Each semester, the Center for Retailing Studies (CRS) hosts 15-20 industry leaders for the Executive Professor Speaker Series, designed to connect retail students with working professionals as guest lecturers.

“Visiting executives share their personal experiences with students and promote career opportunities within their companies,” said Lauren Osborne ’05, program manager.

“Hearing first-hand from our speakers is the highest-rated learning experiences by our students as they incorporate what they learn from their coursework.”

Making her return to Aggieland, Executive Professor Rachel Bentley ’08 and co-founder of The Citizenry joined Kelli Hollinger’s MKTG 325 Strategic Retailing class to detail her career journey after Mays Business School.

Launched in 2014, The Citizenry seeks to reinvent shopping for artisanal goods. By working directly with master craftsmen from around the world to create original home décor, the retailer sells product directly to customers online without a middleman.

Bentley, who received her bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in finance from Mays, began her lecture by asking the class to consider two questions:

  1. Why are you here?
  2. Where do you think the why is going to take you?

As part of the Business Fellows program as a student, she crafted a mission statement that reflected her personal goals and passions, which included: hosting dinner parties, travel, working with younger students and creating products and experiences that were unique and extraordinary – things that may have seemed odd for an accounting and finance major.

My desire was to “create beauty as a reminder that the world has meaning and purpose beyond what we see today,” Bentley said.

Little did she realize the impact this assignment would have on her professional career.

After graduation, Bentley joined Bain & Company in New York, supporting Fortune 500 retail, healthcare and oil and gas firms. There she developed experience in consumer trend forecasting. In 2014, she earned her MBA at Columbia University.

Noticing a growing segment of conscious consumers who wanted goods that were not mass produced, Bentley and her Mays classmate Carly Kouba Nance ’07, decided to fill the gap.

“The millennial consumer has different values,” Bentley described. “Transparency, authenticity and social responsibility… are incredibly important to us.”

The Citizenry delivers the same handmade products as high end boutiques, but at more competitive price points. Enter the alpaca throw blanket and leather butterfly chair, two items that ultimately put the company on the map.

Add in people, places and processes and you have The Citizenry’s unique business model.

According to Bentley, collections can take up to a year to develop from selecting a country, meeting with suppliers to receiving the finished homeware in the United States.

The company credits their growth to a marketing matrix that emphasizes content creation, brand awareness and acquisition marketing.

“We work with a broad range of local artisans who are specialized and dedicated to their ancient craft,” Bentley said.

Argentina, Uganda, Mexico, Morocco, Ireland, Peru and Brazil are countries of inspiration for their current collections.

Bentley and her team personally meet and develop long-term relationships with each artisan. The company is committed to helping them to keep as much profit as possible by investing 10% of sales proceeds back into the community through grants, programs and workshops in entrepreneurship and business management.

“Everything we do is designed uniquely from the artist for the consumer,” said Bentley. “If you can create a great product while inspiring others, then you have a recipe for success.”