By  on January 9, 2002

HIS BROTHER ENCOURAGED HIM TO BECOME A REP, AND HE MET HIS WIFE AT A SHOWROOM. FOR REP MARK SCHNEIDER, IT'S ALL RELATIVE.

Women's apparel is a family affair for Mark Schneider, owner of Chicago showroom Schneider & Co.

His brother, a Portland, Ore.-based rep, lured him into the business in 1989 by encouraging him to take a sales position with Duffel and Sperry Topsiders. A few years later, then working as a boat salesman, he met his wife, Renee, in a showroom where she worked as a rep.

"I was selling powerboats in New England," Schneider recalled. "I asked, 'What's a clothing rep?"'

Intrigued, Schneider packed his belongings into a Volkswagen Jetta and headed to Chicago. It wasn't an easy beginning. At age 23, Schneider barely knew his way around the Windy City, let alone the smaller towns in his Midwest territory. "I didn't know where Decatur [Ill.] or Houghton [Mich.] was," he said.

After about 1 1/2 years, he struck out on his own. "When I started, I had a few lines," he said about his collections of silk warmups and women's golf clothes. "I sold them, but it was a rough time."

Then he got in touch with a friend of a friend named Renee, who was also in the business. During a phone call, Renee remembered her future husband talked a lot of shop and not much else. "I was grilling her," Schneider admitted. "I didn't have any friends in the business."

Six months later, he met Renee in person at a showroom where she worked. They started dating, and within a few months, she quit her job, they went into business together and moved into his one-bedroom apartment in Lakeview.

"We slept there, we ate there and we kept samples there," Schneider said of their one-bedroom home.

Since then, a lot has changed. Now Schneider, 35, and his wife have a six-year-old son, Keaton, and a three-bedroom house on the city's North Side. The duo take three-week trips to Italy and spend about $28,000 a year in rent and expenses running a 1,300-square-foot showroom on the 12th floor of the Chicago Apparel Center.

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