Sarah Blank and Melinda Robertson

Australian luxury ready-to-wear brand Scanlan Theodore has opened its first U.S. flagship, a 1,200-square foot unit at 7 East 19th Street in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. The brand has been popular with working women Down Under for 30 years. Sarah Blank and Melinda Robertson, friends who met at the University of Melbourne, felt like they had a secret weapon in the brand, which they wore exclusively when they moved to Manhattan to work in finance.

As co-chief executive officers and partners in Scanlan Theodore Americas, Blank and Robertson brought the brand to these shores.

“The wardrobe allows you to move around freely from day to night, which is empowering,” Blank said. “It feels like it’s your body armor when you go to work.”

They identified a gap for wardrobe solutions for corporate women. “I wore Scanlan Theodore to work at Goldman Sachs, and every day and I would get at least five comments,” Robertson said. “I’m certainly not a fashionista. The feedback on my outfits was incredible. Sarah had the same experience at Pimco [Investment Management]. That was really what drove us to launch the business over here.

“The corporate woman is looking for a wardrobe solution she doesn’t need to think about before waking up at 6 a.m.,” Robertson said. “Women need styles they can wear to work that can transition to after-work. We’re providing great solutions to customers.”

Blank approached the brand’s founder, Gary Theodore, who agreed to a U.S. launch. “Aesthetically, we’re using the same architect Gary used for his stores throughout Australia,” she said. “The store is very similar, beautiful, luxurious and consistent with the brand, with beautiful art on the walls. It will be understated. We tend to fly under the radar.”

Robertson and Blank did some due diligence before signing a lease, testing their hypothesis to be sure there was sufficient demand for Scanlan’s products. Naturally, their approach is data-driven. They launched an e-commerce platform a year ago, held trunk shows, and unveiled a pop-up shop on Prince Street in Manhattan’s SoHo. The results informed an ambitious strategy.

“This is already a multimillion dollar business,” Blank said. “This is our first year. We started the company out of Melinda’s bedroom. We’d like to push the store’s volume to $4 million to $5 million in annual sales.”

“We have an aggressive rollout strategy,” Robertson said. “We’re focused on New York. The market is so dense. We’ll open more stores across the city and potentially other areas outside the city. We’re augmenting that with events in Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco.”

Robertson’s career includes a stint in investment banking in the retail sector. “I had technical experience, but that’s certainly nothing like running a retail store,” she said.

Besides, retail has changed so much. For Blank and Robertson, it’s high tech and high touch. They have lots of experience with the latter from their work in investment banking and private equity. “The recipe is not the same as it use to be,” Robertson said. “It’s about having great products and managing client relationships in an avant-garde way. We bring a fresh perspective on managing client relationships.”

The brand hosts network sessions where “we have Champagne and serve hors d’oeuvres, and have nine to 10 stylists, so everyone can have a personal styling session,” Blank said.

Scanlan uses technology to scale outreach to target markets and also cold-calls potential customers who might appreciate the product. “We’re constantly talking to our woman and bringing her new wardrobing solutions and becoming a trusted adviser,” Robertson said. “She’s coming to the store, but many times we’re going to her home.”

 

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