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  -    -  EP4 Rachel Naoum finds a niche startup in the wedding industry

ANNA WANG Podcast EP4 with The White Collections – Rachel Naoum finds a niche startup in the wedding industry

Podcast Transcription:

[00:00:00]

Anna Wang:                Welcome everyone to my podcast episode number 4. And anyone that hasn’t joined us before, I’m Anna Wang and we’re pretty much been talking about a lot of topics about how I started and all of those things. So, as we went through last week, we actually met Hanh from Silver Pearl, and we’re very honoured to have special guest Rachel from The White Collection here with us today. Hi Rachel, how are you today?

Rachel:                        Good, Anna. How are you?

Anna Wang:                I’m really well. And you’ve got the little one.

Rachel:                        Yes. I’m with Alex.

Anna Wang:                I remember when you first met, he was such a little baby and now he’s a little man now.

Rachel:                        You emailed me actually about the showroom and taking up a space in here. I was in hospital at the time. I just given birth to him.

Anna Wang:                Oh my god. And look at him, he’s a big little man now.

Rachel:                        We’ll get him and then [unintelligible-00:00:50].

Anna Wang:                It’s pretty crazy. So being the owner and founder of White Collection, do you want to explain to those that actually don’t know what White Collection is? Explain how you started the business and why you started the business and what it is.

Rachel:                        Yeah, so The White Collection, we specialize in selling bridal shoes and accessories. The shoes in particular are from all around the world. So, we’ve tried to look overseas and see what kind of bridal shoes making a storm overseas and trying to bring those into the Australian market. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any real nice wedding shoe designer in Australia so it was unfortunate that we did have to go overseas to get them. But then because of that, we noticed there’s like a gap in the market.

Around the time when I was getting married as well, I noticed I hated wedding shoe shopping. There was nothing out there. So, it was all those kind of like I call them the nana shoes with the like crinkles and the broaches and it was all very dated. So, very ugly shoes back in those days. There was [unintelligible-00:01:58] peep toe shoes for around a while and that was about it. So, it was really good to see what they were doing overseas and finding all of the really nice suppliers and trying to bring them into the Australian market.

What got me started? I started The White Collection when I was on maternity leave with my daughter. So, I had a year off. My background is in IT. So, this is not something which I’ve been doing since [unintelligible-00:02:25]. Coming from an IT field, when I was on maternity leave with my eldest son, I was very much into like building websites and doing a lot of the Google advertising and stuff for small businesses and it became a bit of a passion of mine through that. Using the data that is available to us in Google, it was really good to see — From that, you can kind of identify where there are gaps in the market so you can see what people are searching for, so what has a high search volume and has a low competition. And then from that, you can kind of determine or validate your findings.

Anna Wang:                If it’s a good business or not.

Rachel:                        Yeah. So you can kind of say, “Well, I know there’s a gap in the market but let’s see if there was actually a bit of a demand in Australia for that.” So, wedding shoes was a good thing to target. Now, I’m moving forward like a couple of years knowing that I wanted to do it for myself. So, getting started into to have an online store for myself. Wedding shoes seem to be the right thing just because it fit that niche. And so that’s where it all began. And then so I built the website. I did the advertising for it and started as an online store which operated that way for the first two years. And then we moved into a physical presence, pretty much when you got in contact with me which was around two years ago now. Yeah.

Anna Wang:                Amazing. It’s cool. So, have you gone back to work?

Rachel:                        Yes. Yes, but part-time. That’s only because the business grew to a point where I was able to employ a couple of people to run it for me. So, it allowed me to free up my time to be able to go back professionally, like back to my IT job. Again, it’s only part-time so that’s three days a week. And the business continues to grow so I think maybe one day we’ll look at leaving. But for now, I’m happy with the current set-up which is have a couple of girls run it for me and then I can go off and continue with my professional career.

Anna Wang:                Okay. Okay. So at the moment, you’ve got two girls employed you’re saying? Yeah?

Rachel:                        Yeah. There’s three actually.

Anna Wang:                There’s three. So, you’ve got three girls employee and you still work part-time at your other job more, because it’s a passion that you want to keep going?

Rachel:                        Oh, because it’s hard to say. Like I was pretty senior at my job when I was on maternity leave with my daughter so it’s hard to throw that away when you’ve worked so hard to get to that point. It’s a flexible job so they’ve supported me as well in terms of being able to do some work from home or work whichever days best suit me. And they understand my situation. They’re very supportive of me kind of working between doing school pick up and drop off and doing all that. So, they were very supportive. They’ve worked with me from before and they were very much like, “Come back and we’ll look after you.” So, it’s too hard to say no to that. It’s too tempting.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. That’s good to have an employee that’s really really there to support you. So, with your concept and ideas, it has always been an online retail store. So, when I came to you with a retail space, what was your thoughts and what was your decision on why you actually came into the position of opening up a retail space?

Rachel:                        So in the beginning, it was all out of home. And then it got to the point where there was just so much stock that was just out of home. So, it was like you use the stock to make some sales. It needs to be presented. It needs to be visible for people. When you came to me, it was something which I had been thinking I want to trial. I definitely wanted to trial a showroom. I’d have people that wanted to try on the shoes before they buy and I think with wedding shoes, they’re even more so nervous about buying before trying. Even though we had a good returns policy and place, there were, on a rare occasions, where there were girls that were trying on shoes at my home. So, there was a need for people who are asking for it and so I thought, let’s trial it and let’s trial it in a space like this which is a wedding centre, lots of small businesses. You’ve got the bridal traffic and we support each other. So, the idea was like — The idea was very appealing. And it’s 10 minutes from my home so that’s an added value. That’s an added bonus, I should say.

Anna Wang:                Okay, great. Because I know at times when you’re not around and Caitlin is not around, and then you don’t have staff and I’ve got like a client that just walks and they don’t realise it’s actually by appointment. And I actually enjoy trying to serve and sell shoes. Because I’m at the back trying to [unintelligible-00:07:20] and me calling you go, “I can’t find this size but do you have it?” And you’re like, “Yeah. It’s there.” And then and I’ll come down and I’ll try and sell it.

Rachel:                        Yeah. We [unintelligible-00:07:30].

Anna Wang:                And it feels good. It actually feels nice to sell a pair of shoes because it’s giving that customer service to your client that walks away, and then I know that I’ve helped you as well. And it’s not a client that just walks away and goes on, “I need to buy a pair of shoes for next week.” and go somewhere else. So I think, that’s probably one of the reasons also why I started this space.

Rachel:                        The space is beautiful. Yeah. It’s stunning.

Anna Wang:                At least everyone help each other.

Rachel:                        Yeah, exactly.

Anna Wang:                Yeah. I had one lady — I had a meeting with a group of ladies last week and it was just a social kind of meeting. And then your client came in and then they go, “Oh, how much commission do you make for selling the shoes?” I said, “I don’t make any commission.” She is, “Oh, wow.” I said, “Because we’re here to help each other.”

Rachel:                        Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Anna Wang:                And it’s not about how much I make and I’m not going to say hello to a client for shoes because I don’t make anything from it. So, it’s really interesting how people think. And in terms of outside of these squares, how people are thinking business. It’s all about figures, and money, and all. And it’s strange.

Rachel:                        That’s right. And why would you do this if you’re not making anything out of it?

Anna Wang:                Exactly. Exactly. So, and for you to choose your shoes, obviously, there’s so many designs, how do you choose from the designs and kind of know what will work and what won’t work?

Rachel:                        Oh, it’s hard.

Anna Wang:                I mean, it’s hard. Like, how do you do it?

Rachel:                        We have a lot of customers, like a lot of brides asking us, “This is my dress. What do you think will work with that?” And it’s become — It’s really hard to match. So, it comes down to the girl’s taste, the cut, and style of her dress. Like often, you’ll find — Like I always think that like V-neck dresses look really good with points because you’re following the angles. And then it just becomes a bit of trial and error. Some girls come in and they know exactly what they want. “This is the shoe I want. Can you get it for me in my size?” And that’s it. And it’s a very easy sell. And then the other girls are like, “I have no idea. I just want to try on half the shop.” So, it’s really tricky. We’re getting better in time. The more girls that we see, the more dresses we see, the more that we’re starting to understand different customers. Some girls are very simple. Some girls go all out. And then we’ve got shoes to cater for all different personalities.

Anna Wang:                Amazing. Now, that’s just wedding shoes. Do you cater to mother of the bride? Because I can see some colour in your collection.

Rachel:                        Yeah.

Anna Wang:                Are they more for like bridesmaids or they’re more for the bride’s that want a bit of colour?

Rachel:                        Yeah. So, not so much. Mother of the bride is very difficult, we find, only because they tend to be older women, very wide feet. They want very comfortable and at the same time glamorous looking shoes which we haven’t quite nailed that market yet. So, it is a bit tricky. Bridesmaids we do, but we’ve got like — Because the colours you’re seeing are more than nudes and the natural tones, they are there but then we’re finding that they’re at a more expensive price point than what girls would want to pay. So, we could look at getting in a cheaper line for bridesmaid shoes. But for now, the primary focus is the bride.

Anna Wang:                It’s the bride. So, what do you think about the importance of shoes? Like, how important do you think shoes are for girls?

Rachel:                        Yeah. So, a lot of girls say, “No one’s going to see the shoes anyway so what’s the big deal?” Which is true to some point when it’s under a big dress. But we find that the shoes get shown when they’re on the dresser, when the girls are getting ready, when the girls are putting their shoes on. So, it’s photographed. It’s filmed. Having comfortable shoes, as well, shows on your face. So, they always say, if you’re in an uncomfortable pair of heels, it shows. So try to find shoes that you are really comfortable in and happy with. So for those reasons alone, I think it is quite important to get something which does sort of stand out and flows with the theme of your wedding, and the theme of the dress. I think there’s a rule which says they should spend about like 10% of your wedding dress on the shoes. I don’t know how true that was. Maybe it should be 5%.

Anna Wang:                For what the figure is of dresses, some people are saying they are spending 20 to 30 grand on dresses.

Rachel:                        Well, yeah. But —

Anna Wang:                So, it would be great they everyone spent $3,000 on a pair of shoes with it.

Rachel:                        Yeah, exactly. To kind of match the gown. I’m not saying that it did. It’s just something I remember reading in like a Hollywood magazine once, saying it should be around 10% if you are supposed to ratio it out.

Anna Wang:                Oh my gosh, how funny. Now, I can see in terms of you’re still in maternity. So, you’ve got three children.

Rachel:                        Yeah.

Anna Wang:                How do you balance your work life with children and everything now that you could do part-time? How do you balance your husband and everything?

Rachel:                        Yeah. We make it work. It’s chaos. It really is. But, if I didn’t have the support that I have from my staff, from my family — So, I’ve got my parents, my in-laws, they’re both close by. My work is supportive. My staff is supportive. So, everything kind of works. And then as I said, it is chaos at home but it works. It works. Yeah.

Anna Wang:                Do you find — You’ve got one daughter and two sons.

Rachel:                        Yeah.

Anna Wang:                Does your daughter get like really, “Oh my god, pretty shoes.” and things like that? Is she interested in what you’re doing?

Rachel:                        She is, yeah. She’s a very girly girl. She’s in kindergarten. Her teacher is actually engaged and she’ll be getting married soon and my daughter was on like promoting The White Collection which was hilarious. So, she was telling her, “You have to go to The White Collection. We’ve got wedding dresses and shoes and everything.” She was just thinking more about the whole centre which is just adorable. And she was putting her hand up for being flower girl as well. So, she’s just a very like — She’s super girly and all into — It wouldn’t surprise me if she’s one of the girls that have been like planning her wedding from day 1.

Anna Wang:                Oh gosh, how funny.

Rachel:                        Yeah. Yeah. She’s adorable.

Anna Wang:                So, as we kind of start wrapping up, what’s the plan for White Collection? What have you got in mind for the future? Like, hey, is there an expansion? So, what’s the plans?

Rachel:                        Yeah. So the plans, there are plans. So, they are going in, I suppose, many different directions at times. We are looking at possibly opening up a store in Melbourne. So, we wanted just expand. We’re always looking to grow and change as new ideas as well as new opportunities come. So, we’ve trialled things like evening gowns. We’ve trialled bridal robes. And there’s different things like that which we can just keep looking to add to The White Collection. Though it started with shoes, it’s now shoes and accessories. It could be shoes and accessories and something else. So, there’s no way or there was no reason to restrict it in any way. And then again, other opportunities would be looking to open up Melbourne like in other sort of stores around Australia. That’s basically all that we can say for now. So, it’s all one step at a time. And as they say, it’s like build a brick on a brick and we’ll get somewhere eventually. Yeah. But it’s just, seriously, it’s just enjoying the ride. So, I love running a business. I love the game of business and just to really enjoy it and constantly learn as we go. That’s the biggest and main inspiration for everything.

Anna Wang:                And then as your background, you’re Lebanese and having a White Collection name is quite versatile because it’s not just like the shoes collection. So, it’s great how The White Collection can expand to so many different items and things like that.

Rachel:                        Yeah. That was done. That was intentional. So originally, when we were coming up with a name, of course it was hard to choose a name. I think that’s one of the hardest things starting a business is like picking a name that’s going to work and will run for so long. But, that was one focus area was don’t tie it just to shoes because you just never know.

Anna Wang:                Yeah, exactly. And now, as you can see, the accessories side of the business is growing rapidly as well. So, it’s really exciting.

Rachel:                        Yeah. Yeah. Accessories has been good. Like I said, there were some things that we trialled and didn’t work so well. So, for example with the robes, they were I think at a higher price point than what people were happy to pay but at the same time, we always try to keep things premium. What that means is we didn’t want to stock like cheap robes. We’re trying to get premium robes.

Anna Wang:                Well, that’s quality because your shoes are at a certain quality. You want to keep everything quite uniformed.

Rachel:                        We don’t want it like start bringing cheap things in, so it’s like keep things at a premium and then see how it goes. So, the accessories that we’re stocking, we’re trying to stock the best of those. The shoes that we’re stocking, the best of those. And then whatever else fits into that model. If robes come in and then they’re too expensive, then we can try it and see. Does it work? Doesn’t it? Possibly drop it. But it’s all about experimenting and being open-minded.

Anna Wang:                Amazing. Okay. So let’s wrap it up for today for our podcast. So, as we kind of get to know — Anyone that hasn’t actually seen The White Collection or heard of The White Collection or anyone that’s after shoes or anything, it’s just a matter of having a look online on thewhitecollection.com.au.

Rachel:                        Yeah.

Anna Wang:                And then from there, you can make an appointment to come see Rachel or one of the other girls. Or, feel free to drop past and kind of have a browse but in those times, you really need to make an appointment to sit down and actually try on some shoes. So, we’ll go from there but we’re welcome to everyone to actually come to our showroom and actually visit us. So, until next week. Let’s kind of touch base and everyone have a good week.

Rachel:                        Thanks. Thanks, Anna.

Anna Wang:                Thank you for coming.

Rachel:                        Thanks.

[End of Recording – 00:17:26]