Interview with Elizabeth Courtney – Showroom Director/Sales Manager at Findings Showroom
Walk me through your career path.
I went to school at the University of Wisconsin–Stout and graduated from their fashion merchandising curriculum. I immediately was hired by Dayton Hudson, a retailer in the Midwest located in Minneapolis- comparable to a Nordstrom. I was enrolled in their training program and got exposed to all different aspects of the industry (buying, managing, merchandising, planning) so I stayed there for about a year and a half.
I then ended up moving to LA to experience more than the Midwest had to offer. I knew there was a big world out there and I wanted to see it all! Shortly after moving to LA, I landed a job in wholesale. This job taught me the inside of the business which was exciting! I wanted to work hard and prove myself. I learned about the specialty stores, major department stores, how buyers work, how designers work, seasonal markets and strategizing. It was a great foundation and I put my soul into it- I truly found my home in a career!
Later, I became the West Coast sales manager for Nicole Miller. I was able to open a new showroom, hire a staff and form a strong team. We grew the collection to a multimillion dollar business. It exposed me to also selling accessories, lingerie and menswear. I grew Nordstorm to be the #1 company account. I truly loved LA and was there for about 10 years. I then moved overseas for 9 years which is another story. But in 2006, I came to NY and was hired by Findings Inc as Managing/Sales Director.
Did you always know you wanted to work in the fashion industry?
My mother was a clotheshorse, and she worked at The Limited retail store. She always wore great clothes with high style which struck my interest in fashion. Even though we weren’t the same size, I somehow made the clothes fit me because I wanted to wear them so badly! I would also go visit her at work and I think this got engrained in my DNA. I loved the atmosphere and have always had a passion for fashion.
What interested you in working at a showroom?
I was a retail department store manager in Minneapolis where I managed a large staff. A man came in to the store one day who held a position of what we would call a “retail specialist” today. He would go to the stores and merchandise the floor and make sure they had the proper inventory. He also got to know all the managers and staffers.
I thought he had such a great job because he got to see the inside of the business as well as talk to management and be involved in all sides of the business. He was working directly alongside the designer and that sounded intriguing to me. At that point my interest was sparked and hence the further pursue of my career.
Tell me what it is like working with a designer.
All designers are different… You have to make them happy, which is not easy. They all have different creative ideas, different temperaments and personalities, — some welcome feedback, some don’t. But I have to say I truly enjoy working with all designers. I love getting to see an inspiration of a collection before it gets finalized. From sketches on paper, to model fittings, to actual samples in hand!! It’s like a collection being born that you saw developing from the start.
What does market week look like for a showroom, and more specifically for you?
There are lots of different aspects. Prepping is important. By now, I can do it with my eyes closed, but I still get stressed. Ultimate goal is trying to increase business over LY (last year). We work on targets and opening of new stores while being mindful of distribution. It’s a week full of buyer appointments and we show the collection to each customer we see.
Lots of energy, models trying on the samples for our clients, long hours, buyers coming and going all day – domestic and international. We show about 20 collections so you can get the idea of the planning involved and sense the buzz of a busy showroom during this time!
How do you find new brands to feature in the showroom?
Dierdre Roffoni, who is the founder of Findings Showroom, has a very clear vision of what Findings represents. She knows the market and product extremely well. We get emails/calls daily from designers and manufacturers around the world, with all levels of product (luxury to mediocre). We decide what fits in our brand matrix and add collections when we know we can maximize sales and give our buyers a product they can’t live without.
What does a work week look like for you?
Outside of market I am always strategizing for the next months ahead, as well as looking at new brands, meeting with my sales team and overseeing the orders they are bringing in. There are lots of team meetings, designer meetings, conference calls with buyers to review budgets and internal selling, as well as being a strong support to all of my staff members. There is never a dull moment!
For those who don’t know, what is a showroom, and what different positions are available?
A showroom is a business which is only open to the trade itself. It isn’t open to the public because it represents wholesale only. It’s similar to being an agent. We are the face of the designer and we are doing all of the sales & marketing for them, while they are in charge of the creative end. A showroom is responsible for bottom line sales with that brand. This includes opening/closing stores, marketing, as well as end of season support for the larger dept stores. We represent the manufacturer, but also work closely with the retail buying team. We try to mesh all sides to run a cohesive business together.
In our showroom, the positions along the ladder are:
- Showroom Assistant/Administrative Assistant
- Sales Assistant
- Junior Sales Executive
- Senior Sales Executive
- Director of Sales
What skills are needed to be a sales manager? What is the job description of a sales manager?
I learned my job from starting at the positions I described above and climbing up the ladder as you achieve successes. College is important as well as working retail so you understand that side as well. You get better at your craft until you earn a management role, which happens once you’ve put your time in. It’s important to have a good name in the industry because people who are hiring will call asking for recommendations.
You develop skills through someone teaching you. It’s important to have a mentor. It’s kind of like a snowball, you pick up these layers as you go through the years. Then you put into gear the fact that you know you are the one that your team has to rely on. You know you’re the one who has to be strong and most importantly, be a leader. Some of the skills you learn and perfect – and some of them may come naturally because they are in your heart.
What is the process like getting each season’s collection from the designer to the showroom?
We have product meetings ahead of time in order to edit the styles and/or make any changes/additions to the collection. The manufacturers know what day we need the line to arrive in the showroom. Everything arrives and has its place mapped out on a floor plan. We hang, steam, tag, and merchandise everything in its special area. Once all is in order we have a line review so the designer can show us their thoughts and inspiration on the new, fabulous collection.
What are the pros and cons of your position?
Pros: I love making a difference where I run a multi-million dollar business successfully. I relish cultivating relationships with all the people that I employ as well as collaborate with. I look forward to working with the designers we represent as well as look forward to new opportunities that lie ahead. I work closely with my team and try to teach them to be the best that they can be.
I enjoy going to Paris, seeing fashion shows, working market, and also finding new brands and meeting with prospective clients. I love the pulse of NY and every day can be totally different than what you had projected it to be! I love the Findings team that we have created, grown, and cultivated together. Can’t think of any cons. What can I say – the industry is in my blood!