Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Steve & Barry's: Will Venus Williams' Fashion Line Wear Well?

EleVen By Venus Williams photo composite

Today, tennis star Venus Williamswill announce that she is signing an endorsement deal with Steve & Barry's, the retailer that has made plenty of waves with its Starbury shoe, which it sells for $14.98. The deal from the very start is already the most expansive merchandise deal in the history of tennis. I sat down with Howard Schacter, Steve & Barry's chief partnerships officer, to talk about the line that will be called Eleven by Venus Williams and will launch in November.

Me: You started with Stephon Marbury. You've since signed Ben Wallace, Bubba Watson and now Venus Williams. Why does the sports model work for you?

Schacter: We really hit a home run in making significant awareness for ourselves in the marketplace with the launch of Starbury last august. It's a fantastic revolutionary product, an NBA quality shoe for under $15 got noticed in the fashion sports business world and with it tons of publicity, tons of traffic and ultimately tons of sales. So we realized we might be on to something.

Me: How much is price part of the decision making at your stores?

Schacter: At the onset of Steve & Barry's we were leading with price value--an astonishing value--price points that people hadn't seen before. But it has been very clear to us over the last few years and definitely with the Eleven brand, what we're talking about is great product and oh by the way. it happens to be at a low price.

Me: You now have 206 stores. I assume that many people, unlike say a year or two ago when they stumbled upon you, come into the store knowing they want something specific?

Schacter: The evolution of our brand has been folks who have heard about us through friends and family who said, "You got to go to this place because they're probably going to go out of business in a few days at these price points" and came in. And now by virtue of these lifestyle brands that we've been introducing with some of our partners--athletic and celebrity--they're coming by appointment.

Me: What should we expect from this line?

Schacter: Whether it's an active woman who is going to work out or play tennis or getting drinks with her friends there is a full array of apparel--outerwear, shirts, tops, sweatsuits as well as sneakers for her.

Me: You've recently signed Sarah Jessica Parker and Amanda Bynes and now Venus. Steve & Barry's used to be a heavily male retail space. What happened?

Schacter: While we were offering great product for those male audiences, we realized -- the light bulb went on -- and we said, "Hey we're not delivering for the buyers themselves, these women that are coming into our stores" So we entered this year saying we really should try to make a statement for that audience."

Me: What was it about Venus that appealed to this company?

Schacter: Venus brings to us an ideal combination of characteristics that we know will result in a grand slam--pun intended. It was about an opportunity to tap into her fashion passion and education and apply it to a line of clothes which will also be affordably priced.

Me: You're starting to sign a lot of athletes. What do you offer that will allow you to compete with the Nikesof the world?

Schacter: As a retailer, what we bring to the table is we're private label. What we say to an athlete in terms of the store-within-a-store environment is going to be this many thousands of feet and you're going to help design the clothes and you're going to help design the brand, and you're going to help design the merchandising and you're going to help drive the marketing of it as a co-ceo of that brand. nobody else can really do that.

Me: Venus is closer to the end of her career than the beginning. What happens when she stops playing?

Schacter: The Eleven brand is much bigger than Venus Williams. It's much bigger than tennis and that court. There's certainly apparel and footwear that's driving the brand made for on court, but we believe this brand will be very successful well beyond her playing days.

Me: Her on court shoe will sell for $14.98. How do you convince people that low price isn't cheap?

Schacter: It's not lost on us that when people hear under $20, under $15, their immediate reaction--people who don't know Steve and Barry's well is--it must not be of the highest quality. the Starburys have been cut up enough. The Sarah Jessica jeans have been cut up enough. The same is probably is going to happen with the Eleven merchandise. Well, seeing really is believing. You can get very high quality merchandise at our stores that these other brands charge many more times the price.

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