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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 4 months ago

Economic Forecast: Handbag manufacturer increases production to meet anticipated demand

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Manufacturing — Gretchen Bauer, founder and CEO, BSwanky, Sarasota
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Company: Sarasota-based BSwanky isn’t just a handbag manufacturer. Founder and CEO Gretchen Bauer considers the company to be in three industries: manufacturing, design and retail.

On the retail side, celebrities and other influencers are starting to notice the company’s bags more. Actress Tori Spelling, for example, was recently photographed with a BSwanky bag.

Sales, meanwhile, more than doubled from September to October. “I expect 2019 to be one amazing year,” says Miles Messenger, BSwanky’s factory manager and managing member. “This is very much just the beginning. The growth of BSwanky is going to multiply overnight.”

In the year ahead, BSwanky will raise the prices of its bags from the $200 range to the $400 to $1,600 range. The pricing move is because products were undervalued, Messenger says, but also because of design and material improvements. More sales could come from launches of bags made from pythons caught in the Florida Everglades and cowhide.

Industry: A key selling point for the bags — and a differentiator in the field — is the women who make them are treated fairly and compensated well, Bauer says. The factory is filled with snacks, music, air conditioning and laughter, says Bauer, and she adds that her three seamstresses are compensated 30% over the industry average. “We focus very much on the employees and the team members here, and I think it shows in the results we get,” she says. “That’s the value in the bags. It’s not just manufactured in the U.S., it’s manufactured happily in the U.S.”

The work is all done in-house, with a manufacturing area, offices and retail space. “We can change on a dime,” Bauer says. “We have the ability to pivot. That’s one of the reasons to manufacture in the U.S.”

Threats: For 2019, Bauer is worried about not being able to keep up with demand. BSwanky’s headquarters, she points out, is zoned in a way that allows people to sleep in the building. “So I might be sleeping here,” Bauer half-jokes.

In the months ahead, she plans to tackle how to get materials more quickly and put additional systems in place. “So nothing stops us from keeping up with demand,” she says. “We don’t want to sell women one bag. We want to be the brand they go to.”

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