FRANK AND JANE MANZANO SAY A SOFT SELL AND COMMITMENT TO SERVICE IS THE KEY TO BUILDING SALES.
Byline: Elaine Glusac
Frank and Jane Manzano,
Sarah Arizona, URU, Anticipation, Retro Vare, Carry Back Blouses, Frank & Jane Jewelry, Auditorium
CHICAGO — When Frank and Jane Manzano were wed nearly two years ago, it was more than a marriage. It was a merger.
The former Jane Dubman was virtually born to the business of selling. She is the third generation in her family to follow a career as a sales representative — her father’s business was Charles Dubman Sales. Jane started hanging around the Chicago Apparel Center at age 13, and eventually started her own independent sales firm, Jane Dubman Sales.
“I liked fashion, I love color and I like change,” said Jane Manzano, 33. “I like selling. It’s different everyday. It keeps you active.”
So it was fitting that she should marry a man equally committed to the business she loves. Frank Manzano, 38, was also an independent rep, and although they both worked in the Apparel Center, they met at a regional show in 1993. They merged businesses soon after, in 1994, and merged lives soon after that.
Now, Manzano Sales is one of the most colorful showrooms in the market.
They credit a value-driven line mix, welcoming showroom design, a soft-sell approach and commitment to service for a 25 percent increase per year in their business, which now sells about $3 million annually.
“We decided to focus on a specific look and that’s brought us where we are today,” said Frank Manzano, who hung onto Sarah Arizona, a moderate-priced sportswear line, when he and Jane merged. They have since picked up complementary artistic lines that adhere to their fashion-at-a-price philosophy.
“We’re really into comfortable, packable, wearable, work-to-evening clothes,” said Jane Manzano, who noted that even traditional stores increasingly are picking up more contemporary looks.
“There’s an enormous atrophy of moderate stores,” she said. “A lot of that business has been replaced by stores like Target and Wal-Mart. They took away the mom-and-pop shops. The stores that did survive that storm have traded up, and that’s who we’re selling to.”
In building their stable of labels, the Manzanos have sought only domestically made lines.
“I think it’s important to keep the money here,” Frank Manzano said. “There are too many bread lines going on.”
Working on the philosophy that a crowd attracts a crowd, the couple has made the most of a 650-square-foot showroom. Canary-yellow walls, mint-green floors, plumber’s pipe racks, grids and wooden tables help make the space inviting.
“We want a comfortable feeling, welcoming people to browse,” he said. “We believe in retail detail. This is the way stores should look. It should have a story.”
Frank & Jane Jewelry, a line they piece together using local and foreign artists, is another outlet for their creativity. Frank & Jane silver earrings, necklaces and bracelets are merchandised on hand-stamped corrugated cardboard cards. Last year, the reps sold 15,000 units. The endeavor provides the couple with higher profit margins than they’d make on a manufacturer’s jewelry line — and an opportunity to market their name. It was “a natural” to offer accessories to complement the apparel in the showroom, said Jane Manzano.
When they’re selling, they say they are most careful “not to oversell anybody.” Added Frank Manzano, “Times are tough, and you don’t want to keep pouring goods on people like a typical salesperson.”
Nothing comes easily. The Manzanos spend half their time on the road attending regional shows and put in an average work week of 55 hours each.
Still, they say they love the business.
“It’s important for us to stay in constant contact with our customers,” Jane Manzano said. “We try to provide good customer service. That’s what’s brought us our success. It’s the way of the Nineties. You’re selling yourself and your services.”