Some women spot a stunning vintage dress at an estate sale and seize the opportunity to spice up their closet. When Katie Echeverry sees that same garment, it’s a business opportunity.
In 2000, the former pharmaceutical rep walked away from the rat race to create a business out of her passion: vintage fashion. Burbank, Calif.–based Unique Vintage specializes in formal dresses from the styles of the 1920s to the 1960s. In the past two years, Unique Vintage apparel has been seen on TV’s “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.
According to Echeverry, her success boils down to five key principles:
1. 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 reselling to building her own brand, business took off.
2. Take a leap
After trying to work with wholesalers, Echeverry quickly realized she would need to partner directly with a manufacturer to deliver exactly what her customers wanted.
“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 has been working with a Chinese manufacturing partner ever since. Together they create approximately 24,000 dresses per year.
“I know we positively impact his company and his employees, because he tells me so all the time. He’s very grateful,” she says, “and that makes us feel good.”
3. Lean on trusted vendors
As Unique Vintage grew from a 10-orders-a-day business to a 500-orders-a-day online retailer, Echeverry had to move her business out of her garage and into a 12,000-square-foot warehouse — adding a shipper, returns specialist, picker, and part-time models and stylists. All great news for Unique Vintage and the local Burbank community, with one hitch: Echeverry didn’t have expertise running a warehouse.
“My knowledge had plateaued,” 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, a programmer and a marketing manager. “I’m getting help finding the higher-level employees I need to take this business to the next level,” she says.
4. 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 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?’”
5. 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 Burbank resident.
“I feel really good,” she says. “Not only is my business creating jobs, but they’re in a fun, hip, creative environment, because that’s our culture.”