As with any company, growth happens in stages, but especially a company with physical products. Research and development, sample making, marketing the product and perhaps even handling some of the preliminary sales are some of the stages of expansion.
However, with my handbag company charm and luck, to grow our business we realized we needed to find sales partners to handle our sales. To achieve the growth we wanted for our company, we had to be able to focus on churning out new designs and handling our infrastructure and growth; thus, we created a team of salespeople to bring our sales to the next level.
With looking for salespeople in the fashion industry, our mindset was that we were looking for partners. Domestically and internationally, we sought out companies who had sales procedures in place, as well as a list of clients who had purchased from them in the past, and who would most likely purchase from them again. My immediate goal was to have a showroom in every market in the US – Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
It was important for us to find independent sales representatives (salespeople who would travel and call on customers), showrooms and international distributors. Several years later, when our business had stabilized and I felt secure in my company’s growth, we actively sought top-tier accounts, which we then handled in house. Eventually, our biggest client we maintained was the Home Shopping Network (HSN), and we grew that relationship to be one of their top handbag brands.
In the beginning, when looking for salespeople to sell our product, we signed up for our first trade show, and then just keep ‘our ears to the ground’ for news of showrooms or salespeople who were looking for new and fresh lines. I certainly would approach people who I knew owned multi-line showrooms and ask them to take a look at our brand. It was during the New York shows that I met our first showroom who was based in Atlanta. In reality, we never actually left our Atlanta showroom as we were always very pleased with their performance.
After Atlanta, we added our Dallas showroom and then Los Angeles. Our Los Angeles showroom opened up the specialty realtor Nordstrom account for us. After we were in Nordstrom for our first couple test orders, they eventually put us in all stores (80+) and purchased our wallets and belts, as well as our handbags. At this point, Nordstrom was ordering monthly orders from us for their entire company, which in retail lingo is called an all-door order.
Once we were in Nordstrom, it was quite easy for us to find a prestigious New York showroom. One of our top goals was always to have a New York showroom, especially one who had established relationships with the top accounts from Europe, the Middle East and Russia.
Things really started to come together after our New York showroom was in place, because we then signed an exclusive contract with a distributor for the Middle East. Our contract was a multi-year agreement, which resulted in a $100,000 USD minimum buy each year and granted exclusivity to our distributor in the Middle East.
Because of this exclusive agreement, we opened up charm and luck boutiques in several high-end stores in Dubia and Riyadh. Right after this deal was done, we inked a deal with another distributor in Germany, as well as a distributor in Japan.
Although these events seem rather organic, I was very systematic about how I wanted our company growth to be. My first goal was to establish a strong distribution channel here in the US. Secondly, as we were growing our business domestically, we then went after high profile and large stores when we felt we could handle their production demands. Thirdly, we pursued and were pursued by international game changers who propelled our business forward. Lastly, almost all of the showrooms, salespeople and distributors that we worked with stayed with us for years.
One of my personal goals has always been retention. I tried very hard to make the right decisions about distribution agreements, partners and employees, so we would not have a lot of backward movement. In other words, I wanted growth and forward movement, and I did not want our progress to be impeded by poor training with our employees or salespeople. Consequently, I felt I needed to make the right decisions from the outset.
Before starting my handbag company, I worked at management in Nordstrom and had to hire and fire at least 100 people during my tenure. I really hated to invest time in someone and then have to lose them and start again, so I tried very hard to make the right decisions regarding work relationships.
Consequently, when I started my own company, I really tried to improve upon some of the hiring mistakes I made while at Nordstrom. These lessons I then applied to my hiring of employees, salespeople and even our trading partners such as our factories.
The lessons I applied to my own company were:
In closing, in growing our company I applied the many lessons I learned along the way regarding treating people with respect, follow through and never letting an opportunity pass me by. When presented with the opportunity to meet with a new client unexpectedly or take an unscheduled phone call, we always did it. For me being an entrepreneur meant doing whatever we needed to do to bring our company to the next level, and by finding partners who helped with our sales, we were able to increase our sales very quickly.
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