GILT Groupe, a high-end online sample sale, has taken the retail industry by storm. Traditionally sample sales were a highly-coveted past time mostly for New York women seeking exceptional deals on exclusive brands. Exciting and yet sometimes dangerous, sample sales were the best way to look like a billion while only spending $100. Well Alexis and Alexandra, founders of GILT Groupe, have changed that. The excitement and bargains are still there, but without the danger. They have changed the stigma associated with the sales and have now made it an enjoyable endeavor by bringing the sample sale to you! Some might call these women innovators or entrepreneurs, but I call them geniuses. I sat down with Alexis to learn more.
SCS:Tell me a little about GILT Groupe.
Alexis: I started GILT Groupe last year with my friend, Alexandra Wilson. We’d known each other for over ten years. She hails from the luxury fashion world [like] Loius Vuitton managing their leather goods business and Bulgari managing their retail stores for a while as well. I come strictly from the e-commerce world. I was one of the first employees at Ebay and worked at Ebay for nearly four years as it scaled from about 40 employees to about 5,000 employees. I ran two businesses for Ebay.
We used to be here in NY attending sample sales and fielding all sorts of incoming calls from family members that called outside of NY metro area. So we started thinking that this could be a really lucrative business to be online. If you were to ever attend a sample here in NYC you would see lines around the block buzzing with frenzy and excitement. It’s such a fun form of [basically] retailing. So we thought the perfect thing to bring online to the Internet would be this sample sale format. Quick sales featuring one highly sought after brand in a really short time period. And it’s something that’s available mostly to people in the metro NY area. We thought it would be great to reach a national audience and showcase items. You don’t have to leave your office or home to stand in line. So that was really our inspiration and it matched our backgrounds really nicely given my Internet focus and her longtime luxury/fashion focus.
SCS: There have been a growing number of online sample sales. What makes GILT different?
Alexis: Well GILT is the only site that works directly with a brand. Literally the one that has personal relationships with the brands. We don’t sell sourced inventory and will never source inventory from third parties. Third parties are individuals who place certain inventory on other websites or [places like] Filene’s Basement and Century 21. We pride our personal relationships with the brands that allows us to hand-select those very, very best, tightly edited selection of goods on our site. It makes it such we can take out selection and work very closely with them to show runway shows on the site and interviews with the designers, himself or herself. So that relationship is very critical and a big differentiator between GILT and others. And we only focus right now on brands that we feel have a high demand and have a very loyal consumer following. We work with a range of those from Diane Von Furstenberg to Valentino that is almost an iconic brand in many ways. Not always available not always accessible in a local outlet, but for us it’s the breadth that’s important to us.
SCS: So when you’re selecting your lines, what’s the process behind that? How do you decide what pieces you’ll be showcasing?
Alexis: Well, we have mostly seven sales a week (five for women and two for men). And we have an entire team of buyers who, on average, meet with about five brands a day. Going to the atelier or working with the designer directly to pull things off the shelf or going sometimes to the warehouse directly with a brand or with a member of the company. Hands do get dirty selecting exactly what we think our members would love. And essentially the process we try to do an arrangement week to week of jewelry to accessories to apparel to footwear, we have a little bit of everything for everyone. We do believe in a high/low mix. So you’d wear a nice pair of $75 dollar jeans with maybe a $1000 Valentino jacket if that was within your budget. We like to mix prices points and pieces for the day and night.
SCS: I know you are relatively new but it seems as if you all are growing leaps and bounds. How many employees do you have now as to when you originally started?
Alexis: When we started we had three. So we are 50 and growing rapidly.
SCS: If you weren’t doing GILT, what do you think you’d be doing now?
Alexis: Honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything other than GILT. I certainly love starting businesses and that’s what I’ve done my whole life, but I think that this is going to be a big success and I’m going to be here a long time â€” I’m not going anywhere!
SCS: Where do you see GILT being in five years?
Alexis: I see GILT being the primary spot online to get the most beautiful things for yourself, your family and for your home. A site that allows anyone to access desirable goods at prices of up to 70% off. Whether you live in the US or Asian specific markets or perhaps in Europe.
SCS: What are your favorite lines?
Alexis: We’ve had a lot of them already I have to say. We launched with Zac Posen and he’ll always be a personal favorite of ours. He’s such a pioneer in fashion. I adore his silhouettes. I love his designs and I love him as a person, so definitely one of my favorites. And you really can’t beat Dolce and Gabbanna for night. A little bit of sparkle here and there, and their cuts are amazing. But the good, all-around wear to the office is the Diane Von Furstenberg. I have to say by far those three are my favorites.
SCS: I love the exclusivity angle of the site. What was the thought process behind that?
Alexis: Well there’s a couple of things. It’s national, we’ve sold everywhere in every state and from our perspective it’s always easier for our own members to let us know who in Kalamazoo, Michigan is interested in this or Palato, CA. So we know they would be interested. The flipside would be it’s almost as if you’re throwing a party, it always helps to know who’s going to be showing up for it. With our membership we know how many units to buy and we know, given the intimate relationship with our members, what’s popular, what sizes they wear and things of that nature. Which [in return] helps us put our sales together.
Want a membership? Second City Style invites you to be our guests. For a limited time you too can join GILT members and shop to your heart’s content! Visit www.gilt.com/secondcitystyle to sign up!