How Runway Sale Landed the Big Fish

How Runway Sale Landed the Big Fish


Vital Stats

  • Company: Runway Sale
  • Players: Karl Hammerschmidt and Elmien Smit
  • Est: 2012
  • Contact:

Elmien Smit and her partner Karl Hammerschmidt didn’t even try to partner with smaller brands when they launched their members-only luxury sale site Runway Sale.

Instead, they reached for the top, acknowledging that to be big and grow quickly, they had to work with the best local and international brands. Think Ben Sherman, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Hugo Boss, Nine West – you get the picture?

Related: How to Partner with a Big Company

Launched with a paltry sum of R50 000, the strategy has propelled this popular start-up’s growth from 2012 to now.

“We’re now doing 30 times the business we were doing two years ago, which is excellent in anyone’s books, but particularly for a new online concept that South Africans were not familiar with just a few years ago,” says Hammerschmidt.

Getting noticed

Smit ascribes their success to good fortune. “We were lucky to build great relationships with big brands,” she says. But luck has little to do with it. They had a solid business idea.

They’d done the necessary market research, and tested the concept. After they’d built their luxury sales site, the only thing they needed was a big brand to notice them, realise their brilliance, and sign on the dotted line as a partner. But how exactly do you do that when you’re – thus far – a nobody?

“We spent a huge amount of time and energy finding brands that would give us a chance,” says Hammerschmidt.

“It’s extremely difficult to get big brand representatives to return your calls or agree to meet you. It took research, persistence, and trial and error. You really have to feel your way around,
be committed to hard work and then, just maybe, you’ll find someone willing to give you a chance.”

That someone was from designer brand Carducci. What followed was a ‘halo effect’, says Hammerschmidt.

“After we proved what we could do, other brands were much easier to persuade. The more we built our portfolio, the bigger the interest we created.”

Thinking big

Entrepreneurship experts say that you need to think like a big brand to partner with one.

“Our business is about selling amazing products at amazing prices,” says Smit.

“To get buy-in from high-end brands, we had to assure them we’d look after their brand, and expose and represent it in ways consistent with their demands and that they can be proud of. One of the biggest mistakes small companies make is they don’t do enough homework about the requirements of big companies they want to partner with. You need to think from a large business point of view.”

No bargain bins here

“For luxury brands, brand equity is critical,” adds Hammerschmidt. “We offer brands the opportunity to sell items through an attractive additional channel outside of the traditional retail environment. The fact is that each season there are items that don’t sell at the full retail price.

“To have these items go on sale time after time can be damaging to a brand. What we do is sell the items at prices that are attractive to consumers, and are presented in an eye-catching and elegant online environment in ‘limited time’ events, which provides a lot more brand protection.”

Tips on working with brands

  • Invest a lot of time building a relationship with the big brand. Spend time with people inside the company who will champion your idea with decision-makers.
  • Target the right kinds of people within the big brand. Go after executives who actually have decision-making power.
  • Make friends in person. Reach out on email and set up in-person meetings over a cup of coffee where you can tell people about some of the things you’re doing.
  • Be genuine. Authenticity is key to successful relationship building, so show genuine interest in the big brand’s initiatives and goals.
  • Make sure your offering really meets the big brand’s goals. Take time to research the brand’s needs and figure out how to fill them.
  • Be patient. Though you may be on a shoestring budget, don’t push too hard. Your big business might be in the middle of financial year-end.

Related: Win-Win: Strategically Partner With Your Top Competitors

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.