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Brentano Sample Department


Take a guess: What's the biggest department at Brentano? The Design Studio? Customer Service? If you didn't surmise the answer from the title of this Report260, it's the Sample Department. By far. In terms of space — They have their own mini warehouse! – and number of employees (two people to cut, nine people to sew, tag and string together chainsets, and four ladies to fill requests), the Sample Department tops every other department. Combined.

Any rep or client who's gotten an email from the Sample Department will recognize Silvanna's name, but there's more to sampling than receiving requests and sending shipment confirmations. We sat down to talk about "the life of a sample," and it turns out that it has a rather large, ahem, back end.

Twenty wide shelves of stacked memos dominate the back of the sampling room. When a request comes in – anywhere from one piece to three thousand – that's where Silvanna, Ivy, Ruinan and Oksana go to pull the memos. If it's a popular color of a popular pattern, they could be sending out 25 pieces each week!

To stay ahead of demand, Silvanna does a physical inventory twice a week, and if an SKU needs to be restocked, one of the cutters will pull the parent roll from the warehouse and chop the fabric (guillotine, really) into nine-by-nine inch squares. From there, they go to sewing and tagging and come back for "the girls" to restock. The process takes time and constant communication, but in-house sample production keeps the department nimble and means that every scrap of fabric gets used.

In addition to memos, the Sample Department makes, assembles and ships chainsets, contract boxes, binders and all of the materials for Brentano's semiannual collection launches. That's where we drop in on my conversation with Silvanna.


Q: What's your role in launching a collection?
A: This fall was my first time handling ... that, and I learned a lot. I started by looking at the rotation orders for the showrooms and figuring out the number of road kits we'd need. From there you just have to figure out how to time manage. When do we need to start cutting and prepping the samples so we have them before the collection launches?

We needed samples for the roadkits — but also extras for libraries, clients, and my shelves too. It's hard because they fly off the shelves. Fly.

Q: Are the new patterns always the most popular?
A: Not always. Vantage has always been a really good one for samples. People like the chevron pattern, and the texture gives it a little something extra. My top patterns are relatively new ones: Staccato, all colors; Vibrato, number one; and we're sending out a lot of Big Band and Swing.

Now, if I have to choose a favorite ... I love Staccato. And I happen to like Ceylon. The colors are so deep, rich and vibrant ... and it has a little sparkle.

Q: What's your favorite part of working with samples?
A: Oh, I can tell you, right off the bat, my favorite part is doing special requests. I like helping clients find fabrics to meet their specs on a project or putting together color stories. Those are the fun things for me.

Q: What do you like to do when you're not at Brentano?
A: When I started at Brentano, I was still in school for residential design. I graduated last spring, but I still attend a lot of design seminars. I try to stay current on trends, and just last weekend I went to a color forecasting seminar for 2014.

I love cooking too. And my boyfriend and I do a lot of weekend D.I.Y. projects, like building a garden trellis, planter boxes and reupholstering a bay window bench. We're crafty people.


Q: You're a veteran in the Sample Department, so you know our patterns better than anyone. Which one's your favorite?
A: Whew ... this one is hard to say. It's like my family. When you have three or four kids, you don't want to say which is best. When we have new ones, it's exciting, like a newborn baby. Ooo, so exciting.

Q: What's the hardest part of your job?
A: I do so many big orders at the same time. All of these boxes, all of these memos ready, and then they add something! You have to look through it all. It's not hard, it just needs patience. I have patience. If you're teaching students, you have to have patience. I never get upset, which is why my students like me so much.

Q: Huh, so you already answered the next question. What do you do when you're not at Brentano?
A: If I'm not home, I teach Chinese. I want to learn languages and art. I used to take drawing and painting for many years, and I joined a choir with my sister. For stress relief.


Q: The opposite of Ivy, you've only been with Brentano for a few months. Do you have a favorite pattern yet?
A: I like this one — Ceylon. I like Hula too because of the color, the light green and yellow especially. So beautiful. Aaron and Iris, they really do a great job. The colors of Hula, they brighten my mood; it makes me so happy to see these colors!

Q: How have things been going so far?
A: Things are going well. Absolutely. I learn something new every day. E-Kwan doesn't just tell me how to do something, but why we do it, and I enjoy learning these things.

Q: What do you like to do when you're not at Brentano?
A: I just finished school, and I'm preparing for the GMAT. Sometimes I go to the library. Sometimes I go out with friends. Where I was in Iowa, there weren't as many restaurants. Here, it's like, oh my God! Food!


Q: What's your favorite part of your workday?
A: My favorite part is when we have all of the memos we need on the shelves. Yay, yay, yay! When the order's complete and it comes together fast, that's exciting.

Q: What's your secret to being so fast and efficient?
A: It's because my workspace is organized. Organization is helpful for working fast.

Q: What do you like to do when you're not at Brentano?
A: I like rollerblading. In the winter I don't have a lot of space, so my husband made a box in the backyard, and he puts water in it so it freezes in layers. It takes a long time, but I have a skating rink! In summer we have tomatoes, and in winter, the skating rink.

Two phoned-in sample requests interrupted the Q&A with Silvanna, not enough time between them to pull any samples or put together a shipment. When I complimented her on her friendly, but quick and efficient, phone manner she slapped the desk, saying, "Bam! Get it done."

That must be the philosophy of everyone in the Sample Department — to the delight of Brentano's clients and reps. To keep pace with all the requests flying in and the samples flying out, these ladies just get it done.

Does Sales & Marketing have a team philosophy too? How about Operations? Perhaps in the next Report260 we'll find out.

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