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InsideFMM | April 18, 2014

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CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, Uri Minkoff: From Start-Up to Major Designer

The business of fashion can be daunting for any young designer, especially during economic downturns. Finding your voice, creating a marketing strategy and financing the products for one goal: to catch that elusive fashion customer. Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, shares his case study to an audience of young designers at MAGIC’s seminar series in Las Vegas. While many factors contributed to the brand’s success, Uri says finding bloggers early on and maintaining a dialogue with a new set of digital brand ambassadors was key.

“We had huge growth during [the recession] because we became the brand that was friendly to our customer,” Uri says. “There are a lot of things you can do for free and social media is one of them. When everyone else was pulling back, we’re going to jump forward. We decided to market ourselves through it.”

Establishing brand ID.
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Rebecca worked from the floor of her New York apartment and distributed promotional cards in Union Square. She walked around asking New Yorkers, “Have you heard of the next great designer, Rebecca Minkoff?” Three years post-FIT, Uri gets a call from his sister, Rebecca. “Should I serve at an Italian restaurant or a Japanese restaurant?” Uri, a natural entrepreneur and an experienced businessman, asked Rebecca how committed she was to taking her brand to the major leagues. She told her brother becoming a designer was all she wanted to do, but she was worried about the initial success of her company. “I heard you can make great tips as a waitress,” she told Uri.

Uri suggested defining the Rebecca Minkoff customer and finding a specific void in the market to fill. At the time, they noticed a lack of designer options for young professional women who set trends but couldn’t afford luxury products. Rebecca then went into business with her brother. “We’ve been turned down so many times,” Uri says, “but the definition of an entrepreneur is someone who manages an undertaking. The key components are high risk and initiative. As young designers, we’re going to get rejected but we always sat down and said no was not an option.”

Jumping into consumer focus.
With the birth of social media in 2007, Uri and Rebecca saw a new unique opportunity for their brand. “I’m going to go out on a whim here and say we were unofficially one of the first brands to have a dialogue there with our customers,” Uri says. “We became a brand that wasn’t forced by the stores. It wasn’t forced by PR. It was an honest, true relationship between us and the new consumer online.”

Uri and Rebecca found key blogs, forums and chat rooms that generated instant feedback for her designs. If the bloggers preferred a different shade of red in her bags or a harder bottom in their handbags, Rebecca considered their feedback during her next round of designs. With these online relationships, Rebecca Minkofff developed what Uri calls and army of brand ambassadors, otherwise known as Minkettes. This set of 15-20 thousand Minkettes became key brand advocates for the company, according to Uri, and some of those fashion bloggers had more readers than Vogue.

Growing in a recession.
To get the initial attention of retailer, Rebecca traveled to 10-15 cities across the country each season. The brand even mobilized the Minkettes and sent them into stores such as Saks or Nordstrom to establish relationships with department managers of handbags and other key associates.

When the recession struck in 2008, retail sales and consumer confidence took a hit. Department stores went around to each vendor in that contemporary zone and suggested that they lower their price points. “The natural tendency was to take a step back, tighten the belt, and pray that it goes away,” Uri says. “But we did more PR and more social media. When we had feedback from several major forces, we were the only ones who listened. At the end of the day, it’s about the real estate you own in those stores.”

While Rebecca Minkoff took a price hit, its volume grew tremendously. The first year, the designer grew 80 percent and the following year grew 100 percent.

Today, Rebecca Minkoff is one the largest independent contemporary handbag vendor in the United States. Handbags account for nearly 80 percent of its revenue with a growing apparel line and recent launch of a men’s accessory line. Rebecca Minkoff’s products are featured in over 200 major department stores and over 500 specialty stores across the U.S.

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