People 04 June 2017
When Tori Gerbig turned her eBay shop into an official e-commerce site, she quickly became one of the fastest growing online retailers of women's apparel in the United States.
Pink Lily is a completely self-funded home for women's fashion that grew to generate millions in sales, employ over 20 staff and move to a 25,000 square foot warehouse in just three years. With a growth strategy rooted in social media, the company has over 224k followers on Instagram and more than 1.4 million fans on Facebook. What's the secret?
In this Q&A with Gerbig, she tells SWAAY:
How did you get the idea for Pink Lily?
I always knew I wanted to be self-employed one day. While in college, I studied marketing with a concentration in sales. During one of my classes, I became intrigued with branding and the overall concept of marketing items to consumers. I combined all I learned with my love for fashion and social media, and Pink Lily was born. My goal was to create a place where customers could shop for affordable and stylish clothing, all from the comfort of their home.
Tori Gerbig Courtesy of Pink Lily
How did your original idea evolve into Pink Lily?
Pink Lily actually started as an eBay shop in 2011. When I took maternity leave two years later, it turned into somewhat of a side project for me. I quickly gained a dedicated Facebook following and a fast-growing demand for our products. That's when business really took off. On January 1, 2014, my husband and I launched Pink Lily's official website and within six months we both left our jobs to focus full-time on the shop.
How do you get the clothing that you sell?
We work with over 500 vendors in Los Angeles to find new styles and designs. A portion of our inventory also manufactures just for us. It's not easy to keep up with the latest trends, but I love the challenge. I'm always flying out to Los Angeles and attending a variety of markets for inspiration. Needless to say, it has been very exciting to watch our brand evolve over the last few years.
How do you use social media to further excel your business?
We keep our fans engaged on social media, which is how we've managed to generate over one million Facebook fans in less than two years! Our posts currently drive roughly 300,000 likes, shares and comments per week. To engage our customers, we host daily contests and giveaways and we let them “be the buyer" when we attend a market show to shop for new looks. Our shipments all go out in a custom poly mailer bag with our logo and exclusive hashtag, so we also ask customers to tag us when they take a selfie in their new outfit.
What would you say are your goals for Pink Lily?
In the next year, my goals are to successfully open our flagship retail store in Bowling Green, Kentucky, reach $20 million in annual total sales, and grow total social media followers to two million people.
Personally, I am also very active on my own Instagram where I frequently incorporate Pink Lily into my posts. The majority of the items I wear are my own from our shop and I tag Pink Lily often. Naturally, many of my followers are also fans and customers of Pink Lily.
What do you most credit your success to?
My parents taught me that hard work and work ethic are the only things that put everybody on a level playing field when it comes to business. Hard work is something we are all capable of, regardless of how much money you have, what school you went to, or where you grew up. This mindset has made me the hard worker that I am today. When my daughter was born I only took two days off!
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.