Byline: Lizzy Epstein

In an effort to differentiate themselves from competitors and to get more consumers in the mood to shop, many California specialty stores are staging trunk shows.
At a trunk show, a designer brings their line to a shop for a couple of days for the retailer’s clientele to peruse. A company representative or the designer is often at the show to meet with customers and answer any questions about the line.
Catherine Jane, a contemporary designer and owner of an eponymous shop in the Inner Sunset district of San Francisco, a neighborhood just south of Golden Gate Park, got her start as a young designer producing trunk shows. Before she opened her store, Jane said she would have trunk shows in “my apartment, schools — wherever people would let me.”
After Jane opened the doors to her store, she still produced trunk shows in order to continue building a client base.
“Even if they don’t buy, it reminds them that you’re there and they’ll come back.” Jane said she typically holds three trunk shows a year and that they account for up to 20 percent of her annual sales.
For each event, Jane spends between $300 and $400 on food, wine, champagne and glasses. She also spends roughly $400 on mailers.
Jane finds that the best time to have a trunk show is during the middle of the week, after most of her customers have finished work, since a lot of her clientele has plans on the weekends.
She said she also prefers to limit the trunk shows to 15 customers. Because of the limited number of attendees, “I can fit people and spend the right amount of time with them,” she said.
According to Jane, one of the largest advantages to having trunk shows is that they help retailers make contact with new clients, especially through word of mouth.
“I don’t do advertising,” she said. “The trunk shows help because people bring their friends, and there’s nothing like having one of your girlfriends say, ‘You have to check out this cool boutique.”‘
Shauna Stein, who co-owns with “The Young and the Restless” actress Lauralee Bell a two-story boutique called On Beverly, located on Beverly Boulevard, said she stages trunk shows because they are an excellent marketing tool.
Stein said trunk shows allow her to better serve her customer’s needs by monitoring their shopping trends.
“If you get 50 women in a room and they all start buying in one direction, it gives you ideas,” said Stein. “I don’t want to stock $700 skinny leather pants if no one wants them.”
On Beverly stages three trunk shows each season. “We pack the house for them,” she boasted.
Aside from generating customer loyalty, On Beverly’s trunk shows are responsible for boosting sales.
Stein said $300,000 of her annual sales are derived from the store’s trunk shows.
For each trunk show, Stein sends out between 500 and 800 mailers to clients who have indicated they would like to participate in such an event.
She said that at each show, there is a group of about 50 people that regularly attend the shows, as well as between five and 10 newcomers.
Stein discovered that having trunk shows at night didn’t yield the results that she was looking for, since the majority of her customers rushed home after work to eat dinner with their families. Saturday mornings proved to be much more effective in terms of attendance.
Stein likes to serve her guests a small breakfast. The expense for food, beverages and invitations is “minimal,” she said.
In order to add a little flavor to each show, On Beverly asks Bell’s “Young and the Restless” castmates to walk the catwalk.
“‘The Young and the Restless’s” girls model at all our things,” said Stein. “They have great personalities and always ham it up.”
For Helen Hwang, owner of Yellow, a boutique in Los Angeles’s Fairfax district, a trunk show is an ideal vehicle to highlight a designer or line.
“It’s really about letting someone stand out for a weekend and introducing them to the customers and giving them a little bit of extra press,” she said.
Designers featured at trunk shows also commonly develop loyalties to the store where the show is held. After Mena Suvari’s trunk show at Yellow for her new jewelry line, Papillon, the actress decided to sell her goods exclusively at the store, Hwang said.
All of the names that appear on Hwang’s customer list receive an invitation to each show. Hwang holds her smaller trunk shows after store hours in order to cultivate a cocktail party atmosphere. For larger shows, she likes to dedicate an entire weekend to featuring a particular designer and then invite the press.
And like any good hostess would do, Hwang sends guests thank-you notes after each event.
“It’s fun, so I don’t consider it work. It’s like having a little party.”
Rebecca Fogg, owner of Les Deux Copines, a boutique in Burlingame, Calif., a 45-minute drive south of San Francisco, staged a trunk show earlier this year to introduce her lesser-known designers to her customers. At the store’s first — and so far only — trunk show, held in May, jewelry designers Vivian Wang and Ingrid Chen from the line Viv & Ingrid set up shop in Les Deux Copines and mingled with customers, offering discounts on their wares.
According to Fogg, her total sales for jewelry that weekend were roughly $2,000.
More importantly, said Fogg, her customers “really got a kick out of meeting the designers in the store.”
The response to Wang and Chen following their trunk show was so overwhelming that the space their line occupies in Les Deux Copines nearly doubled. Fogg said that in the five months since the show, “They’ve become a household name among my customers.”
At The Queen Bee in Newport Beach, Calif., trunk shows are also held to increase consumer awareness of a line.
The retailer’s store manager and assistant buyer, Lindsay Jackson, said that Jason Hanson, a largely unknown jewelry designer, was able to raise his visibility quotient among shoppers as a direct result of having a trunk show earlier this year.
“People didn’t know him before our show,” marveled Jackson. “And then people started coming in and asking to see his stuff.”