Nora Gardner is the founder of Nora Gardner NYC, a clothing company for women in business who are looking for comfortable, tasteful and professional clothing that makes them feel confident and empowered. She went from working as an investment banker in NYC to following her passion to fulfill the wardrobe needs of modern working women, has grown her company into a wholesaler, and with retail partners in 4 countries and 51 cities. Despite a traumatizing robbery that could have shut her down for good, Nora chose to keep going and continues to build her dream. In this interview, Nora shares how she got started in a business, her experiences, and advice for up and coming entrepreneurs who would like to follow in her footsteps!
"I learned that I cannot do everything myself. Overworking yourself can do more harm that good and cause you to miss opportunities."
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business. What is it called and what services/products do you offer?
My name is Nora Gardner and I am the CEO and Creative Director of Nora Gardner New York, a women-owned, NYC-made modern career-wear brand designed to empower women. Our collection consists of high-quality power dresses and separates with a dash of fashion for ultimate versatility and style. Our fabrics are durable and comfortable - engineered for women on the go who need to look put together at a moment's notice.
Other great features of our collection include pockets, dresses with sleeves, machine washable fabrics and interchangeable separates so that you can mix and match pieces to create new looks.
Can you share a bit about how you choose this line of business? What transition did you make to owning your own business?
Prior to founding my company in 2013, I worked in Investment Banking in New York. When I was promoted from Analyst to Associate I wanted to revamp my wardrobe; however, I couldn't find any clothing options that were flattering or empowering. It was then that I started designing in order to fill this need.
Do you have any special training?
I have taken sewing, pattern making, and draping -- and I have studied textiles; however, I am not an expert in any of these fields. I know enough to convey my ideas in very clear detail to pattern makers -- this is essential in order to create the exact garment you wish to exist. Along the way, I have learned a lot about merchandising, sales, marketing and branding from mentors and advisors.
In school, the only real business class I took was accounting, which I think everyone should take regardless of their career path. Understanding what my market wants and knowing how to run a business is my real skill set.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a business owner?
Building a strong wholesale business and a wonderful, enthusiastic team!
How soon after you started did you start seeing profits? Or when do you project to begin earning a profit?
We were profitable by the end of our second full year in business.
How did you decide how to price your services? How did you determine what your services were worth?
In the beginning, I completed competitor research and analysis, and customer surveys. Now, it is more formulaic basic on manufacturing costs.
What mistake(s), if any, have you made with your business?
The biggest mistake I made was probably not hiring early enough -- I learned that I cannot do everything myself. Overworking yourself can do more harm than good and cause you to miss opportunities. However, it is very hard to build a great team when you are bootstrapping your business. I think this is the greatest challenge small business owners face.
What have some of your biggest challenges been?
It had been my dream to open up a store. I finally opened up a boutique in Midtown East last year only to have the store robbed while I was working at night. It was a very traumatic experience and I was pretty badly injured and shaken. News crews lined the block for weeks after it happened and my one employee quit due to trauma related to the event - so I was left alone.
I closed the store and eventually re-opened a few blocks down but the whole ordeal was probably the hardest time of my life -- and keeping the business going was extremely difficult at this time.
What did you learn from the experience and how did you bounce back?
I learned to always have good insurance and security cameras! And I also learned that I am a lot tougher than I ever knew. I fought back and survived. I also learned that I have amazing friends (and customers!) who helped me get through this time. They came without being asked to help me relocate and set up a new - and better (and safer!) home for my brand. Now I have a team helping me and we are doing better than ever.
What do you consider the most important elements of running a successful business?
The product must be fantastic and you have to know exactly who your customer is -- and always think about his or her needs.
Do you have any start-up advice you can share with women reading this who would like to launch their own businesses?
- Know exactly who your customer is and also know the population size
- Make sure this market needs the product you are selling
- Find a cost-effective way to get that product to her
Do you have any advice on managing your small business finances?
Make sure to take a course in accounting if you did not study it in school. Also become very good at Excel.
How do you balance work and life owning a small business?
It is very, very hard. You have to make a lot of sacrifices.... but your friends will be there for you when you come up for air!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Still running my company, which I hope to grow to be 50+ people!
Please share a fun fact about yourself!
Two of my great grandmothers were dressmakers and my great-great-grandfather owned a corset-making factory in Connecticut.
How can readers find you?
You can check out my website: www.noragardner.com or visit our showroom in NYC!
Thanks for such an awesome, informative interview Nora!