New York City Initially Rejected Us, but then Eagerly Requested Us

As we developed relationships with the visual creative teams of the world’s fashion brands, we learned more about what it takes behind-the-scenes to create the world’s fashion window displays.  We wanted to share those stories with the world through a guided tour of the window displays in New York City.  After starting WindowsWear in 2012, we decided to launch a Fashion Window Walking Tour shortly after in 2013.  Our tour currently has a 5-star TripAdvisor rating and has been taken by tens of thousands of people from around the world.  But as you read below, our tour had to overcome its biggest challenge, which was being initially rejected by New York City.

We initially got inspired by creating a tour when Mike Niemtzow, Raul Tovar and I met with Stephen Keefe, who was at the time was the Director of Visual Merchandising at Louis Vuitton.  He told us that in the below windows of the Louis Vuitton store on 5th Avenue in New York City, over 5,000+ handmade, one-of-a-kind arrows were used throughout the store’s windows.  To create the arrows, the Louis Vuitton team hired a company that employed underprivileged women, and it took that company about 2-3 weeks to make all the individual arrows by hand, which were then shipped and installed in all the Louis Vuitton stores around the world.  As you see, each arrow had different colored wings, and each was meticulously placed to create the perfect backdrop to highlight the collection.  It was important for Louis Vuitton to have these arrows made by hand to celebrate the craftsmanship of their products as well as empower a village of underprivileged women.

We thought this story was fascinating.  And, since these windows would only be up for only about a month before they would have to change them again, other than the Louis Vuitton team, who else would know these stories or the countless other stories that go into creating all the window displays in New York City?

New York City is also a fashion capital, and there are 60 million tourists that come to NYC each year.  They are all looking for unique experiences and the fashion industry through its windows every day of the week.  Also, by providing these stories, we can elevate these displays by allowing people to appreciate these windows as true works of art.

The tour would also be a great engagement tool, as we are primarily an online company that also offers an offline experience.  The tour could also serve as a marketing tool for  WindowsWear by offering a unique experience in NYC.  Plus, NYC also has a very strong tourism market, with over 60+ million tourists visiting NYC each year.  Those tourists spend over $35 billion.  All that spending goes directly to things like NYC’s hotels, restaurants, and attractions.  Even if WindowsWear only generated a tiny fraction of a percentage of that annual tourist spend, it would be a great business opportunity for us.

So, after all that excitement, I passed the New York City tour guide exam so that WindowsWear could start offering the tour in NYC.  In NYC, like most cities, you cannot get paid to give a sightseeing guide service without being certified.  It makes sure that the guide has adequate knowledge of the history of NYC.  There are over 150 questions on the exam and you need to get 120 to pass.  If you get more than 120 questions right, you get a Star (as you see, I have a Star next to my name because I got 129 questions right).

Now, after getting the tour off the ground and successfully operating it, the next step was to become an official attraction in New York City by becoming members of NYC & Company, the official marketing and tourism partnership of the New York City.  It was very important for us to become members so that we can be an official New York City attraction, and be listed in all of NYC’s official marketing guides, websites, handbooks, and NYC’s official tourist offices around the world.

But, when we contacted NYC & Company to become members of the organization, they categorically said no.

The Director of Membership told us that no one would be interested in a guided tour of the fashion window displays.  We were also too new, and that it would be very difficult to sell and market our tour.  She also told us that people can see the windows for free, and they don’t have to pay for the experience.  She mentioned she has been in the business for 20 years, and that this tour just wouldn’t workout.

It was about a 20 minute conversation, and I tried to reason with her on the phone.  I told her we were operating our tours successfully and that our guests seemed to enjoy our tour very much.  I also told her that NYC is the fashion capital of the world with millions of people coming to New York City and are excited to learn more about the fashion industry, but fashion-related tours and experiences don’t exist to meet the demand.  There are also amazing and fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about how the brands create these displays that also relates to the history of all these brands that no one knows about.  Also, our tour also helps to market all the different retailers and brands we highlight on our tour, which is an added plus for New York City.

Nonetheless, she felt very strongly, and ended the conversation by telling us no and hanging up the phone.

We felt devastated, NYC & Company was just not interested.

Without having support of New York City, it would be impossible for our tour to get off the ground.  We also invested so much energy and time in creating this experience and it was a big let down.  Also, if she was in the business for 20-30 years, she must have some good knowledge, insights, and experience.  Maybe she was also just trying to be helpful and help us not make a mistake by continuing to pursue this tour.

But, what we realized is that if she’s been in the business for 20 years and has never heard of this tour, then there’s something very unique about what we’re doing. 

Even though we might have a challenging path for us forward, this is a tour definitely worth pursuing.

So, we continued with our tour.  We started off with doing it 1 day per week and eventually hired Bret Shuford, a Broadway actor and tour guide, to lead our tours.  He led them all throughout year in 2013.

Then, after patiently waiting six months after they told us no, then wanted to contact NYC & Company again.

We waited until just after the New Year, in January 2014.  Instead of me contacting NYC & Company, I had Bret email them directly.  I didn’t want our past correspondence to affect the outcome.  I wouldn’t want them to again tell us no, because now they would be speaking with Bret, and not me.

We carefully crafted the email, and we make sure to add as many positive reviews from our guests and interesting highlights as we could.  We wanted to give it our best foot forward.

Within minutes of sending off the email, that same Director of Membership responded that she’s like to move forward with our application!

We were elated. 

We quickly signed the paperwork (because frankly we did not want them to have time to reconsider), and we became official members of NYC & Company a few weeks later.

For the the remainder of 2014, we tried to do everything we could do maximize our membership and take advantage of all the opportunities afforded to us by being members of NYC & Company – specifically by attending all their events and networking with all their members which included tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants in New York City, as well as getting to know better the leadership of their organization.

Then, later that year, I get a phone call that would change everything about our tour.

It was Saturday, December 20, 2014, I received a call on my personal cell phone from a New York City number I didn’t recognize.  It was Kelly Curtin, Executive Vice President at NYC & Company, one of the highest ranking executives at the organization who has also been at NYC & Company for 20 years.

When Kelly introduced herself on the phone, I literally thought at that moment that something terrible happened with our tour and that New York City was shutting us down.  Why else would Kelly Curtin be calling me my personal cell phone on a Saturday?

Kelly tells me that just a few weeks before, New York City was selected as a finalist to become host city for the upcoming 2016 Democratic Convention.  She told me that hosting the 2016 Democratic Convention would be extremely important opportunity for the City of New York, and that everyone in New York City government including the Mayor of New York City all wanted to have the Democratic Convention hosted in NYC.

She tells me that that top ranking officials from the Democratic party are coming from Washington, D.C. to New York City in the coming weekend to evaluate the city.  She then tells me that the City of New York asked the group of top-ranking members of the Democratic Party what could New York City do to make their stay more enjoyable.

Kelly tells me the only thing they asked for as a private guided tour of the window displays.  Kelly then asks me if I would personally give them the tour.

So yes, literally a year after telling us they weren’t interested in us, NYC & Company is now personally calling us to give the tour of a lifetime to help elevate New York City.  New York City initially rejected us, but is now eagerly requesting us.

I said yes, absolutely, and I will make sure to give them the experience of a lifetime.

We only had 5 days to put it together, and in creating this VIP tour, we contacted all the visual creative directors of all the top NYC fashion retailers to be part of the experience.  We wanted this tour to be extra special and include as many behind-the-scenes opportunities as possible.  We also wanted the group to meet with the actual Visual Directors from each brand to truly make the experience one-of-a-kind.

So, that weekend, I picked up the group at their hotel in Times Square, and took them on the experience of a lifetime.  We went to see the windows at Barneys New York, Ralph Lauren, Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue, and we ended the tour at Lord & Taylor.

There, we had a very special experience lead by Roe Palermo, District Vice President of Store Visuals at Lord & Taylor, who gave them a behind-the-scenes tour of the window display studio that exists underneath the Lord & Taylor store on 5th Avenue.  Roe also was instrumental in helping WindowsWear launch our digital archives collection , and it was also through this work which also inspired the launch of our WindowsWear Museum at Berkeley College (our tours now start at our museum).

Here’s a photo of all of us.

photo 1

Pictured above is Tracie Pough, Chief of Staff of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Chairwoman of the Democratic National Party.

Tracie later send me an email saying “Words cannot express how grateful I am to you for such a fantastic evening”, “the behind the scenes segment from Lord & Taylor was simply the best!”, Llet me know when you’re in DC the next time so that we can connect”, “Happy New Year and again many thanks!”

Unfortunately, NYC didn’t become host city of the 2016 Democratic Convention, but since hosting this tour, our relationship NYC & Company has strengthened and prospered.

NYC & Company helps market the best city in the world by marketing and celebrating all the amazing things going on, as well as fostering a community of all the member organizations in NYC that make all that magic happen.

NYC & Company helped us get some amazing press, including the New York Times and USA Today.  They have helped create partnerships for us like with the New York Pass and Expedia.  I also invite their executives like Chris Heywood and Fern Zimbalist to be guest speakers at my Public Relations & Business Communications class at Baruch College.

In the Fall of 2013, we replaced Bret by hiring Joline Mujica to be WindowsWear’s Head of Trends & Tours.  We also have increased our tours from 1-day a week to 5-days a week.

For four years, Joline was a 1-woman show.  She not only led our tours 5-days a week in the cold, in the rain, in the heat, but she also did all the back-office marketing, operations, and sales.  Joline is a machine.  A few months ago, we have hired a group of amazing tour guides including and Denise Foley, who is the former Visual Director of Moncler, as well as Anna Roisman and Maggie Sczekan.  And, last year, Bret was hired to play a lead role in the Cirque du Solei Broadway musical Paramour.

Since launching our tour, we have hosted tens of thousands of tourists from over 50 different countries from around the world, hosted hundreds of different high school and college students and teacher groups, and retail industry professionals.  We have hosted guests that are blind and handicapped.  We have hosted private tours that served as birthday gifts, anniversary gifts, and family reunions.

But, as you see, this story would not have been possible without going back to the same person after they told you no with the same exact question, hoping for a different answer.

“No” is only no at that point of time, anything can change at any moment. 

Saying “no” is easy, and our natural human tendency is to reject or question something that is new .  Saying “yes” is hard, and it actually gives yourself and other people more work when they accept something new.  Rejection is what we fear when we want to create something new and innovate, but then after we get over that hurdle internally, it is also the same feeling that someone else has when we try to get them to adopt that same new thing.

I fully expect to get many more no’s for the rest of my life in different capacities at different times.  Just don’t ever let a no ever get in the way of what you want to create in the world.