Gretchen Christine Rossi catches back up with Lioness to talk about her collection is growing.
When Lioness last spoke with Gretchen Christine Rossi, former cast mate of the Bravo hit TV reality series, “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” she was looking towards the future with marriage in her eyes and business on her brain. Though dreaming of white dresses, Rossi really had her sights set on expanding her business, the Gretchen Christine Collection, a budding lifestyle brand featuring handbags, cosmetics, jewelry, hair tools, home décor and more into a household name found in retail stores nationwide. Five years later, she is still growing and expanding, releasing her fall handbag collection featuring vegan leather and an all-new outlook on the future of her empire.
“Slade and I are still not married. It’s funny, I think we’ve just decided we might be the Kurt and Goldie couple … because it’s just so funny that every time we think we’re going to plan a wedding, there’s so much stuff that starts to happen with our business and with work and — things just get so busy and then we also really started focusing on trying to have a baby and because Slade had a vasectomy 15 years ago, we have to go through IVF. We tried a reversal but it didn’t work, so we have to go though IVF which is a very expensive process as well,” began Rossi who explained the heartbreak of failed IVF attempts and the need to give her body a break from the physical constraints of trying to conceive while also allowing a break from the emotional pulls as well.
On being acquired by Dastmalchi
“The big news about the business is we just celebrated eight years and we were recently acquired by large, global portfolio of luxury brands. And so, that’s been a really exciting acquisition to Gretchen Christine this past year and so we’re now under this entity,” explained an excited Rossi who remains creative director of Gretchen Christine since it’s acquisition by Dastmalchi. “It’s so nice to have this mother ship, if you will, to really help us take the business to the next level.”
With a large backing of resources behind her, Rossi is excited to see how much faster Gretchen Christine can scale now that they are linked with a partner that provides a huge fulfillment center called Ingram Micro which has seven houses around the world that now feature Rossi’s business, more employees and even a great social media marketing team.
“As we know, distribution nowadays isn’t necessarily your regular brick and mortar. It’s not your usual, you know, go to the retail store anymore, it’s really evolved online so our distribution channels have expanded greatly,” said Rossi as she explained how her once hoped for vision of being in retail stores nationwide has sort of been put on the back burner, now seeing how the marketplace is changing.
On e-commerce versus brick and mortar
“With the millennials, who are basically using their phones to shop, they really aren’t walking into the malls anymore to shop and it’s, in one way, it’s very sad and in another way it’s kind of exciting to see the growth and the access that you can have to consumers so quickly, so yeah,” Rossi said. “I would definitely say that our focus isn’t heavily focused anymore specifically on retail. I mean you know, it would be great to be in you know, Nordstrom’s or one of those places, but they’re like, hey we want 20 bags, where you can go to a big home shopping network and you can sell two thousand bags in 15 minutes,” said Rossi, “You know it’s a very different model. We also are doing so well online with our sales that it doesn’t – we don’t have to have retail.”
Continually looking ahead, Rossi is also thrilled to not only be launching a new collection of handbags, but to be doing so on the online mega giant, Amazon as well.
“A lot of people don’t realize this, but Amazon is taking over the world,” said a laughing but serious Rossi, “you know out of all e-commerce sales, they are 43 percent of all e-commerce sales, out of every company in the world, like, it’s insane, like, it’s crazy to think about how the fact that Amazon is 43 percent of those sales. So, Amazon is a huge category for us, it’s a huge marketplace that we’re focused on, you know you have to be invited to be on the platform for this specific area that we just gone on for with the handbags, so that’s very excited news to have our new fall collection launch on Amazon.”
“There’s so much that I’ve learned being with this new company, just on the digital marketing side. Really if you don’t have a good digital marketing team or you don’t have the money behind good digital marketing, it’s very difficult to survive in the e-commerce side of the business so thankfully we’re with this great group that’s allowed us to have you know, the money and the efforts into that digital marketing side of things as well as social media influencers,” said Rossi, “I really just think our business model has changed in the sense of we’re not – you know it’s going to be to a point where so many people are looking for the bags or wanting the bags that the retailers are going to be coming to us, we no longer have to go to the retailers.”
Rossi sets goals with the intention of absolute success. For her, there’s no maybe, there’s only the matter of when. “Our focus has always been to be a full lifestyle brand,” said Rossi who likes to model herself after one of her mentors, Kathy Ireland, the former super model turned mega entrepreneur with her brand marketing company, kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) who, according to a 2015 Forbes list, has a net worth of $420 million. “I licensed into a swimwear line that completely sold out nationally within 48 hours. I designed for a shoe company, we’re currently in talks for a possible active wear line, so there’s so many different avenues that we’re going to cotinine to grow in and continue to expand the Gretchen Christine line in but you know our two main things of beauty and handbags have always been kind of the staple of Gretchen Christine and the thing that people continue to come back to our site for.”
On customer development …
In a recent relaunch of the site, GretchenChristine.com, Rossi and her team introduced the option of Future Pay to their customers, allowing those who find themselves a little strapped for cash, the ability to make payments over time.
“It’s important to me that the customer knows that I’m listening to what they request or what they want,” said Rossi. “It’s little details like that, that we have really grown in leaps and bounds as a company. As I said, we’re with Ingram Micro, which is one of the largest retail houses in the world and we have three fulfillment centers here in the states and four internationally and so now people will receive their products much quicker, much more efficiently, they will have super easy returns – it’s just the customer service side of things have gone to a whole new level as well. Customer satisfaction is really our number one key thing. We make high quality, beautiful products at an acceptable price and we really want people to have that Amazon-like experience when they come shop at Gretchen Christine.”
In that same vein, Rossi has also listened to her customers who have been looking for a vegan option when searching for handbags. A self proclaimed animal lover, Rossi went all out in her efforts to obtain the perfect cruelty-free and eco-friendly materials that also held up to the leather bags many have come accustomed to.
“Gretchen Christine is basically trying to do their little part in being more eco-friendly and more socially responsible. We’ve seen a huge movement, especially in the younger generation, to really stand for something that’s important,” said Rossi. “This vegan leather line is a very special line to me because it literally took me a year to develop. I was so specific about how I wanted the leather to look and feel, how I wanted it to wear, how I wanted it to be durable, so there were so many things that went in to this. They sent me 25 samples that I sent back and said this isn’t good enough, this is not right; this isn’t what I want. The new technology developed in the manufacturing process and it’s quite extraordinary. The thing that’s interesting about it is the structure actually holds better and doesn’t break down over time like real leather and so when you receive this bag, you know a lot of times when you get a real leather bag, it has a nice structure when you first get it and over time of wearing it, it just gets very slouchy and loses its structure and so the thing that I love about our bags is that it looks and feels and acts like real leather but it still continues to hold its structure and its basically a perfect blend of durability and flexibility and it’s just – I’m really proud of it.”
On returning the effects of the “Real Housewives of Orange County”
“It’s a catch 22 – I’m not naïve to the fact that I became a household name, it’s (“The Real Housewives of Orange County”) been seen in 144 countries and it’s been seen by 400 million people worldwide and it was a huge launching pad for me, so I’m not naïve to that. And I’m so grateful for that platform and I have a huge, you know, two million plus social media following that I have direct access to, to communicate and really have that one on one direct consumer consultation, really with every single one of my customers and fans, so I’m still grateful for that. However, I will tell you that, you know the show’s been on for half a decade and this season I really could start to see that the show can be a negative aspect. I mean, they literally, many of the cast members would hold up products that aren’t even mine and go, ‘look at her purses, they’re a piece of crap’ and when you’re on a huge international show like this and people don’t know, they’re going to assume that what the person is saying is true or correct,” said Rossi, who decided a few years back to exit from the show as it started to negatively effect her business. “When we decided to exit from the show, I was actually pleasantly surprised, to see that my business, actually started doing even better.”
Rossi has since made a one-off appearance back on Housewives, but beyond that doesn’t really see a full return in her near future.
“It’s been just as good for me stepping away and having that fan base still there but not being involved in the messy drama,” said Rossi. “It’s a great form of advertising, there’s no denying that, I’m not mad about that by any means but I do think that there’s sometimes you don’t have control over the final product of what they put out there and what they make you look like, so it’s nice to step away from that and be able to create my own true reality of who I am as a business woman.”
While Rossi may not be coming into homes every week via TV, she is still thankful to have fans that are still interested in her and her story. Though no longer followed by a crew of cameras, she remains pretty public going to many events, activities and photo shoots, but now in a more controlled environment.
“I’ve certainly been asked a lot to come back to TV and I’ve done a couple shows and I definitely do some one offs here and there and its fun and I still enjoy the world of entertainment, 100%, and if I was ever offered a great opportunity, I’m not opposed to it in any way shape or form, but it’s not my focus,” said Rossi. “I’d much rather do something that is a little bit more empowering, uplifting that could be potentially be about business like Shark Tank or you know, something that has to do with empowering women who go after their dreams and make things happen or being on a panel or being on The Talk or The Real or something that is a little bit more of an opportunity to express who I am as a person – I don’t know if going back to the world of reality TV, unless they want to pay me just stupid, stupid money — I’m also not a stupid business person, so if you want to pay me stupid money, I’d never say never — but it’s really not my focus anymore. I feel like I’ve grown in leaps and bounds in business and in just who I am as an individual and I’m not really in that vein anymore.”