Thursday, December 4, 2008

Retail Therapy: Catbird

Quick Facts:
# of employees: 6
Did you write a business plan? Yes. I had read somewhere that it forces you to answer questions you don’t want to ask – or don’t even think of asking – which was true. It was a good exercise. But I never looked at it once after I was done.
Day your doors opened: 9/8/04 and 9/14/06
Owner: Rony Vardi
# of locations: 2

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Receive free shipping at
Offer good thru 12/14/08

>> Think you're ready to open up a shop? Read on and find out what really goes on behind the register...

1. Name one thing that completely took you by surprise when you first started Catbird - something that neither biz how-to books or any "SCORE" workshop prepared you for.

How personal it is. The stores are an extension of me –from the way they look, to the merchandise, to the wording of the signs…everything. It feels great when people respond well to the store. The flip side of course is when you get word that someone had a bad experience it really, really stings.

>> click here to continue reading about Catbird

2. I've read that you were a graphic designer (and a seamstress) before you started Catbird? Can you share your background and talk about what compelled you to go into retail back in 2004?

It was kind of a planets aligning type of thing. I wasn’t ever satisfied in my different jobs - always executing someone else’s visions. The area of Williamsburg that we were living in had very little retail, and what was there was primarily vintage. A spot opened up around the corner from me and it happened to be on the exact block I wanted to be on. I didn’t know all that much about retail, and I didn’t have tons of money saved, but we lived in a rent stabilized apartment and my boyfriend (now husband) made enough money to support us and we didn’t have kids or a house, so it seemed like a ideal time to go for it.

Use promocode “HEART” and receive free shipping at Offer good thru 12/14/08

1. Catbird Lower Case Studs
2. Catbird Thorn Necklace
3. Barens & Belle Luck Knot Necklace
4. Digby & Iona Sparrow on Swing Necklace
5. Digby & Iona Coral Ring
6. KO.DES Convertible Bag
7. Katrina Lapenne Double Snake Ring
8. Yayoi Forest Magic Wand Earrings
9. Vagabond Picnic by Jezebel gold ant necklace
10. OathNyc Match Necklace

3. Believe it or not, most of the storeowners that I've interviewed have been part of a co-ownership. Did you ever consider going into business with a partner? and why/why not?

I never considered it. There was no obvious person to do it with and also it seemed totally manageable to me. A partnership seems like it could be very sticky.

4. You currently have two Catbird locations. What factors should first-time storeowners look at when weighing the option of opening a second location?

With two stores you have to rely on your staff even more than you did previously. So if you have always had staff problems, or find it difficult to find good people, than I would say that would be a huge consideration against.

But as long as the first one isn’t failing miserably – if you see a good location with a reasonable rent –DO IT. The same things that go into deciding about opening a first store apply, of course, but it’s easier. The leap from no stores to one store is much greater than the leap from one to two.

>> So you think your goods are perfect for Catbird?

5. Do most of the other designers/artists you carry and show approach you, or do you actively seek out new designers/crafters? If so, where?

I actively seek new stuff everyday and everywhere. I trawl the web, blogs etsy, I go to shows (definitely my least favorite place to find stuff –but I do), I stop people on the street. At this point I do lots of emails from designers and I pretty much open all of them (as long as they are polite and adhere somewhat to the guidelines on my website).

6. What is your process in choosing merchandise and what 3 things can artists do to stand out in your mind?

First and foremost, it needs to speak to me. But that aside, I have taken the time to write out guidelines on my site, so if people don’t adhere to them, it is kind of a turn-off. I get about 5 emails a day from designers so I prefer a polite, concise email with either 2-3 small pics or a website giving me enough of an idea of what you do. If I like it I will pursue it. I have two kids so it’s often hard for me to meet with people in person. But if the design feels good to me (and with jewelry it is pretty easy to determine that from pictures), I’ll meet in person to make sure the quality is there – not just the design.

Also, there needs to be a certain amount of professionalism. For example, if they make rings, I need to know that they can take special orders for different sizes with reliability. That they can fill orders and be responsive to requests. If not, it is simply not worth it. There are a lot of people making great things who understand that that is part of the business as well. Good design that comes with a big headache is no good!

They also need to understand wholesale pricing, fulfillment, invoices, and have good communication skills. On the professional side, good communication skills are absolutely #1.

7. Owning a shop means constantly wearing different hats. Here's how Rony ends up spending her time:

20% Buying
10% Marketing & Promo
15% Production & Operations (photos for site, hang-tags, display)
10% Customer Service (this is handled more by my employees –and probably takes up 90% of their time!)
5% Fulfillment/Shipping
5% Accounting/Billing/Finances
35% Managing people, putting out fires & working on my own jewelry, filling out questionnaires…

* My absolutely incredible staff takes care of most of the day-to-day operations. I do all the buying (with the assistance of some of my staff), all the paperwork, graphics, operations, website, hiring, etc. As well as a lot of nose wiping and pb&j making.

8. If Oprah decided to give you $10,000 tax free for your business, but you had to spend it in one week, what would you do with it?

How about adding another day to the week? We could even call it Oprahday. (Time is definitely my greatest foe.) If that didn’t fly, then I would build a little photo studio in my basement and hire a photographer to have all the items in the store shot so I could expand my website. I would also replace the floors and repaint the store a darker, more dramatic color.

And I would definitely send a really nice thank you card. And some cupcakes.

9. What's been more challenging - giving birth to two shops or to two kids?

With both, birth (even when it’s hard) is the easy part. Managing life with two kids and two stores is challenging. There is just not enough time in the day. I am glued to my blackberry all the time, even while sitting on the floor doing a puzzle with my kids.


Thanks Rony!!


Melissa de la Fuente said...

Ahh....Catbird. I loved going to this shop with you all those weeks ago and picking up my little blue elephant! this shop is so lovely in person and so many great things! Such a pleasure to hear more about it from Rony and wonderful picks above!

Chelsea Van Tol said...

That store looks so cute... I wish I could visit! We have nothing like that around here.

Cindy said...

catbird is the loveliest store! i like petite jewelry and their collections are pretty without being too sweet.

thehomebound said...

Thanks so much for sharing this interview. The store looks amazing and I will check out the website.

My friend and I have been seriously thinking about opening a store similar to this, but our own take on it obviously. It was really informative to read about someone that has done it before.


Parallel Parker said...

all my best clothes/jewels/shoes are from catbird. no lie.