Light It Up, Life Lessons

by | 31 March 2021

In the final installment of our spotlight on incredible women in retail whose tenacity and talents have impacted both their careers and their communities, I sat down with my mom and my go-to whenever I’m stuck, Prem Solanki, a pioneering female-founder, for a few life lessons.

Lesson 1: You’ll put in a lot of hours in the beginning, but it’ll be worth it.

After migrating to Southern California from East Africa, Prem Solanki’s first solo business was retail signage–banners, posters, and placard signs. “I’ve always been an independent woman; I like to do things my way.” Doing things your way requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but it pays off in the end. As Prem grew more familiar with the industry, she gradually began to invest in neon gas signs. While learning the ins and outs of the business, which led Prem to purchase several companies, she eventually established herself as a neon wholesaler to other sign businesses.

Neon gas signs were first used by a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles in 1923 and quickly became a popular fixture in outdoor advertising. The use of neon was not sustainable long-term. By the late 1960s, fluorescent lights made headway until the more environmentally-friendly LED lights became widely used in businesses (and homes) worldwide. Nowadays, neon signs are utilized mainly in nostalgic art installations and the occasional city skyline. YellowPop, an emerging lighting designer hopes their hybrid LED neon signs will inspire a comeback. The brand released a line of neon signs with empowering phrases like “Girl Gang” and partnered with artists like Diet Prada on “Girl Power” to honor International Women’s Day.

Lesson 2: With the proper focus, every woman can have a successful business.

As a consummate woman of color, Prem found it challenging in the early days of business ownership encountering naysayers who questioned her capabilities as a woman in advertising. “I kept my focus despite those who would say ‘she’s a woman, she wouldn’t be able to do anything,’ but I knew I could do it.” A level of confidence and determination she instilled with both of her daughters.

I always heard my mother say, “Be confident, focus on what you want in your life, and you will achieve it.” And honestly, she’s right. When you have a vision, it’s not all that difficult to achieve your dreams.

Lesson 3: Own your truth and make a name for yourself.

Prem’s business serviced local small businesses and regional shopping centers, supermarkets, and even the City of Orange, CA. Within the Indian-American community in Cerritos, Prem was the go-to contact for outfitting new businesses with outdoor signs. “Whenever a new store broke ground, the owners knew to call me first to light it up.”

When I consider my mom’s passion and drive, I can’t help but rethink my own journey. The retail CRE path was accidental for me, and it is one that I continue to explore. As for the similarities with my mom’s business, there are many, starting with our mutual business sensibility, thriving in the connections we make with others, using our creativity to develop new and innovative retail concepts, and ultimately working toward producing something that’s memorable. What I do ‘lights’ me up every day.

And that concludes our Female Founders Spotlight series honoring the incredible women in retail whose tenacity and talents have impacted both their careers and their communities. Many thanks again to Prem Solanki, Busayo Olupona, and Pooja Bavishi for sharing their story. Do you have a female founder that inspires you? Tag me on Twitter or LinkedIn to get a conversation started.