THE SHOWROOM’S JUST A BASE FOR MIKE STEVISON, WHO ALSO TAKES HIS SHOW ON THE HIGHWAY.
Byline: Anita J. Finkelstein
Car salesman or clothing salesman? Mike Stevison, owner and head of sales of the Chicago showroom Dressed 2 Kill (D2K), chose the latter 13 years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
Now, with 10,000 square feet of selling space spread out over four showrooms and a full-time staff of seven people, he is pretty sure he made the right choice.
“I love what I do, and I consider everyone I work with a friend. It’s a good feeling,” Stevison told WWD.
Perhaps ironically, the automobile is still a central part of what he does. Speaking from his car phone, while store-hopping his way from Ohio to Indiana, he explained, “I am one of the only showroom owners who still does his own road work.” Indeed, his willingness to log the miles, Stevison noted, is one of the chief reasons for his success. “I think it is important for my customers to see me, to know I care.”
When Stevison walks into a store, he is not just there to shake hands. He does everything from remerchandising to selling to hosting trunk shows. He gets involved.
“I meet my stores for early breakfasts, go out for late dinners and sometimes sleep at their houses.”
It’s a high-maintenance way of doing business, but he sees it as coming with the territory. Roadwork accounts for the largest percentage of his sales, said Stevison; he added that some of the stores actually count on his arrival to begin planning their season.
“I go after untouched business,” he said. “It’s those stores in the middle of nowhere — in places like Fargo, North Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota and St. Paul, Minn. There are stores out there that carry high-end lines, and women out there who want to spend money.”
He points out that there are few stores — Epitome in Minneapolis is a good example — that order the greater part of their inventory from lines he represents.
Stevison’s current package includes 16 lines: Garfield & Marks, Votre Nom, Womyn, Cambio, Autumn Cashmere, Kenar, Urchin, New Frontier, Body Action Design, C’est Duo, Jane Doe, Sharragano, Vertigo, Whim, Lulu Lame and Plein Air. He also rents space during market to an additional 15 lines, including Gispa, Custo and Tahari.
All of his lines fall into the contemporary and bridge category. A buyer can find great suits, sweaters, sportswear and even jeans. “I target quality lines that are current and trendy,” Stevison said.
While he takes his core package on the road with him, he said all of the lines are treated equally inside the showroom. Most of the lines that rent space, he explained, are just too large to go on the road.
“I care about all my lines, and every buyer that comes in gets exposed to all of them. My deal with the renters is I provide models for them, bring them customers and take a commission. My showroom is like a mini Coterie.”
Stevison worked for nine years for other established showrooms in the Chicago market before branching out four years ago with Dressed 2 Kill. He said he learned some valuable lessons while cutting his teeth on the business. “It’s all about relationships,” he said. “You don’t ever want to burn a bridge.”
He accomplishes this by being supportive of his customers and addressing their problems. “I want my manufacturers to look good and my stores to be happy. I’m not going to let a store get caught eating 12 pairs of pink pants that didn’t sell; I’m going to replace them with 12 pairs of black pants that will, and transfer the pink ones to a store that might be able to sell them.”
It helps that Stevison owns his own store in Akron, Ohio, which is also called Dressed 2 Kill. His sister and mother run the shop, which he considers a testing ground for his products. “Owning a store helps immeasurably in understanding my [retail accounts’] stores,” he said.
Of course, while it is clear that the 33-year-old Stevison is in love with the apparel business, all the road work can get anyone to start thinking about retiring.
“I’m going to open a little shop in Palm Springs and relax,” he predicted. “Eventually.”