At Seladex, we’re focused on helping apparel and accessory showrooms succeed by helping them stay organized, better manage their showrooms and increase sales through the use of our Apparel Industry CRM (Customer Relationship Manager).
However, we go beyond the use of technology as a means to help entrepreneurs in the fashion industry grow. We’re big believers in education, so from time to time we bring in fashion experts from around the world to help educate you, our blog readers, about the various ways you can grow your fashion empire.
Today, Seladex had the opportunity to speak with Kim Barbieri, one of the co-founders of Grand Showroom NYC, about her experience running both a showroom as well as a manufacturing company in the apparel industry...
We have an exciting interview planned for you today, so without further ado, let’s jump in!
First, thank you for taking the time to chat with our blog readers today about your experience in the showroom space. Grand Showroom NYC is a woman owned / operated showroom that got started three years ago. You're still a fairly young showroom! Why don't we kick this interview off by rewinding back to your earlier days. Tell us a little bit more about the early history of Grand Showroom NYC. Also, you own a design and manufacturing agency as well. Can you tell us a little bit more about the cross over or synergy between your design and manufacturing company and your showroom? Which came first?
It happened organically actually, which sometimes is the best way for business to happen. Janet and I own a design and manufacturing company called The Martini Factory (TMF). Which is a full-service fashion design and manufacturing business, including everything from sampling to full-scale production. We design and develop apparel and accessories for our emerging designers.
It's a bit easier if I explain the life cycle of a designer from concept to consumer, it flows from idea, concept, creation, develop, sample collection, showroom, PR, shows, sales and production then onto the consumer. With that cycle one of the most important components is the showroom or sales element. We developed brands and products for various emerging designers and would "send them on their way" to find showrooms or sales representatives, which if I am honest, is not an easy task. Money is a huge issue, contracts are confusing, sales numbers were low (if any), too many brands in a showroom and little to no reps, etc. However, the biggest issue we have in this industry is that it is difficult to "break in a new brand" especially if it's their early collections and people have heard little to nothing about them.
We were shocked by what our clients were being told, the amount of money showrooms demanded for representation and little to no sales, and "it's tough, be patient" had become everyday gospel for them, season after season. We were frustrated for them and for us. We are a manufacturing agency and without orders it becomes a business struggle. We felt bad that there are so many talented emerging designers out there, and no one was taking a risk on them. It felt like sending our kids out in the world to apply for colleges and no acceptance letters came back.
However, one must remember that it is so important to find the "right" showroom and the right fit for the brand over just "signing" with a showroom. Janet and I felt we had much to offer with advice to our TMF clients of how to look for a showroom. We would give them advice: make sure you ask what other brands are hanging in the showroom, do they look at the samples for quality, do they ask what was your vision, or inspiration in developing this collection, and what is the brand genesis etc. Janet and I would help with our clients story boards, photoshoots, price points, lookbooks, linesheets, setting up factors, website, social media, shipping, duties, logistics, distribution, etc... essentially we were a showroom with the sales representation. So... since we had the loft/office/showroom space, the designers/brands, the experience, CFDA talent, PR partner, the design and manufacturing agency all in-house... essentially, we are a fashion "dream team."
We wanted to be different than most showrooms, we wanted to help the emerging designer succeed. We wanted to set them up for the best chance to build their business and understand the nuances that go along with it. We felt we understood the complete "lifecycle" of the designer and our approach would be different. We wanted to make changes and impact our emerging designers instead of hearing "well, that's the way the industry has always done it." We wanted designed/brands to design and make the showroom feel seamless to them. Customize services for each individual brand to make it work. So, after many conversations, Janet and I decided to take the leap and Grand Showroom NYC was born.
THE MARTINI FACTORY - "You dream it... We can make it!"
The Martini Factory is a full-service fashion design and manufacturing agency for sampling and full-scale production. TMF is a sophisticated "one-stop-shop" creative space for designers to explore and expand their ideas, develop high quality product, and provide opportunities to cultivate their brand. We specialize in women's and men's contemporary / ready-to-wear to luxury, handbags and accessories as well as children's clothing.
Our CFDA creative director (Janet Howard) and our team of designers work closely with clients to meet each individual need from inspiration, merchandising, sketching, creating tech packs and specifications, fit, grading, to sourcing and choosing hardware, selecting fabrics and skins from our vast in-house library. We have a hands-on approach to managing every aspect of your design and development process from concept to consumer. We believe in creating value for our clients. Trust and integrity are the cornerstones of our business and is essential for maintaining a sustainable future together.
We are delighted that our many clients choose to work with us, including a diversity of designers, global brands, department stores, boutiques, celebrities, private label, catalogue, and ecommerce sites. Because of the nature of our business, it made sense the "missing piece" was a showroom.
What were some of the biggest mistakes you made when you were just starting Grand Showroom NYC?
The best question to be asked as a business owner, Every business makes so many mistakes and that's how you grow. The fashion industry is not very forgiving. It's tough because of the fierce global competition and big conglomerate online companies that are squeezing out the little "guys." Finding a loyal, dedicated experienced sales team is key. Having the right network and connections is key. Designers having funding is key. Getting the industry (buyers) to take a chance on emerging designers is key. Mistakes are always made from all sides designers, reps, showrooms, fashion industry, manufacturers, stores, buyers, shippers, are all contributing factors and I can assure you I have made mistakes in every part of it however running your own business is trial and failure and then hopefully success.
What were some of the biggest early obstacles you faced while growing Grand Showroom NYC and how did you overcome those early obstacles?
We decided to jump into the deep end, feet first since we had success with TMF and were already doing most of what showrooms were doing. We thought, "no problem." Wow, so looking back now, I wish I had a "floaty" on with that jump.
As any new start-up business, you are always perceived as the "new kid on the block" or the "new kid in school." Since we had/have success with TMF, it was super important to us to be a separate entity and function as an independent showroom. We needed to build our relationships differently from TMF, so it was like starting from scratch. Networking was and still is huge! Interviewing is a nightmare for everyone but finding the right team is key, finding the right brands is key, finding the right buyer is key... where do you find that? Not easy. When you're the new kid, not everyone wants to play with you. Fortunately, people knew who we were, especially CFDA Janet Howard, so we got off to a good start. There will always be obstacles as the industry is fast growing and changing and its important to embrace that and keep up.
Have you ever pivoted with your showroom's direction or focus? If so, can you tell us a little bit more about what inspired that pivot?
We would always tell our designers in TMF, "you can't be everything to everyone, design for your target demographic/audience.' Well sometimes one doesn't listen to oneself. In the beginning, we decided to represent women, men, dual gender, and accessories, etc. Then after 2 seasons we honed in on the premium market focusing on contemporary/RTW and luxury in both apparel and accessories. We redirected that focus on what brands were right for what buyers, what price points would we represent, essentially positioning ourselves more strategically in the market. We customized our services to enable our brands to express their vision and establish their brand, both nationally and internationally.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the work that you do in the following areas: Logistics, warehousing, range planning, price structuring?
Logistics: We have an amazing logistics partner, InXpress that we work with It is important to establish a good logistics partner for your showroom and brands in the beginning. Most designers have no clue when it comes to shipping, duties, or any logistical issues around it. For example: importing special goods, needing licenses, etc. We have an amazing relationship with our logistic partner who hand holds them through the process. We are one of the very few showrooms that provides these options for brands. We also have certain licenses from TMF that help with importing/exporting any special goods.
Warehousing: There are many great distribution once a brand grows exponentially, however, what to do in the meantime. We offer some warehousing internally, but for the most part it is the responsibility of the brand.
Range Planning: We work with our clients on a one to one basis on range planning. This means we put together an overview of their collection with all of the design and the financial parameters set out. We help them to ensure they have covered all the specifics in the collection before taking them to market. This includes everything from styles, fabrics and colorways, to ensure that they are aligned with the market they are looking to break into, not over do their collection and commit to a production line they can follow through on.
Price Structuring: This is an area where most brands need our assistance. We review every brand' price point with them upon entering the showroom whether it's first time or season after season. We want to make sure that they are on target for the market, they've included important things like "landed" costs and made sure that the % margin is correct on MSRP.
You're still a young showroom so I'm sure you've tested a lot of different growth levers to see what works best for you. In your experience so far, which growth activities have helped your showroom gain the best traction? If you had to double down on one growth channel right now, what would it be and why?
The biggest growth channels for us as a showroom has been driven by the true relationships with our brands and understanding them as if they were our own. That way we have been able to partner and align expectations with realistic goals for emerging designers. We’re not always focusing on driving them into major stores, but experimenting with boutiques and chains that are under the radar. We find that often these stores can be far more consistent and reliable.
Another growth channel that I would double down on is the power of social media and the web. Having a presence on social media and the web is so important for brands these days. Social and web platforms hold so much value. A strong online presence can change the direction of a brand in one season.
Lastly, if you could go back in time and give a younger version of yourself three pieces of advice about running a showroom what would those three pieces of advice be?
1) "You can't be everything to everyone"... own the phrase
2) Your sales team is your front line... take the time to find the right people out of the gate... be tough!
3) Starting your own business is a rollercoaster ride, so buckle up because it's going to be tough.
Great advice! Thank you for taking the time to chat with Seladex blog readers today about your experience in the showroom space. It’s been inspiring learning about your history and ups and downs. I’m sure our blog readers will have many actionable takeaways after reading this interview. To our readers, if you’d like to learn more about Grand Showroom NYC you can head over to their website here.