as well as everything else. So we work really well as a team, and inspire each other with good ideas,” says Nilsen.

Mariann C. Nilsen is often featured as a model.

However, where she is happiest is out in the shops themselves:
“I’m happy to work six days a week; it gets me out of writing emails and tending to social media… But I love showing off clothes!”

The difference between the shops

While the more “mature” people work at Modena, the younger ones, including Nilsen’s daughters, tend to be found in the youngest shop, Muzt.

The idea is that it should be a bit more edgy at Muzt, and this comes across in the brands that they carry. What you see here are Holzweiler, Ganni, Neo Noir and Lois trousers, among many others.
“While at Modena, what we have are brands like Ane Mone Clothing. We are so happy with them. They are incredibly service-minded, and give you quality from start to finish,” Nilsen explains.

How did you develop the two concepts?”

“We were helped massively by Kristine at Texcon, mainly with the shops, but also with creating a new strategy and a brand that we can gradually build up.”

They will soon be approaching Kristine Andersen again – but first they needed to put out a few fires, after a tough 2022.

“Texcon is amazingly helpful, and that’s wonderful. Kristine is really dedicated, and quite strict.”

Texcon is amazingly helpful, and that’s wonderful.

Mariann C. Nilsen

“But that’s good for us!” Nilsen adds, chuckling.

“Sometimes you get a bit stuck, and I think: ‘Oh no, why didn’t I just ask Kristine?’, because she’s good at so many things. But that’s the way it goes. You never stop learning.”

“I’m not their mum at work”

“Is it true that both your daughters have said that they want to take over one day?”
“Yes, so they both will. If they want to carry on, then that’s what they should do, but we’ll deal with that nearer the time. But I can see that they both feel a strong sense of ownership, and having them on board is wonderful, because already they’re both innovative and dedicated,” Nilsen tells us.

Nilsen makes it clear that she keeps her home and work life separate, and she is also clear about her role once the working day has started: “I’m not their mum at work, I’m their boss there, end of story.”

Can ask Texcon anything

“Do your daughters get involved in the buying side too?”
“Yes, we often go to Oslo together on buying trips. It’s important for them to have an input.”

Mariann C. Nilsen and both her daughters take part in the photo shoot, placed in front and behind the camera.

Any questions they have about a generational transition will be something else they can ask Texcon about, when the time comes:
“That’s what’s so great about Texcon. You can ask them anything.”

“Why do you think that some Texcon members find generational transitions challenging?”

“It all depends on what kind of concept they have. The young people come in like a breath of fresh air, but sometimes that ‘breath of fresh air’ might not work in some shops… However, I have to say that I’m really impressed by the young people. They keep a close eye on what’s happening around them.”

“They keep their eye on the ball?” “Sofie and Emma have always both come up with ideas, and they are brilliant at introducing something that doesn’t cost the earth. And they’ve certainly had a steep learning curve; you can hardly imagine bigger challenges than the ones they’ve had to deal with over the last few years. Obviously there could be a downturn; everything’s so unpredictable these days. You really have to be on your mettle.”

Handing over responsibility

Nilsen tells us that there is a big difference in how they do things now, to how they did things less than ten years ago. The industry has developed faster than ever before:

“Especially for people who run niche shops like ours. You put your heart and soul into them, and a lot of hard work. They become your lifestyle, and you don’t get rich from running shops. But that’s not what I set out to do, either.”

“Do you have any advice for any others who will be bringing in the next generation?”
“You have to take advantage of Texcon’s expertise, and make as much use of it as you can. You have to have the courage to let go. Give others the chance to have a go at taking responsibility.”

“Do you think it will be difficult for you to let go?”
“I don’t think it will be difficult, but it won’t be for a while yet!”

Two generations of Nilsen in store.

In fact, Nilsen has already experienced what it’s like handing over responsibility to someone else – for two weeks, anyway.”
“In the 14 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve been good at making sure I take holidays. You have to let go, otherwise you’d go mad.
“And you just have to be yourself… And if I say what I think, it’s because I want what’s best for everyone and for the business,” Nilsen adds.

Confident in the young people.

What’s the relationship like between your customers and your daughters?”

“Oh, they get a lot of praise! Emma is outgoing and service-minded. Sofie’s a little more in the wings, she gets on and works behind the scenes. But when we have a lot of customers, that’s when she comes out. She pays attention, and she’s really clever; she’s saved us a lot of money in staffing costs.”

How confident are you about the future?”
“We’re very confident about the future. And I’m very confident in the young people. They just need to learn the nitty gritty, and you do that by being in the shop. Before their mum might think about stepping down.”