Sever Garcia knows a thing or two about style. The plaid jacket he’s wearing in his portrait speaks for itself. The fact that he has a stand-up arcade game only further supports that argument. He knows what works and what doesn’t, and sixteen years ago, he made a business out of it. His company, SGN Group, is the go-to-firm for bringing European brands to market in the States. When you ask him how he does it, he says, “The key is always the product. That’s what makes a company successful or not.” For more insight into retail and how it works, read on!
What do you do for a living?
I have a management firm that is a business platform for fashion companies and cosmetic companies who want to do business in North America. Our platform manages the front end of the business – management and sales – as well as the back of the house. That’s the whole operational part: keeping the books, paying the taxes, taking care of the accounting. It also has to do with the logistical part, like shipping things, etc. As far as we know, there isn’t anyone else who does what we do.”
How did you end up in this business?
Accidentally. It just happens. First you start to work with a company to help the company. But then you find yourself creating something that helps other companies come to America to do business. And then people start asking you, “Can you do this, can you do that?” I don’t know how to say no.
Were you already in the States when this started?
Yes. I came 16 years ago, as the president of a bridal gown company called Pronovias. I set up and built the business here in America. After five years the company appointed me the general manager in Spain, and I said no, I think I have a talent, and that I can do the same thing I did for you for other companies.
How do you decide whether you want to work with a brand or not?
There are two things. First, there are financial positioning indicators. If a brand is successful in the country it comes from, is growing internationally, and has been in business for a very long time, that’s a good sign. And then there’s the product. We have experts in different categories. We ask them what they think, if they like it or not. It can be a department manager, it can be a buyer, it can be a divisional merchandising manager. We have all these contacts, and we get feedback. We want to make sure that the company has a solid position. But 80% of the time we say no to brands for one reason or another. It’s hard. We have large companies that want to come to America, but they’re in a crowded market where there’s no opportunity. Or you have a situation where there’s an amazing product with lots of potential, but they’re not financially solid in their country of origin. We say to them, “Why don’t you build your brand in your own country. You learn about it, and then you come to us.” When I say no to a brand, I do so with the greatest respect. In some cases, the brand takes it the right way, and we have clients now where we’ve said, “You’re not ready, but if you do this, that and that, we’ll re-evaluate.” And then they come to us and they say, “Thanks, you were right, we weren’t ready to come to America. But now we’ve accomplished this.”
Are you trying to get your brands into department stores, or are you trying to help them open their own retail shops?
Both. We want to be a multi-channel company. The world today is changing. That means you cannot think any more about brick and mortar or any other channel independently. Online, catalogue – whatever you’re selling – that’s history. Consumers see the brands in a multi-channel environment. As a consumer you may be attracted to a brand walking by it on the street, but then you’re going to go to the office and check online. We are a multi-channel proposition as a management company. We want to adapt the brand to the American market, but in each channel.
Why do people still push for retail outlets? Why does that still seem to be the end goal?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. Maybe it’s some sort of medieval thing, something about protecting the castle or something like that. What’s difficult is finding the right balance. I think the key to success in the long-term is knowing your size, at least in fashion. It’s knowing what your real potential is in terms of having brick and mortar. There is no one path for success.
I would think the first step would really be to reinforce your e-commerce.
It depends on the brand. It depends on the consumer. A basic tenet of marketing is that your consumer is a person. She’s Susie who lives on the Upper East Side, who is 45, has two kids…you need to think that way. You identify your consumer, and then you note the behavior. Certain age groups don’t buy so much online. Then you need to see who is the right retail partner. In America, when you talk about the department stores, the pyramid is very clear. It’s Bergdorf’s, it’s Neiman’s, it’s Barneys. And your brand position is based on where you are in the pyramid. If you are targeting a Millennial, you need to think like a Millennial.
Are some things universally true?
Every single company is different. I wish we could copy and paste projects, but it’s impossible. If you change the parameters, you change the project. My consumer is the same, but the product is different. To use a basic example, you can easily grow e-commerce for accessories, because people don’t really need to try them on. But when the same consumer buys apparel, it’s a totally different thing.
What are three types of products that you’ve never worked with that you would love to work with, and why?
- I would love to work with a suit company, one that’s very modern and new. We work with a men’s shoe company, and I was thrilled, because I now have shoes for the next ten years of my life, which is good.
- I’m a runner. I just ran the marathon, so it would be great to work with a sportswear brand. I’d love it. I’d love to be part of a great brand of running shoes.
- I would love to build a woman’ handbag company. It’s very difficult, and I like the challenges. Eighty percent of the time, a woman wears a handbag because of the brand name, so being able to find a niche is very difficult. It’s a very narrow window. Shoes are very successful. Apparel is very successful. The handbag is a very narrow thing. It would be a challenge in a very creative way.