When Aimee Moss founded Bluebird Showroom in 2004, she didn’t know she was crafting a new direction for the apparel industry and its use of technology. But five years later, Bluebird Showroom is notable not only for the lines it carries and the strong relationship it has with its buyers, but also for its extensive use of Internet technology. Unlike many companies that use technology to insulate themselves from customers, Bluebird Showroom uses the web to build relationships, not to avoid them.
The Bluebird Showroom website has two parts: the public pages presenting the look of the lines they carry and introducing potential buyers to the showroom and its staff, and a private area serving as a virtual showroom for buyers. Between the two parts is a relationship between the buyer and the showroom that is established the traditional way"with phone calls, in-person meetings, and the occasional e-mail.
The public pages of the website are very well-designed, setting the proper tone for the showroom’s market niche. The excellent website design of bluebirdshowroom.com instantly establishes the feel of the showroom on the Home page with a slide show of high-quality images for each of the lines they carry.
The most interesting public page is the About page, the first About page we’ve seen that is entirely a video. The video instantly humanizes the showroom owner and staff, giving buyers who have never visited the showroom or met any of the staff the feeling they are already acquainted. Because of the video, Bluebird Showroom quickly shifts from being a corporation to being a local business that is run by people the buyer already knows and likes.
The private pages are only accessible after a buyer has contacted the showroom and the showroom staff has gotten to know the buyer. These internal pages give buyers access to line sheets, order forms, photographs, and video of the lines: much of the material that other showrooms still communicate though mail and fax machines.
The showroom also has a MySpace page that has links to the pages of many of their lines and retailers.
Despite the well-developed website, Moss isn’t a technologist who puts computers before people. She prefers to build a business on relationships, so the website doesn’t give too much information away. Moss would rather use the site to start a relationship with the buyer, not to substitute for a relationship, and developing and maintaining relationships is the core of Moss’ business. “Relationships are the crux of any great showroom hoping to maintain their brands’ appeal over time,” says Moss, who sees herself as “a diplomat, a liaison between my lines and buyers.”
Bluebird has established its business on a combination of tradition and innovation, a critical combination in a 180-year-old industry that is just beginning to address the Internet era. In an industry as large and fragmented as the apparel industry, with 41,000 apparel manufacturers and 91,000 clothing stores, developing and maintaining relationships is a requirement for conducting business. Because they have to work between the manufacturers and retailers, the best line reps are masters of building relationships, and Moss and Bluebird are a great example of how to incorporate relationships with technology, and a pointer to the future of sales in the apparel industry.