Some women notice a stunning vintage dress at an estate sale and see an opportunity to spice up their closet. When Katie Echeverry sees that same garment, she spies her next business opportunity.
In 2000, the former pharmaceutical rep walked away from the corporate rat race to create a business out of her passion: vintage fashion. She launched Unique Vintage, a retail business dedicated to formal dresses from the 1920s to the 1960s. In the past few years, Unique Vintage apparel has been seen on TV shows such as "Glee" and in the pages of Glamour, and has been shipped by FedEx to customers in South Dakota, Saudi Arabia, and nearly every place in between.
Echeverry's journey from garage sales to global entrepreneur is proof positive that even a small business can impact communities both near and far. It's also a journey that cuts a pattern other business owners can follow.
When you talk to Echeverry, her success boils down to five key principles:
- Think scale. Ask Echeverry about the key moment in her evolution as an entrepreneur, and she doesn't hesitate. "It was when I realized I could sell more than one of something if I switched from authentic vintage to vintage-inspired clothing," she says. "I knew which vintage pieces always sold well. The problem was, there was only one of each."
When she moved from being a reseller to building her own brand, business took off.
- Take a leap. After trying to work with wholesalers to source vintage-inspired dresses for her business, Echeverry realized she still wasn't stocking exactly what her customers wanted. She knew she was going to have to find a way to partner directly with a manufacturer.
"The internet is a wonderful place," Echeverry laughs. "It was actually easier for me to find a manufacturer in China than here in L.A." Echeverry quickly connected with three different manufacturers in China and India.
Echeverry took a chance and sent a sample dress to Kerr Shen, a representative for Kent Star International in Guangdong, China. Shen sent a counter-sample back that matched her vision. "I wired him money and kept my fingers crossed that I'd get product back, and I did." Echeverry has been working with Kent Starr ever since. Together they create approximately 24,000 dresses per year.
"I know we positively impact his company, because [Shen] tells me all the time. He's very grateful," she says, "and that makes us feel good."
- Lean on trusted vendors. As Unique Vintage grew from a 10-order-a-day business to a sophisticated online retailer processing more than 500 orders on a busy day, Echeverry had to move her business out of her garage and into a 12,000 square-foot warehouse — adding a new shipper, returns specialist and picker. All great news for Unique Vintage and the local Burbank community, with one hitch: Echeverry didn't have expertise running a warehouse.
"I had plateaued with my knowledge," she says.
Enter John Broker, FedEx senior sales executive, who brought in FedEx consultants to streamline warehouse operations and help with software platforms. Recently, Echeverry has turned to another trusted consultant to help her hire a controller for her business to go along with a new programmer and marketing manager. "I'm getting help finding the higher-level employees I need to take this business to the next level," she says.
The next level is wholesale. "We have so many requests every week for people to sell dresses in their stores and boutiques." Echeverry recently hired a wholesale sales manager to oversee this transition.
- Make shipping a customer service weapon. Echeverry is intensely loyal to FedEx Home Delivery® service for its speed, dependability and Saturday delivery. In fact, a full 23 percent of Unique Vintage shipments arrive on Saturday.
"Because so many people are last-minute shoppers, and we deal with so many events like prom, our customers want their dresses right now," she says. "Saturday delivery prevents a big chunk of our customers calling us on a Monday and saying, 'Where's my package?'"
- Celebrate your impact. As Echeverry's online empire has grown, she's also opened two bricks-and-mortar locations around L.A. to capitalize on prom season. That's meant more staffing up — something Echeverry is proud to do as a local L.A. resident.
"I feel really good. Not only is my business creating jobs, but they're in a fun, hip, creative environment, because that's our culture," she says. "I feel good that I can provide that to our people."
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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.