The Dynamic Duo Behind Two of Our Most High-Profile Stores
by Nicolette De Simone, Digital Media Strategiest
Taking a leap of faith and embracing change are nothing new to Lauren Ginsberg and Juan Carreras. So, when both were asked to take on opening the Athleta and Banana Republic stores, respectively, in the highly-anticipated Hudson Yards complex in NYC, they were up for the challenge.
We sat down with Lauren and Juan to hear about how their non-traditional journeys led them to becoming General Managers, what they’ve learned along the way, and how working in portfolio of brands has allowed them to lean on one another.
How did you get your start at with Gap Inc.?
Lauren: I have a non-traditional path to retail. I graduated with a Finance degree from North Carolina State and worked in Investment Banking right out of college. As I saw the future of my job becoming automated, I decided to go back to school to get a dual Masters in Global Luxury Management and Innovation Management. I wanted something more creative, but still had a financial component to it. Since then, I’ve worked at Banana Republic, Weddington Way, Intermix, and Athleta – basically the Gap Inc. EGOT!
Juan: I moved here six years ago from Puerto Rico, where I used to be a visual manager for another retail chain. Puerto Rico is small and I wanted to grow in my career, so I decided to move to NYC. I started at Banana Republic as a product lead – the perfect fit as product and people have always been my passion, so when this opportunity popped up, I had to take it.
Hudson Yards is becoming one of New York’s most up and coming communities. What makes this store different from our other stores?
: Hudson Yards is our smallest store by square footage, but uniquely positioned in a sustainable luxury environment –making it feel so special and exclusive. But, smaller comes with its own specific complexities. When you think of experience, it’s more than just a place to shop. Hudson Yards is a place where people are living, working and experiencing through art, culture and music. We’ve nixed the standard cash wrap model and opted for mobile checkout, allowing customers to check out wherever they are in the store. Imagine tying your shoe while paying for your purchase.
We’re also testing an offer that brings “Athleta to You”. Basically, if you live at one of the residences or work in one of the buildings at Hudson Yards, you can order your merchandise by phone, and we’ll messenger your order to your apartment or desk, on us.
Juan: It’s more than just a shopping complex. We’re surrounded by a whole community – a new Equinox hotel, corporate businesses, and urban art, like the Vessel which requires our store to have certain specialties. After evaluating trends for the first six weeks, we added suiting specialists and expand the suiting section due to the high demand from our customers working in the area.
With the diverse clientele and unique environment, what has been a new challenge for you when opening these stores? Juan:
NYC is a whole other ballgame. It’s fast paced, and constantly evolving. You have to flex a lot of different muscles and be an agile leader. That’s why we’re constantly testing and trying things differently here.
Hiring to match the clientele has been at the top of the list. Right now, we’re seeing mostly locals but about 20% of our customers are tourists making it even more important to hire people who speak Asian languages because more than half of the tourists that visit our store are from Asia. It’s really important we can communicate and connect with our customers in a really authentic way.
Lauren: Our customer base is not only a local NYC customer, but also a domestic and international tourist, so we’re accommodating three different clienteles. When hiring, we think diversity first, “How do hire people who are equally diverse as our customer?”
You both lead teams with employees of all ages, including those who are just beginning their careers. What advice do you have for people who are just entering the workforce?
Lauren: I find that I mentor a lot of our staff, whether they are college students or retired adults. As leaders, we are their biggest cheerleaders. We play an important role in their development regardless of what stage they are in. The best advice I can offer is to explore different career paths and internship opportunities, to try something different. Often, you’ll surprise yourself.
Juan: Take one thing at a time. Our job is to drive results and that is the most important job. But it’s also important to keep up the energy and keep your team engaged. I’m highly engaged with my team and make sure I’m working with them on a developmental plan to get them to the next phase of their career. I think it’s really important to learn to set goals and have an actionable plan to reach them.
You work a few feet apart, but at different brands! How do you collaborate with one another?
: From the get-go, Lauren would help me drive the team to be positive and to get them really engaged whenever she stopped in. Athleta is completely different from Banana Republic, but I love that we are finding ways to learn from and support each other.
Lauren: We can brainstorm solutions and be soundboards for one another, since we’re in the same space in the same market, we’re more related than you’d think – Hudson Yards is its own unique space.
Lastly, what is your favorite trend you’re seeing right now from your customers?
Lauren: High-end shoes and handbags are really big right now. Pop culture influences a lot of trends that we see, such as camo, for instance. New Yorkers tend to dress in all neutrals, where tourists are full of colors and love anything bright and different. Our customer is both a New Yorker and a tourist, she’s so different.
If you’ll be in NYC soon, come visit Athleta or Banana Republic at Hudson Yards. And if you’re a fan of the brand who’s interested in joining the team like Lauren and Juan did, check out our open roles here.