In 2011, entrepreneur Psyche Terry’s Urban Intimates brand was a struggling start-up, funded by credit cards and the owner’s 401(k). Just five years later, the company is valued at $40 million, and has a flourishing partnership with Macy’s, as well as other major retailers.
The turning point for the woman-owned business enterprise? Participating in the inaugural class of The Workshop at Macy’s.
The Workshop at Macy’s is a groundbreaking business development program designed to foster selected, high-potential minority- and women-owned businesses into partners for major retailers. The program was launched in 2011 and is offered free of charge, but to obtain one of the program’s 10 coveted openings per yearly session, applicants must apply and undergo an in-depth vetting process by The Workshop at Macy’s team, including evaluations and in-person interviews for selected candidates.
The development of the program came from, “our company's understanding that we, Macy’s, had to react to the fast-paced changes of our customer – demographics were shifting and the customer needed more from us,” said Macy’s Senior Vice President – Lease, Pricing and Multicultural Initiatives Shawn Outler.
Figuring out what these emerging multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial families wanted was the next challenge. “Who better to know that than the entrepreneurs who live, work and grew up in these communities?” Outler asks. “There were so many businesses out there that didn’t have a clear understanding of how to get from A to Z; from working with specialty retailers, online and with mom and pop boutiques to working with a major retailer.”
The Workshop at Macy’s was developed to do just that.
During the intensive four-and-a-half day workshop, participants learn to identify their customer, build their brand identity and maximize assortment production. They also develop a more detailed understanding of the production lifecycle, among other critical ins and outs of navigating large-scale retail.
Courses such as entrepreneurial finance and Retail Math 101 are challenging, but critical for success. As one 2015 participant said, “Going over the math and understanding large-scale budgets with an in-person teacher was very helpful.” Participants even have the opportunity for a master class with Lisa Price, the founder of the now-megabrand Carol’s Daughter, which was recently purchased by L’Oreal.
Macy’s partners with Babson College – the leading school in the United States for entrepreneurship – for a large part of The Workshop at Macy’s curriculum. “We really did our research to find the best curriculum,” said Director of Multicultural Business Development Erin Wilson, who is one of The Workshop at Macy’s executive directors. Elizabeth Thornton, Babson College’s Professor of Management Practice, has been a key part of The Workshop at Macy’s team from the very beginning. “She’s had her own business; she’s lived it. The successes and the failures, the big moments and the disappointments – her experience makes her an integral part of The Workshop at Macy’s team and its success,” said Wilson.
Now entering its seventh year, The Workshop at Macy’s has some fantastic success stories – both for companies that go on to become Macy’s vendors, and those that grow their businesses through other channels. TwelveNYC, a 2014 participant, is the program's first participant to make it into Macy’s top 15 minority- and women-owned enterprises across the entire Macy’s division (Macy’s stores and macys.com) – a category that includes Spanx, Sean John, Eileen Fisher and Jockey.
“We’re touching on two of the major social issues of our time – income equality and equal access, and doing what we can to address those issues” said Wilson, in talking about The Workshop at Macy’s impact.
“The program has been a labor of love for our team,” says Director of Multicultural Business Development and Wilson’s partner in leading The Workshop at Macy’s Sherieka Smallwood. She goes on to say “It’s one we’re committed to continually evolving as it provides such a unique competitive advantage, allowing us to reflect our diverse customer base and source distinctive merchandise all at the same time.”
Outler expected success stories when she led the creation of The Workshop at Macy’s, but there have been unexpected elements, as well. “What surprised me most,” she said, “was the reaction of the participants. I never thought they would be so emotional. I thought it was purely about the business, purely about figuring it out – providing the tools and strategies for partnering with a major retailer. I didn’t realize the kind of impact we would have beyond that. I will never forget that first class: I realized that what we were doing here was much bigger than building a business. It was reshaping people’s lives.”
The Workshop at Macy’s is its own success story – for Macy’s, for participants, and for our customers.
The Workshop at Macy’s is currently accepting applications for the 2017 class, through Jan. 29, 2017. You can read more about the program on The Workshop at Macy’s website.