- January 6, 2020
Gretchen Bauer has a bold goal for her Sarasota-based high-end handbag manufacturer BSwanky: to compete with — and beat — industry heavyweights.
“We want people to choose us over Gucci, Hermès and Prada,” Bauer says, listing global fashion brands that sell handbags that, in some cases, cost more than a (new) car. “We want to beat every other company out there.”
Bauer has long had big goals for the company, which she founded in 2017. But some recent wins have positioned her to get there even faster for the brand — known both for some bags that can easily transition from backpack to shoulder strap and its exotic materials. The latter includes ostrich, alligator and python, and all the bags, the company says, are “hand-cut, hand-painted and hand-delivered” in its Sarasota showroom. Prices, spread through six lines and 24 products, run from $1,450 to $6,200, but Bauer says most of her sales of late have been in the $3,800 to $4,500 range.
As the company looks to gain on global rivals, its first win was recently hiring manufacturing process executive Jim Cavanaugh to oversee operations. Cavanaugh is well-known in Sarasota-Manatee manufacturing circles, having helped run his family-based musical accessories manufacturer, the Super-Sensitive Musical String Co., for years. Cavanaugh and Bauer connected with each other initially over being at school events for their kids. Then they bonded, Bauer says, over their fondness for the Japanese manufacturing concept of Kaizen, or constant improvement. “Jim is that person every company needs who is meticulous and super-quality focused,” Bauer says. “We are trying to set the standards in an industry that doesn’t have any standards.”
The second win, Bauer says, is a partnership with Fort Myers-based custom jewelry designer Mark Loren. Working with Mark Loren Designs, Bauer says, will allow BSwanky to add gold chains, tassels and bracelets to some of its bags. Those bags could then retail for up to $20,000, which Bauer believes will catapult BSwanky into a new, even more elite, group of customers. “We are really well-known in Florida, and a few other pockets, like Chicago and Dallas,” she says, “but we want to grow our special clientele.”
Other wins are in the offing for BSwanky, including a partnership with an organization that works with NFL players’ wives, and product placement at events connected to the Super Bowl. Chasing those wins, and guarding against complacency that would dent the brand’s quality and luxury customer service ethos, is Bauer’s constant motivation. Says Bauer. “I still bounce through that door everyday at 8 a.m.”