NEW YORK — What are two art lovers doing in the factoring business? Repositioning a family firm that’s been around for 78 years.
“There has been volatility. There used to be way more factors. Firms were bought by banks or disappeared,” said Cassie Rosenthal, a former art gallery owner, now senior vice president of Rosenthal & Rosenthal Inc. and the granddaughter of the late Imre Rosenthal, who founded the business. “We are an independent operator at a time when factoring seems like a dinosaur. But we are redefining our business and branching out.”
“We’re looking at things from a different place,” added Eric Bader, senior vice president of Rosenthal & Rosenthal, who is married to Cassie Rosenthal’s first cousin and was formerly a classical oil painter by profession. “Cassie and I have the same kind of vision.”
At the Accessory Council Excellence (ACE) Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on Tuesday, Rosenthal & Rosenthal, the nation’s largest privately held factoring and financing firm, will be honored for “business leadership” in the apparel and accessories sectors, which still represent the firm’s core business.
“The ACE Awards recognition is particularly meaningful because the accessories industry has always been such a huge part of Rosenthal’s business and growth over the years,” said J. Michael Stanley, managing director and head of factoring at Rosenthal & Rosenthal. The 17-year veteran of the company is scheduled to accept the award.
Rosenthal and Bader represent a younger generation of managers and a new outlook on how to grow Rosenthal & Rosenthal. They’ve begun mining sectors for clients that hadn’t been tapped before, in part to offset recessionary trends in the fashion industry, and reworking the marketing to explain in simple terms what the company and factoring are all about. It’s also about bringing a human dimension to a kind of business that can been seen as stuffy.
“When you hear Rosenthal & Rosenthal for the first time, you might think it’s a law firm,” Rosenthal said, half-jokingly. “But we worked hard at redeveloping the language of what we are talking about here, in all of our marketing materials, even our advertising campaign and the visuals we use. It’s very obvious. We’re not dumbing it down. We’re explaining it in a way a regular person can understand.
“Over the years, Rosenthal & Rosenthal was in a very luxurious position,” she added. “We didn’t really have to work that hard to market ourselves. I don’t think we actually did market ourselves. We built a strong reputation and nice client base. Then it became abundantly clear that in today’s day and age, to reach different audiences and go beyond our traditional scope, we have to tell our story.”
Last year, the web site was redesigned, a marketing department was started and the firm’s first national print and digital ad campaign was launched, bearing a degree of levity. One ad depicts a suited executive with a stack of hats on his head and the tagline, “Wearing too many hats?”
“Before there was a novel’s worth of language. We have really pared it back,” Bader said.
There is also a video series, including one shown in business class on Virgin America, United and American Airlines cross-country flights, and another outlining what Rosenthal & Rosenthal does. Factoring, which provides manufacturers with the capital to produce merchandise for upcoming seasons without waiting weeks or months for retailers to pay up, accounts for 80 percent of the business; asset-based lending represents 20 percent. Rosenthal & Rosenthal will chase down unpaid invoices and assess retailers for clients, among other services.
The company, with 210 employees and about 550 clients, will launch a training department later this year to nurture talent, and last month started the Rosenthal Trade Capital division for alternative inventory financing for cash-constrained companies. It’s geared for manufacturers, wholesalers, assemblers, importers and exporters confronting issues related to seasonality, rapid growth, being under-capitalized or undergoing turnarounds.
“Eric and I push the envelope a little more,” Rosenthal said. “I am very much rooted in new business strategy. I’m involved in the marketing, prospecting for clients, what industry sectors should we be looking at, diversifying our portfolio, seeing what the needs are out on the street and doing what is necessary to enter new markets. Furniture and apparel have been factored for a long time, but factoring isn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar.”
“If you don’t know about something, it can be scary,” said Bader, whose role has evolved from being an underwriter in the lending division to working with the chief financial officer on the finance side. “We each have our own strengths, and we kind of know right away each thing we are working on, which one of us will take the lead on it. We don’t even really discuss it. We just know.”
For the two of them, it’s a matter of balance — supporting Rosenthal & Rosenthal traditions while innovating. “We try to maintain that personalized service that we are known for, that personal contact we have on a daily basis,” said Rosenthal. “Our clients know they can just pop in and see us. That availability is really critical, especially in an age when everything is getting much more automated.”
If you are a client at Rosenthal & Rosenthal, “a good portion of the time you are literally talking to someone who can make a decision or someone who is a Rosenthal,” said Bader. “There is no bureaucracy. In a bank, you may be talking to a decision maker who will have to go to regulator, slowing the process down. We understand the pressing nature of our clients’ needs. Sometimes they need cash right away. We can react faster. We’re not subjected to the same regulations that public companies confront. The concept of having money in your pocket today as opposed to waiting 30, 60, 90 days is great advantage. Having a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. It takes the pressure off entrepreneurs and business owners away from things they are not good at it. It allows them to focus on things they are good at which is developing their product or service, and puts the onus of collecting and managing receivables on us.”
Apparel, footwear and accessories “will always be our bread and butter, but we recognize that other industries could use our services,” said Rosenthal. “Any consumer product is a candidate.” Companies selling electronics, home goods, pet products, gifts, food and technology are being targeted. About two years ago, Mad Style, which specializes in gift-oriented apparel and accessories, became a client. Another new client is Browne Trading — a distributor of caviar and other fine foods selling to restaurants like Daniel and Per Se.
“If it’s a company that actually has sales out there and has receivables, then it becomes about the people and the story, and whether we believe in the business,” said Bader.
For a decade, Rosenthal, who is 42, owned a gallery in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and another in Berlin. “In 2010, I left my business. My partner bought me out. I found it really frustrating and difficult in the art world. It wasn’t working for me, but I always thought I would be in the family business,” which she joined in 2012. “It seemed liked there was a real place for me.”
Bader, 36, was as an artist specializing in classical oil paintings and drawings. His work was displayed in galleries and shows across the country, such as the Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor, N.Y., and The Lily Pad Gallery in Rhode Island. “When I first got out of school, painting was fun for me but frankly, I’ve always had a much stronger interest in business and making money,” said Bader. “Art was simply not going to pay the bills so I got my MBA.” While at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, he worked as a part-time intern at Rosenthal & Rosenthal. “Once you are at Rosenthal, you just don’t leave.”
Other family members working at the firm include Peter Rosenthal, president and Cassie Rosenthal’s brother, and their father, Stephen Rosenthal, who serves as chairman; Stephen’s brother Eric Rosenthal is vice chairman; Kenneth Kleiner is executive vice president and chief marketing officer, and Chris Sanjenis serves as senior vice president.
Cassie Rosenthal considers it a funny coincidence that she and Bader were both in the art world, and decided to drop out and join the family business. “Eric and I tend to be on the same page on a lot of things. It has a lot to do with our background. We have a fresh perspective on finance and not always a linear perspective. Keep in mind, we are not a bank. We are not just looking at balance sheets and regulatory hurdles. We are creative lenders. The challenge is how do we convey our story, in a way that really resonates with people?”