It had been some time since I last saw Nadine. We were sitting next to each other in Spanish class at university and later on we were classmates at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna. I somehow had the feeling that, similar to me, Nadine also ended up in business instead of the diplomatic floors. And when I went through my Facebook friends list one day, I saw that she is the CEO of GlamRock Vienna, a fashion retailer.
Even though we had not seen each other for more than eight years, I decided to just email her if she was interested in giving me an interview. And almost immediately she replied and we scheduled a meet up in Vienna. “Yes, of course, if my experience can be of any use.”, Nadine wrote. And I could imagine her charming laughter when she said that. Even at university when she managed to finish the studies much faster than everyone else, Nadine never rubbed her success into your face. I was really curious to hear her story.
I met Nadine at her store in the first district of Vienna and we then walked over to 1010 Bar for a coffee. We had a lot to catch up after such a long time. Right after university, Nadine did an internship in public relations but she soon realized that while she enjoyed the type of work it was quite far from fashion – the field that she always wanted to work in.
She already worked as a sales rep for Tally Weijl, a fashion retailer in one of Austria’s biggest malls, alongside her studies. “I learned a lot during that job. Especially how to deal with angry customers. One woman even threatened to cut off my hair one day! I still don’t know why she wanted to cut off my hair.”, she laughs. She then worked for Don Gil and s.Oliver, also fashion brands. Even though these jobs were versatile and involved a lot of different tasks, Nadine had the feeling that wherever she worked as an employee, she was limited to doing one specific task. Being involved in the whole supply chain – choosing and sourcing the garments, sales and marketing and style advice for customers – was not possible.
“This is what I enjoy most: I can choose our products, market them, advise the women who come to our store and see them leave happy. Furthermore, it is very output-oriented. I immediately get customer feedback and am rewarded with a smile when our customers are happy.”
Nadine always knew that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. “I never saw myself in a big corporate. Even though a lot of my friends at university wanted to join those companies, I always wanted to be my own boss. I think that’s also because I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs.”
She founded the company when she was 25. But as she grew up in an entrepreneurial environment, she already ran her first company at the age of 18. “I still think it is very important to gain experience as an employee. You can test what you are good at without it resulting in big consequences. My family, and especially my father who is also an entrepreneur, have also encouraged me to work hard, gain experience and eventually become an entrepreneur myself. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to gain experience and learn without the pressure to earn money to survive and pay my bills. I am really grateful for this.”
Nadine started her boutique GlamRock Vienna with her now husband. Originally, they wanted to focus on leather goods but it soon became a boutique known for selling the latest trendy pieces. The two go to Paris once a month to source their products. You will find new products every two weeks at their store. “This is definitely one of our USPs (note: unique selling propositions) compared to retailers like Zara. We are much faster. In addition to that, we also offer personal advice at our store.”
I am curious and ask her how a boutique can compete with Amazon and the likes without setting up an ecommerce channel. “E-commerce would require a big inventory and, therefore, costs. Furthermore, our customers come to our store to get our advice.” GlamRock Vienna’s customers are style affluent individualists. At price points similar to Zara, you can get unique pieces that nobody else will have. You run less risk of bumping into a girl with the very same dress at a party.
The product range is very seasonal: a lot of glitter and glam around Christmas and New Year. By now, the range of gowns for the Viennese ball season has been stocked up. “We focus on trendy but at the same time wearable pieces. Our core customers like to experiment with new styles. Nevertheless, Vienna still has a very classic style. It is not as experimental as cities like New York, London or Tokyo. Therefore, our pieces cannot be too crazy. We operate in a segment where our customers say ‘I am willing to pay for it because it is special’. It is not as expensive as premium brands but also not super cheap.”
GlamRock Vienna’s customers work in all types of industries. According to Nadine, women who work in more traditional environments such as banks or insurance companies, also come and shop at their boutique. Even in those industries, the outfits do not have to be 100% classic, it is perfectly fine to also mix trendy elements into your professional wardrobe.
Initially, GlamRock Vienna had several branches: one at the shopping street Mariahilfer Straße and one in Neubaugasse. In addition to these branches, Nadine also tested the store concept with smaller pop up stores. However, after some time Nadine decided to move the boutique to Seilergasse, in close vicinity to the famous Graben and Stephansplatz. This location is perfect for customers who regularly stop by after they leave their jobs at the nearby offices and check out the latest items. If there an outfit is advertised online, customers have to be fast. These items sell quickly.
“We offer a mix of brands and products for every type of woman, at any size. If you feel comfortable in your clothes, you will feel good about yourself. It should feel natural, not dressed up and fake. We all express our personality with our outfits.”
Also, age-wise, the customer base of GlamRock Vienna is very diversified. According to Nadine, generations and age have become relative. Being 60 today is different than in former times. Similarly, trends blur and can be adapted for everyone. A lot of mum and daughter couples come to shop at the boutique.
GlamRock Vienna’s products are offered in all sizes. However, as the products are sourced in Paris, the garments are usually a bit smaller. The pieces are sourced in a limited quantity. If a certain piece has been sold in a certain size it is gone. However, because Nadine sees customer service as a priority, she can offer regular customers special services and factor in their favourite products when she goes to Paris next time.
Regarding the marketing, the strategies have changed since the beginning. While word-of-mouth still has significant importance, the major online channel has changed from Facebook to Instagram. Furthermore, the importance of the shop windows is not to be underestimated. A lot of women see something when they walk by on their way to work. Nadine thinks it is definitely a mix of word-of-mouth, traditional and online marketing.
I really like GlamRock Vienna’s social media and marketing approach: instead of using glossy photos of uber-perfect models wearing the outfits, Nadine encourages her employees to photograph themselves with the clothes. “This approach makes us and our clothing more relatable. Normal girls show you what the outfit will look like most probably on yourself as well.”
One obvious reason for Nadine’s success is her willingness to work hard. One of the important things aspiring entrepreneurs should bear in mind “Selbstständig, also selbst und ständig.” (This is a German saying. “Selbstständig” means self-employed or being your own boss. The literal translation would be “self” and “always”. Hence, it means that you will be working all the time and it is your very own responsibility with all the positive but also negative dimensions attached to it.)
However, knowing Nadine from university, working hard is clearly no issue for her. I always got the impression that it actually is something Nadine enjoys. We both graduated from the Vienna University of Economics and Business, where more than 4,000 people started in our year. A year later, after 17 tough exams and non-stop studying, only a quarter remained. But I cannot remember a day at class where Nadine was not smiling and not being motivated.
Nevertheless, her positive and happy attitude in addition to her looking younger than she actually is obviously can act as a barrier as well. “I remember when my dad sent me to negotiate a real estate contract for him. I already graduated from university. When I met the guy who showed me around the property, he said: ‘And this is a great place to park your Vespa’, assuming that I was probably only 16”, Nadine starts laughing. (Note: In Austria, you can get a license for small motorbikes at the age of 16, a driver’s license for cars at the age of 18.)
Success for Nadine means to be motivated at what you are doing. “I love what I do because there are so many different aspects involved. It brings me a lot of joy to work with beautiful things and share them with our customers.”
When she looks back to when she started out with her career, Nadine thinks that she has definitely grown a lot. As with any business, there are the glamorous things, but also the really tough phases. There were projects which did not end up the way everybody had planned. I asked her which advice she would give her 20-year-old self. Nadine looks outside the window where a lot of young people in their lunch break are passing by.
“I always pay attention to our young employees at our store. Some of them are students working part-time with us and they remind me of myself when I was their age. When every exam was a catastrophe, a drama and you thought the world would end if you don’t pass it. Today, I see that my priorities and attitude have changed a lot. I see the broader picture. Spending time with my family or myself has become very important to me. I would definitely tell my younger self to relax and put things into perspective.”
Nadine Al-Wazzan-Jairath is an Austrian entrepreneur. Nadine holds a Master’s degree in International Business from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and a Master in Advanced International Studies from the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.
Pictures courtesy of Nadine Al-Wazzan-Jairath and GlamRock Vienna, unless otherwise stated.