ABOUT OUR GUESTMargo Morrison is the owner and creator of Margo Morrison New York, which offers a collection of necklaces, earrings & bracelets that even some of Hollywood’s finest can be seen wearing. Morrison has been in the retail business for over ten years now and during that decade, she’s learned a thing or two about wholesale- and the benefits it offers. https://www.brandboom.com/article/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/margo-crop.png According to Morrison, her business is expanding by 10 to 15 percent a year. As a designer, being able to adjust to retail shifts and learning to take advantage of wholesale can lead you to that level of success that Margo Morrison of New York has experienced.
Wholesale can be a great way to advance your business.“The whole point of doing wholesale is that the stores do the work for you. You deal with 20 stores and that becomes exponential because they’re dealing with hundreds and hundreds of customers. So, if you’re just doing a website to one customer it would take you the same amount of time actually to work with their customers as it might take for you to get a whole order from a wholesale customer or wholesale buyer at a trade show,” Morrison said. “I just immediately saw the money, I saw the benefit of letting the other stores work for you. Plus it’s not easy working with retail customers with returns. I didn’t want to do returns- let the store deal with all that stuff. And, if we need to take items back, we have a ratio of what we’re willing to step back in order to take a new order. It just seemed like a better business decision for me,” she said.
In order to reap the full benefits that come with selling wholesale, brands have to be well prepared.“We need to make things really easy for them (wholesale customers) because they can just go on and take another brand. You can have a really great product and not good marketing or not know how to present it to the world and you won’t do well. You could actually have a mediocre product and a phenomenal high tech, amazing way of reaching your consumer or customer and you can be really successful. So we always have to find a way to make it easier for our our wholesale customers to buy our jewelry because they’ll find someone else,” Morrison said.
Don’t be stubborn, paying attention to the trends consumers like at the time and changing your product to meet those desires will lead to a better business.“What’s really important when you’re running a company and you’re running a business and you’re in the marketplace is to not fall in love with your designs to the point where you’re unwilling to be flexible with what the market is asking for,” Morirson said. “That’s an integral part of having a successful business- is not getting stuck in your own perception of what you think is going on. That being said, I have to love everything I put out. I love some things more than others, but I feel very good about the stuff that we make and the stuff that we put out in the marketplace,” Morrison said. “But, like I said, you have to be in touch with what’s trending and what’s going on. You have to be able to contribute to that creative part of that process.”
Designers must be able to adjust to is the changing world of trade shows.“Trade shows are changing dramatically… buyers are not coming to all the trade shows any longer. They’re going to a trade show that maybe isn’t just accessories. For example, New York Now, which is a big show that’s done at the Javits Center twice a year is getting a lot more attention from buyers who didn’t use to go. We didn’t use to see these buyers at New York Now, we saw them at a specific accessories show,” she said.
With this shift it’s important that businesses find ways of connecting with their buyers outside of trade shows.“We are having more appointments at our showroom. We are doing more marketing where my V.P. of sales will take photos of collections that she thinks stores need to buy and she’ll help them place their orders. We are working twice as hard now…not seeing twice as much income, but we’re seeing a steady growth of our income in our retail and wholesale sales,” Morrison said.
Amy: Welcome to the “Brandboom Podcast,” where we discover trends and share tips and stories from the savviest retail brands. My guest today is Margo Morrison of Margo Morrison New York. She owns a handmade jewelry brand that is super edgy, elegant, original and always in style. Her pieces can be found in Neiman Marcus and ABC Carpet & Home.
I love ABC Carpet. It’s one of my favorite stores. So I’m excited to talk to Margo today about her entire journey, about getting her pieces in Neiman Marcus and ABC Carpet & Home. Well, you know, her pieces really appeal to women and celebrities all ages and she’s probably gonna talk about that as well.
So, Margo, welcome to the podcast.
Margo: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Amy: I’m so excited to have you here on Brandboom’s Podcast because we actually have a lot of jewelry brands using our platform, so it’s actually really important to have you today as a guest as, you know, a lot of our listeners will be really excited to hear what you have to say.
Amy: So I’m just gonna rewind to when you got started because, you know, it seems like you got started in 2001.
Amy: And that was before a lot of technologies, you know, are here for a lot of our jewelry brands today to take off on Etsy, Shopify and all those. Can you tell me a little bit about why you wanted to do jewelry, what inspired you, what the brand represents to you?
Margo: Yeah. So I did a lot of things before I started my jewelry company. And I started actually as a classical pianist. So I learned a lot of discipline from studying for 16 years. I came to New York in the late ’80s. I had a number of other jobs and it never occurred to me to design jewelry. It wasn’t even on the horizon. But I saw a really cool necklace when I was down on Miami Beach. And the necklace had the spacing and it looked like the stones were suspended and there was something…there was a light bulb that went off. There was this kind of epiphany. I just said to myself, “You have to do this. You have something to say. You have something to contribute.”
So I came back to New York. I went to a retail store, I bought some stones, sat down, didn’t have a clue how to close up a necklace. I just sat on my couch and I started nodding, and arranging, and creating.
Amy: That’s really amazing. So how did you get from creating your own pieces and also being a classical pianist to actually getting some of those pieces in stores?
Margo: So, I think, one thing I’ve always had is a very entrepreneurial spirit. I had my own businesses. I published a cultural arts guide. I had my own professional organizing business. So one thing I can say about myself is that I’m a creative person with a very strong business mind. So I don’t just sit around saying, “Oh, isn’t this pretty?” I’m thinking how do I monetize these things. So I’m always coming up with ideas and actually my sister suggested I go to my, at the time, various She She Hair Salon on the Upper East Side and spend an afternoon selling to the women there. And that was the beginning of it.
I realized I had to price things properly because one day I knew I wouldn’t be making everything myself. I knew I’d have to get space. I knew there were other costs that were gonna be involved. So it tested me immediately to come up with the proper pricing. So I had a very successful afternoon that day. And then I was walking by a magazine stand. There used to be magazine stands. It was a store actually and I bought a magazine called Accessories Magazine because I said, “Gee, I should probably buy this because I’m making accessories.” And there was an ad in there for a trade show.
And the trade show was at the Javits Center in New York and I decided I would participate. It was a juried show. I made a collection of pieces. Whatever the word “collection” meant. I made a bunch of stuff. And the woman who was the head of the trade show called me up and she said, “You’ve got some really pretty things here. We’d like to meet you.” And I got into the show. I did my first show. I got orders. I was up and running.
Amy: That was back in 2001?
Margo: Two thousand one. It was April. I know I started on April 15th because it was tax day and the show was in August. May, June, July, that was four months later. I was up and running.
Amy: Were these the samples that you made from your own home and then you brought it to the trade shows?
Margo: Correct. So as a trade show…the way a trade show works is you make a collection. Then people place orders and then you have to fill those orders. So oh, my God. How was I gonna fill these orders? All of a sudden I had orders for…I don’t know, 50, 60, 70 pieces. And everything came after the problem arose. The solutions came, of course, as the problems arose. I didn’t do a business plan. I didn’t sit down and, like, you know, get investors. It was just catch as catch can, come up with solutions and figure it out on the fly. That’s just how I work.
Amy: So now trade shows are usually for wholesale, right?
Margo: They are only for wholesalers.
Amy: Right. And, you know, it sounds like when you were figuring out pricing that was your direct-to-consumer pricing.
Margo: I had to figure out the retail price because I was selling to those women at the hair salon and I had to determine what the wholesale price was gonna be because I realized, at that moment, I really only wanted to wholesale. I didn’t wanna do direct-to-retail consumers. I wanted to sell to stores because that’s really where the money is.
Amy: And can you expand on that and how you figured that out? A lot of listeners might be thinking about, “Oh, should I do indirect sales or, you know, like go direct-to-consumer?” What are some of the benefits that you saw early on in your career with your jewelry brand that made you decide to go indirect?
Margo: So the whole point of doing wholesale is that the stores do the work for you. You deal with 20 stores and that becomes exponential. They’re dealing with hundreds and hundreds of customers. So if you’re just doing a website to one customer, it would take you the same amount of time actually to work with that customer as it might take for you to get a whole order from a wholesale customer, wholesale buyer, at a trade show. And I just immediately saw the money. I saw the benefit of letting the other…let the stores work for you.
Plus, it’s not easy working with retail customers with returns. I didn’t wanna do returns. You know, let the store deal with all that stuff and if we need to take items back from time to time, we do that. We have like a ratio of what we’re willing to accept back in order to take a new order. It just seemed like a better business decision for me.
Amy: We were talking before we even, you know, started recording outside, and you told me that one of your first and biggest customers were ABC Carpet & Home.
Amy: And did you find them at a trade show? How did that happen?
Margo: I’m sorry to say it was who I knew. And I’m actually not sorry to say because part of the way you grow in a business is networking and knowing people who can know people who can introduce you to people. And there’s actually no shame in that. I had a friend, at the time, who I was out on a date with whose very close friend owned a store near ABC Carpet. He saw my jewelry and he said, “You should be in ABC Carpet.” And I said, “Oh, ha, ha. What? You know the owner?” He goes, “Yeah, actually it’s a really good friend of mine.”
I followed up. I got an appointment. And on my own merit, and my own talent, and my own work, I got in, because nobody will take you in just because somebody has a friend who has a friend. You have to prove yourself. Did it hurt that I knew someone who knew someone? No. And that has been an account for 16 years and we’ve worked tirelessly to keep the assortment fresh and to work with, you know, the sales staff there. And it’s a very important account for me. I love them.
Amy: How do you actually balance between, you know, what’s…you know, some of these important accounts and their sales teams and their buyers are looking for versus, you know, your own direction?
Margo: So I think what’s really important when you’re running a company and you’re running a business and you’re in the marketplace is to not fall in love with your designs to the point where you’re unwilling to be flexible with what the market is asking for. And, I think, what a lot of creative people not only in the jewelry business but artists, musicians, there’s a point that people are willing to go where they or not willing to go where they say, “I can’t do that. That goes against my, whatever, creative aesthetic.”
I’m very lucky. I brought in a phenomenal Vice President of Sales, Jennie Melendez and she has been an incredible, dare I say, partner in this journey because she is the most hardworking diligent person who’s out there in the market doing trunk shows all over the country. She travels way more than I do. And she’s out there and she comes back and says, “Hey, this is missing in the marketplace. We can do this.” Or, “Hey, have you thought about, you know, these baroque pearls, mixing it with pyrite or mixing this with chain?” Or whatever it is. We brainstorm or I come out from a weekend of being away. I come back and I say, “You know, I saw something on TV. I saw a celebrity wearing something. We could reinterpret that as a Margo Morrison.”
So there’s a lot of brainstorming and a lot of collaborative work with…when you’re lucky enough to have a really good sales person on your team because they’re out there testing the pulse of the market and they know what’s going on. And I can only do so much on my journey. So she’s dealing with customers almost on a daily basis. So we meld my creative vision with also what is saleable. What is the market asking for and what can we provide the market?
Amy: And so would you say that that strategy has been really been the cornerstone of carrying all of your big accounts forward with you guys every year?
Margo: I would say that that’s an integral part of having a successful business is not getting stuck in your own perception of what you think is going on. That said, that being said, I have to love everything I put out. I love some things more than others but I feel very good about the stuff that we make and the stuff that we put out in the marketplace. But, like I said, you have to be in touch with what’s trending and what’s going on. You have to be able to contribute to that creative part of that process.
Amy: Now, you know, we’ve been talking a lot about indirect sales and wholesale and, you know, all of the amazing accounts that you jump-started, you know, way back when and still has contact with and still doing business with. What about your, you know, social media presence nowadays? Because there is that, kind of, direct-to-consumer brand that you still have to, kind of, build, how has all of this new technology influenced your brand strategy going forward?
Margo: So when I started in 2001 as we were talking about before the podcast, there was no Facebook, no Instagram, no Pinterest, none of this stuff. And I was very fortunate to have Blake Lively wear my jewelry on Gossip Girl. And I remember she wore something and got photographed and it went into People Magazine. And, at that time, you put something in People Magazine…I had a small assortment on my website and I did…oh, my God. Thousands and thousands of dollars of sales that weekend.
So that doesn’t happen so much anymore because there are just…the magazine business is, kind of, dwindling. Online presence is critical. What I wanna say about that is we’re still discovering the appropriate way to post relevant content on Facebook, on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. And I actually just hired a photographer to do a photo shoot with me this weekend who’s super edgy and super cool. He’s up in the Berkshires. And we’re gonna get some really hip, cool images to put, you know, as content on these platforms that I mentioned.
And, I think, what’s important is having a very good representation of your products. You can’t just throw anything out there. The bar is set very high these days. People have money, people have friends who are photographers, people take really cool images and you…and also there’s so much information out there that people’s attention spans are very short. So the message has to be clear, quick, concise and relevant so that it brings people back to the brand.
We’ve noticed on Facebook when we post pictures of, you know, just pretty women in a lifestyle shot it’s not translating or converting to sales or even enough likes. So as I said we’re constantly reevaluating and trying to figure that out. It’s not easy. It’s not easy.
Amy: And so is a social media strategy to, you know, like, help convert sales for you or is it more of like a brand awareness type of thing?
Margo: I think it’s a combination of both because brand awareness has to translate to sales at some point because why am I in this business? I don’t have a trust fund. I have to make a living. So, I think, while you’re creating brand awareness, you’ve gotta somehow connect that back to seeing sales whether you see the sales improve at the stores, whether people say, “Oh, yeah. I saw you on Facebook and that necklace, I really wanted to get that necklace.”
We hear from stores about customers seeing something either through our emails or on our social media sites. It’s a tricky question that you’re asking because I don’t know the answer. But I know that at the end of the day, we’ve gotta monetize this in some way, shape or form.
Amy: So would you say trade shows as they exist, you know, today and back when you get started, is still the cornerstone of how you grow your sales and your business or…?
Margo: A very good point and very good question. Trade shows are changing dramatically and we’ve seen it in the last couple of years. We’ve reduced our number of trade shows that we participate in. Buyers are not coming to all the trade shows any longer. They’re going to a trade show that maybe isn’t just accessories. For example, New York Now. which is a big show that’s done at the Javits Center twice a year, is getting a lot more attention from buyers who didn’t use to go. We didn’t use to see these buyers at New York Now. We saw them at a specific accessory show.
We are having more appointments at our showroom. We are doing more…what’s the word? Marketing where my VP of Sales will take photos of collections that she thinks are pieces or arrangements that she thinks the stores need to buy and she’ll help them place their orders. We are working twice as hard now. Not seeing twice as much income, but we’re seeing a steady growth of our income in our wholesale sales. But it’s a lot more work now. It’s changing.
Amy: So basically because of the changing landscape of people that are participating in trade show and the type of trade shows is, you know, causing you guys to think more creatively in other ways to reach the buyers and engage with them?
Margo: We don’t have a choice and if you don’t…you know, what’s going on with Amazon and online sales, and you press a button and you’ve got your delivery within a day. I don’t believe that that’s the way jewelry is going right now. I think, people still wanna go and try on. Plus, our demographic is not 21. So this, kind of, immediate gratification isn’t…I’m not feeling it as much with our demographic. Our demographic is like 40 plus. Although, I am the demographic and I buy a lot on Amazon, I don’t buy jewelry on Amazon and there’s specific things I won’t buy online.
If you’re not flexible to the changing times and the changing way things are done, you will be obsolete. There’s no choice. You wanna be in business, you’ve gotta roll with it, brainstorm and be lucky enough to have a really good team that you’ve put together in your company to sit down and help you solve these issues.
Amy: Absolutely. So, you know, Brandboom is more of a wholesale tool and, you know, we’ve touched, you know, around indirect sales, direct-to-consumer, brand awareness and all that. You’ve been with us for six years now.
Margo: Wow. I didn’t even know that.
Amy: Yeah. So I wanted to just, kind of, talk a little bit about, you know, how you guys are using it and is it still helpful to you, what are some of your recommendations to other jewelry brands that might be using Brandboom or considering?
Margo: So, to be honest, in the beginning I wasn’t exactly sure how to use it. I wasn’t, you know, obviously comfortable, up to speed with it, and now it is an integral tool for our company. We use it as an active link for our line sheets that we send to wholesale customers for our current collection. It’s something we are constantly updating. So it’s basically a database of photos and descriptions and pricing. And so my tech guy is constantly updating it as we get new pieces, and we don’t wait for three times a year, four times a year when we do a collection. We are always making new stuff which is exhausting but it’s part of staying in the, you know, being in the playing field.
So we’re always updating it. We do retail links if a retail customer, you know, emails us and says, “Can I see your line?” We’ll send them a link with retail prices but mainly it’s used to send to our stores through either emails. Or, we just send a link, copy and paste it into an email, “Here’s a link to our latest line sheets. Take a look.” We get orders. We definitely get orders out of it.
Amy: That’s great.
Margo: So it’s extremely important to the functioning of our business.
Amy: So because of the way that Brandboom has enable you guys to, kind of, you know, constantly upload these thing and update all of your line sheets and things like that is now a part of your, you know, everyday activity to, kind of, update your buyers. Like what you’re saying, you, kind of, have to be agile and be more up to date with them in order for them to understand that you’re still in the playing field and you have something to offer to them.
Margo: Correct. And then also they can place an order on Brandboom, which is perfect for wholesale customers. Unlike retail customers where you need a credit card right away and they have to pay for it wholesale customers…it’s called an at-once order. So we get this at-once order is placed, whether they’re at home at night, in their store, on their lunch hour, on their, you know, mobile app, like, you know, in their car, whatever.
They took the time to put together an order, and they don’t wanna have to call me up, and read it off a piece of paper or fax it in, or do it the old fashion way. So we get this notification and at-once order is placed and there it is. And then if we have questions we can call them but it’s just a very kind of a hip, current way to get an order from a store.
Amy: And would you say that this is important in, you know, this day and age, where, you know, people prefer to maybe even meet virtually or talk about business virtually than maybe attending a physical trade show?
Margo: I think so. I think, because of what we’re noticing with this dwindling attendance at these shows or people coming maybe once to a one specific show, it makes life easier for them. And this is not about us. This is about our customer, and when I say customer, I mean wholesale customer. We need to make things really easy for them because they can just go on and take another brand.
You can have a really great product and not good marketing or not know how to present it to the world and you won’t do well. You could actually have a mediocre product and a phenomenal high tech amazing way of reaching your consumer or customer, wholesale, retail, whatever and you can be really successful.
So we always have to find a way to make it easier for our wholesale customers to buy our jewelry because they’ll find someone else. I mean, yes, I think, I have the greatest product in the world. I think I have the most beautiful product in the world but I’m not stupid. I realize the competition that’s out there and when people do discover this brand they become collectors and loyal and, you know, we have customers who have 80, 90, 100 pieces and they’ve been buying through the years and they love it because they can layer it and I can give you a million reasons why this is an amazing brand. But that’s not enough for the store. We have to make it really easy for the store to sell the product.
We put tags on the jewelry so that the sales associates don’t have to go to a book and look up and find out, “Is this is pyrite? Is this quarts? What…” They look like a star. We are always thinking of ways to make life easy for the store and the sales associates.
Amy: That’s amazing. Those are all really great tips for anyone who’s listening who is, you know, in the wholesale game today. I wanna ask you, what’s next? What are some of the exciting things that you’re working on that you would like to share with us?
Margo: You know, the thing about having a business is being malleable and flexible and aware of what’s going on in the market and just being open to new ideas. I never thought I’d work on any other color cord besides beige cord. You were working on blue and pink and, you know, black and gray. I never thought we would be working with chain.
We’re working with chain now in really interesting and creative ways. We’re doing beautiful earrings. So I’m not actually a jeweler where I’m like a bench jeweler. I didn’t learn firing and casting. I’m somebody that arranges and knots and…so it’s just an interesting thing to watch how many different ways you can do the things that I’m doing with the line. So like it’s a chain. We’ve got these cool charms that we’re incorporating into the line. There are an…it’s just an infinite amount of ideas that keep coming and keep creating and keep blossoming. So they just…just keeps moving.
Amy: And is your demographic expanding because you’re experimenting with these new materials or new ways to, you know, to do your necklaces and your jewelry or is it still kind of the same?
Margo: I think it’s expanding because we’re seeing…you know, the sales are increasing. Our business is increasing. We’re very lucky. Every year the business increases, you know, 10% to 15%. And I’m seeing younger people wearing like what I’m wearing today which you can’t see but it’s like a leather…it’s a leather lariat with baroque pearls. And I see younger people…well, first of all, you know, Blake Lively was wearing my jewelry and she was 21 at the time so.
And then we’ve got, you know, Julianne Moore who’s closer to my age who loves the jewelry and Debra Messing, and Ina Garten from Barefoot Contess. So we have all different demographics. The price points are probably a little bit more appealing to an older demographic because it’s…you know, the price points are somewhere between, you know, 400 up to 2,000. But yes. We are pulling in a different demographic now but we are staying true to our customer which is the 40 plus crowd.
Amy: So yeah. Margo this has been such a pleasure. I’m so excited that you were able to share all of your experience from back in 2001 all the way up to now and how you’ve been able to iterate, pivot and really listen to your customers be it consumers and also your retail buyers.
Margo: You know, and what I wanna add to that is I think that the success of Margo Morrison New York in a kind of unstable or uncertain economy is that we stay true to the brand. You know, we’re handmade in New York and we will always be handmade in New York City. We use natural stones and freshwater pearls that I hand select.
It’s versatile and affordable jewelry and also we value our customers and we really deliver exceptional customer service and I think it’s not just selling the product. It’s what happens after they own it. And it’s like a whole thing. You can just make jewelry and get it into a store. There’s…the whole customer service aspect is critical I think to any success of any company.
Amy: It’s the whole experience from the time that you look at the piece and from buying it, from all the way to owning it, right?
Margo: And past owning it. What happens if something happens? Your cat chewed on it or your little child yanked it and broke it. What do we do about that and how do we keep it a really positive experience? And I think that’s the reason we’re in, you know, 26 Neiman Marcus stores and we’re expanding constantly and we’re all over the world and I think it’s because of what we offer and how we set very high standards for ourselves and how we react [inaudible 00:24:17] with our customer.
Amy: Thank you so much Margo for being on with us today. That’s the Brandboom Podcast for today. Visit us on Sound Cloud for new episodes and go to brandboom.us for show notes and more. I’m Amy Zhou and thank you so much for listening.