When the ground in the designer handbag world shifted underneath Pietro Handbags in the mid-2010s, Alex Dabagh couldn’t bear the thought of losing the family business in New York City. His father, Pierre, started the company in 1982, a few years after fleeing civil war in Lebanon.
The market for high fashion still existed three decades later, but consumers had changed their shopping habits. “So many stores and little boutiques that were buying from us started going out of business,” Alex recalled.
To save his father’s legacy, Dabagh refocused the business model from dwindling indirect sales at retail stores and trade shows to direct sales over the Internet. The transition involved a website build, the redirection of money for trade shows to online advertising, and a brand-enhancing investment in social media channels.
Pietro Handbags handles sales through the Shopify e-commerce platform, which Dabagh said is easy to navigate. The company boosts brand recognition through ads on Facebook and Google. Instagram is a great forum for early customer feedback, and Google Analytics provides insights into customers’ fashion tastes and locations for targeted marketing.
The company used MailChimp to build email lists through contests for handbags. Most of the online orders currently come through those lists. “It’s very easy to get lost out there … so we’ve really got to make our presence known,” Dabagh adding that “I still learn that part of the business every day.”
Forty employees depend on Pietro Handbags for their livelihoods. Dabagh thinks of them when he hears about potential federal policies aimed at the large technology companies whose innovations give companies like his second life.
“We survive. Every dollar counts,” he said. “Big conglomerates have budgets in the millions for marketing, so they are able to weather more. Smaller guys are the ones who get hurt.”
He added that policymakers have trouble appreciating the challenges of mom-and-pop shops around the country. “They don’t see the struggles we go through,” Dabagh said. “Any dollar we can save with technology, we can put back into the business for machinery, people, marketing.”