Melissa Gonzalez is a Principal at MG2 and Founder of The Lionesque Group. She and her team have pioneered the integration of physical environments and cutting-edge technologies. Continually pushing the boundaries of experiential retail, she is an award-winning innovator, seasoned visionary, and brand storyteller.
You have been a visionary in experiential retail before retailers understood it. How did you become interested in it?
Growing up I was always surrounded by entrepreneurial energy. My great grandmother came to New York from Vega Baja, PR with little in her pocket and opened her restaurant Celia. At home, interiors were always vibrant, story driven and infused a sense of our culture and heritage - whether it was through vibrant paint colors, culturally influenced art work or patterned wallpaper - paying homage to our traditions of colorful tapestry (both new and old), and fusion of indigenous, Spanish and African heritage.
As a Latina, does your heritage play a role in your entrepreneurial drive?
Absolutely. For my family it was always about “climb and lift” and as an entrepreneur you are always breaking down barriers, opening doors, and creating paths for others to follow. When I was young my mom told me she looked at me when I was born and she made a promise to me that I would always have more and better than she did. This has always stuck with me because to me it speaks to her devoted sacrifices to give me the best life she could, as her top priority. This has always been a theme in my life and is something I have strived to pay forward to my daughter and future generations.
What are your favorite Hispanic traditions that are now at the core of your life?
A sense of family is a key element that I carry forward from my heritage. For us, family is the nucleus and it's always been a tradition to have dinners together as a family, to embrace that time to share our day, our triumphs and our challenges. On holidays our meals often also included Coquito which is a tradition for Christmas and New Year’s holidays!
AS A WOMAN IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN WHO WANT TO THRIVE LIKE YOU HAVE?
I have four brothers and started my professional career working on a trading desk on Wall Street so I am pretty accustomed to being in male dominated environments. For me I lean into the differentiated and strength I can contribute to the conversations. As women, we should never sacrifice leaning into empathy as that is our superpower - emotional intelligence + intellectual intelligence should never be underestimated. As a side tip, find areas of commonality even when you think they don’t exist, to break down barriers - when I worked on Wall Street I knew all the sports scores from the night before, who was playing, the injuries etc. It often disarmed our “differences” as we engaged in conversations.
LET’S TALK ENTERTAINING. YOU JUST BUILT A NEW HOME - DID YOU DESIGN THE KITCHEN WITH INTENTIONS TO HAVE LARGE GATHERINGS?
There were many things I looked forward to when it came to building our home and entertaining was absolutely one of them. It was important to me that our main floor had an open, organic, circular flow that was conducive to entertaining. I remember last November when we hosted our first Friendsgiving, I looked around and saw clusters of friends engaging, laughing, eating, drinking and my heart felt full. As we continue to build out our home this has extended to our backyard, where we have created organic gathering zones - whether it's for kids or adults, couples or groups of single friends. I do host a lot more than when we lived in an apartment. I think from fall to the end of year I may have 3 open weekends currently, but having a home to host our friends and family brings me so much joy.
WHAT HAVE YOU SPENT YOUR TIME DOING MORE OF THIS YEAR THAN IN PREVIOUS YEARS?
I would say travel. Over the past year my travel has really picked up. Working in a hybrid world has also made this more manageable. But I would also say overall I have taken more of an effort to be more intentional about how I spend my time during the week- whether it’s days in office that I marry more with getting out to see the city, sense the pulse and benchmark what is happening in retail, or meet with clients to have 1-1 facetime, or work from home in order to make my daughter’s softball game or balance out my time after spending days on the road.
What is your superpower?
Many would say it’s my ability to be extremely organized, disciplined with time and stick to the schedule I create. I am an extremely high performer when it comes to tackling a lot in a week and it’s my ability to embrace time management that allows me to do so and be present where I really need to be. Not everyone loves living in a calendar and I respect that, but for me it empowers my superpower. The advice I would give, whether you embrace a calendar or not - is recognize and trust where you provide the most value-add and where you can (and should) hand off to others. If someone looked at my calendar they might pass out but I often also give myself permission to opt out of things where I know I have a very capable team in place and my presence isn’t where I am contributing the highest value.
SINCE YOU ATTEND SO MANY INDUSTRY EVENTS, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE STYLING TIP?
My closet isn’t as huge as you will think but throughout the years I have definitely learned how to pick pieces that best compliment my best features - and the key is being okay with the fact that this isn’t the same for everyone. For me it’s not my midriff for example, especially after having a C-section but I do take pride in my toned arms and shoulders so I try to choose pieces that accentuate my best “assets.” Finding pieces that best compliment your physique to me is crucial, because when you are dressed in pieces that highlight your best features you will enter the room with that much more confidence and it will set the tone for you.
GETTING BACK FALL GALAS, WHAT FASHION TREND ARE YOU FOLLOWING?
I love to embrace shimmer and shine for the holidays, along with rich holiday inspired colors like the green fall chartreuse dress from One33 Social. This season I am on the hunt for something lime green sequined and/or something walking the line of lilac and deep, rich pink.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE TO LIVE BY?
“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake- you can’t learn anything from being perfect.” I think this is an important mantra for us all because we fear mistakes and associate them with failure but it's most often that true growth happens when we are brave enough to try and even braver to learn from our mistakes.