After 33 years of running her business in New York City’s Garment District, renowned fur designer Linda Bretti was understandably hesitant about her decision to pull up stakes from the center of the New York fashion industry and relocate to Westchester.
The desire to vacate Manhattan was twofold: After three decades, Bretti was feeling burned-out on the daily commute (she was even considering retirement) and was frustrated by the space limitations and high cost of her city digs. But she was far from sure about her idea to try running a fashion company in the suburbs. “I was terrified — would this be the end of it?” Bretti says. Her company, Linda Richards, designs and sells fur and fur-trimmed outerwear and accessories to some 2,500 retailers around the country (including national department stores, like Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor), as well as internationally, in such countries as Japan, Egypt, Mexico, Israel, Canada, Argentina, Bahrain, and Germany.
It’s not that Bretti was unfamiliar with Westchester — just the opposite. She’s a New Rochelle native (and current resident) who had operated a satellite design office/warehouse space in Larchmont for two years. But Bretti wasn’t sure whether she’d be able to successfully lure clients and employees to the non-Manhattan destination.
Fast-forward to today, and, after closing her Manhattan location in August 2017, Bretti beams as she shows off her bright and stylish 6,000 sq. ft. Port Chester location. “Moving was the best decision,” she affirms.
The Pearl Street office includes 3,500 square feet of warehouse space, plus a showroom, private offices, a cheerful kitchen, and an open communal workspace/meeting area with large, light-filled windows. “At this big table, we have meetings where we can pull samples and spread out and strategize. Plus,” she says, “we can open the windows for fresh air — we certainly couldn’t do that in Manhattan!”
The open communal space is perfect for strategy sessions.
Her customers have responded similarly. Julian Gold, a company with five retail locations in Texas, was one of the first clients to visit the Linda Richards Port Chester showroom for the Fall 2018 season. “The seasoned buyer, Laura Coffey, loved the relaxed atmosphere of our space and made mention that there were no sirens and horns, like in NYC. It was a de-stressing effect,” Bretti says.
Not only did her worries prove unwarranted, she boasts of an impressive 15 percent increase in business since making the move to Port Chester last summer. What’s behind the uptick? Having ample warehouse space — row after row of luxurious fur items tightly packed in garment bags and boxes — in the same location as their office has given Bretti and her eight employees the ability to offer superior customer service. That, she says, is a direct cause for the business boost. “Being close to your merchandise gets you closer to your customer,” Bretti explains. “If a customer has questions about products, we’re able to physically go into the warehouse, look at the product, and answer questions with more certainty.”
“Being close to your merchandise gets you closer to your customer. If a customer has questions about products, we’re able to physically go into the warehouse, look at the product, and answer questions with more certainty.”
—Linda Bretti, owner, Linda Richards
Linda Richards senior account executive Michele Leiro agrees emphatically, adding that “the accessibility to the warehouse gives me instant information and allows me to better serve customers in a time-sensitive selling season. Bretti has also been able to offer a drop-in service of sorts to Westchester and Connecticut stores carrying her products. Local retailers — which include I Am More Scarsdale, Lola New York (White Plains and Tuckahoe), Tru Grace in Armonk, Lester’s and Indigo Chic in Rye Brook, Darien Sport Shop, and Hoagland’s in Greenwich, among others — may stop by the Port Chester office to pick up additional merchandise to enhance their weekend sales. “When we were in the city, to fill requests like that, we would have had to ship the items, and they wouldn’t get to the stores on time for those crucial weekend selling days,” Bretti explains.
The company has also seen much better ROI when it comes to rent. In Manhattan, Bretti paid the same amount to rent 1,200 square feet as she does now for her expansive space in Port Chester. “Breathing room in Manhattan is a luxury; in Westchester, it is a given,” she says.
Bretti has had no trouble recruiting talent in Westchester.
Logistics are a bit easier, too: Trucks can pull up for deliveries, and parking is simpler than in the traffic-clogged streets of Midtown.
In addition, finding qualified employees in Westchester or willing to commute to Westchester has not been a problem. “There’s so much urban activity happening now in Westchester, and it’s a reverse commute, so the train is not too crowded. I don’t mind it at all,” says Leiro, who lives in Manhattan, as do two other Linda
Richards employees. (The others live in Westchester or Connecticut.)
It doesn’t hurt, Bretti adds, that the Port Chester location is close to the town’s wealth of restaurants and bars for client lunches and after-work drinks, as well as to Neri’s, which she frequently uses to cater meetings. “I like knowing that I’m supporting other area businesses,” Bretti says.
Overall, she feels of the move, “We haven’t missed a beat. There is a feeling now that you don’t necessarily have to be in Manhattan anymore to compete.” For the fashion industry, specifically, Bretti explains that most retail buyers are not doing as many individual showroom visits these days and are instead placing orders at large trade shows, where they can visit a number of wholesalers in one shot. So, having a showroom in Westchester as opposed to Manhattan is no longer a drawback.
On a broader scale, Bretti says, “If Westchester is fine for companies like Morgan Stanley, then why not? There’s a pool of qualified people, and I think these suburban offices are up and coming.”
As a business owner, she adds, “I feel revived being here instead of thinking about retiring. I get to do what I love in my own backyard.”