Leather Waves Blog


Customer Data Can Help Designer’s Sales Strategy LA Times Business Section November 2000


Keeping in touch with her clients is crucial. Brochures should promote the perfect fit of her custom-made leather garments. By: KAREN E. KLEIN SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sitting in her cozy sewing nook surrounded by fragrant bolts of leather and suede, with her custom clothing draped festively around the room, Jackie Robbins looks the picture of a successful clothing designer.

For 25 years, Robbins has used her creativity with natural textiles to make and sell jackets, pants, skirts and purses to the Malibu glitterati. Her attractive shop Leather Waves is lined with photos of celebrities like Paul Newman, Neil Diamond, Goldie Hawn and Celine Dion sporting her tailored motorcycle jackets and kicky suede pants.

Robbins applied for a small-business make-over from the Los Angeles Times with the goal of transforming Leather Waves from an artistic endeavor and supplemental income source into the primary means of support.

“I never called clients to solicit business because I didn’t think it was cool to do that,” she said. “Maybe it’s my personality, or maybe it’s because of the whole artist-sensitivity thing. I want people to come to me and seek me out, because they like my art.”

A noble proposition, but no way to run a business, says Bob Phibbs, a Long Beach-based consultant who conducts seminars and advises companies as the Retail Doctor.

To be successful, Phibbs said, Robbins must define herself, her business and her target customers, then use that information to fuel all her strategic planning and marketing decisions. Because of the lack of client data, she could not easily define her target customer.

After some brainstorming, the two settled on the idea that Robbins is an artist who makes personal custom leather garments for clients who are generally middle- to upper-income, fashion-conscious, imaginative men and women with disposable income who can’t find satisfactory garments off-the-rack.

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Because she did not have this definition firmly in the front of her mind, many of Robbins’ recent efforts to enhance sales have gone off track, Phibbs said. For instance, in the last two years, she has developed a brochure, started Leather Waves Babe–a children’s clothing line–and explored wholesaling, but results have been decidedly mixed.

“It’s easy to throw money at stuff, but you can’t just do something to help your business, you have to do the right thing,” Phibbs said.

He designed a sample brochure that walks would-be clients through Robbins’ unique process of garment selection, design sketches, fittings and completion, stressing the perfect fit of custom-made clothing, and says it would be a much more effective marketing tool, especially if she includes pictures of her customers in their finished garments.

* * *

“Don’t cut your prices for anyone, and don’t coupon your services or discount your products to try to win new customers. If they are price-shopping, they aren’t your customers,” he said.

Instead of luring customers with lower prices, Phibbs recommended that she network with other businesses and solicit referrals from retailers in other niches that cater to the same clientele.

Motorcycle shops whose customers do not want off-the-rack leather jackets, custom jewelers and other high-end clothing boutiques might allow her to leave brochures in return for an incentive if they generate referrals, he said.

Even more important than bringing in new customers, Robbins’ top priority should be holding onto existing customers and reconnecting with old customers, Phibbs said.

She needs to build a database from her backlog of client order slips, inputting information about each client’s wants and purchases, and when she last contacted them.

Developing a set of written notes that she can send to these customers during the time they’re working with her and afterward is a must, Phibbs said.

And he recommended that she also send out notes to all her previous customers, just to let them know she’s moved and jog their memory about her designs. Although the task sounds mammoth, if Robbins mails out two notes each business day for a year, she’ll reach a good portion of her clientele. Ongoing mailings will be reasonably simple once her database is complete, Phibbs said.

He suggested that she heavily market her top four best-selling items: a large purse/carrying bag that sells for $350; men’s suede shirts and cargo pants for $750; a custom leather outfit of a jacket and skirt or top with pants for $2,500; and her lightweight shearling coats in a variety of colors that range from $1,000 to $4,000.

“People obviously like the products, and you have a history of making them well,” Phibbs said.

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Robbins is eager to get a Web site up and running, but Phibbs said he sees the Internet as primarily a marketing tool for Leather Waves, because offering custom leather designs on the Internet is impractical. The reason her clients pay a premium, he said, is that Robbins can give them a custom-fit, one-of-a-kind garment that requires a personal relationship.

Putting up pictures of finished garments and customer testimonials, making sure she has an easily recognizable “dot-com” and getting listed in search engines will help her Web site become an effective adjunct to Robbins’ other marketing efforts, he said.

Phibbs also encouraged Robbins to raise her prices, something that she–like most entrepreneurs–was reluctant to do.

So far, the results have been positive. She sent out a dozen letters advertising the deal, and seven called to take advantage of it. She also plans to send out the note cards that Phibbs suggested, and though she said she feels awkward about asking for customers’ pictures and testimonials for her Web site and advertising, she has worked out a photo request and release form and plans to use it.

* * *

Calling recent customers and touching base with them has also been successful.

“It works wonderfully. People are thrilled that I’m calling, and I’m going to do more of it,” Robbins said.

But another of Phibbs’ ideas, contacting some of the celebrities she has recently designed for, makes Robbins uneasy. First, you have to be prepared to pay for a celebrity endorsement with money or merchandise, she said, and second, she considers herself a personal friend of several of her well-known clients and hates to strain the relationship by asking for a favor.

“I don’t want to abuse my relationship with these people–getting to know them is a nice bonus I have from this job,” Robbins said.

Overall, however, Robbins was thrilled with Phibbs’ advice and with other consulting help she has gotten recently, all of which has stimulated her business instincts and gotten her hopes up about Leather Waves’ prospects.

“I’m coming up with new ideas, and there’s excitement generated about my business,” she said. “When you’re at a low creatively and personally, that gets reflected in your business. When your mind is moving creatively in a healthy business direction, then you think creatively, too.”


Leather Waves featured in Harley Women Magazine December 1989

The following was a two page article written about Leather Waves, in the December 1989 issue of Harley Women Magazine, the interview was written by Carol Mott-Wall:
About a year ago as I was paging through one of those large Los Angeles type fashion/entertainment magazines something caught my eye… an ad for cus­tomized leather fashions, but this ad seemed to stick out from the other leather fashion ads, it appeared to me that who­ever was creating the fashions for this ad must also be a motorcycle rider! I called the number listed in the ad to inquire about one of the fashions… and that is how I met Jackie Robbins, owner of Leather Waves in Malibu, California, and yes she is a rider–better yet, Jackie Rob­bins is a Harley rider! Recently I had the opportunity to interview Jackie for Harley Women …
HW:TeII me about your bike!
Jackie: It’s wonderful! It’s a 1983 Sportster XLH 1000, with custom fat bob tanks, high rise handlebars, a solo seat, it also has a custom paint job, two tone cream and black…myversion of a mini Heritage with lots of chrome…
HW: How long have you been riding?
Jackie: Since 1986.
HW: How did you get into riding?
Jackie: This is how we got “Harley-ized”, I have to say we, because it happened to my husband, Randy, and I at the same time… A really good friend, Richard, bought a Harley in 1984, I remember him riding up the driveway, the minute I laid my eyes on his bike, a white FLH Police Special… I fell in love. My husband and I started salivating. From that day until my husband bought his first bike, all we did was talk about buying a Harley. My husband got his first bike about a year and a half later, within two months we went from Malibuto Vancouver, with five other friends on a two week trip. I was the only passenger and the only girl! My mission on this trip was to decide about riding whether I liked being a passenger or if I wanted my own bike. My immediate conclusion was that the riders were having a lot more fun than me. That trip was in July of 1986, I had my bike by October of that year.
HW: Where did you learn to ride?
Jackie: I went to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Course, however, I really give credit to Bob Laidlaw – Laidlaw’s Harley­Davidson in Los Angeles (Rosemead). I was at Bob’s shop to looking for a bike, I found the bike that I now own. I told Bob that I wasn’t really sure if I was ready to ride yet that I had just grad uated from the safety course and that I didn’t really have much confidence. Bob immediately said, “Get on we’re going for a ride!” So off we went, it kind of freaked me out to have a full-grown man riding behind me as a passenger, but we got out there and rode around for about an hour. Bob gave me a lot of riding tips and just sat behind me and talked to me as we were riding–I think that experience was even more important to me than the course.
HW: Do you wear a helmet?
Jackie: I wear a helmet about fifty percent of the time. My personal philosophy on wearing my helmet is that ifI am riding in Malibu with not much traffic, I don’t wear it; if I go into Los Angeles, or anywhere out of Malibu, I put the helmet on. I don’t think there is any feeling to compare with riding a motorcycle without a helmet. I think new riders should definitely wear helmets, however, I am totally against the mandatory helmet law. I feel one of the biggest things about riding a bike is that it is an act of freedom, having to wear a helmet means that you are not really free. I think that it is really important that it be the individual rider’s choice. (I completely changed my stance on this a few years later when I was hit by a car, miraculously un-injured, but never rode without a helmet again)
HW: What’s your favorite organized run?
Jackie: The “Love Ride”, it starts in Glen­dale and goes to Malibu where we all meet at Calamigo’s Ranch for a giant picnic, there are about 4,000 bikes, mostly Harleys, it takes place each November.
HW: Do you ride with other women biker’s in the area?
Jackie: Not really. I don’t know a lot of other women with their own bikes, but the longer I ride the more women I meet. I think that it would be wonderful riding with other women, as most of us have the same thing in common. We all tend to be free-spirited women who are adventur­ous, and are willing to try things that tra­ditionally would seem unfeminine, but really aren’t, such as riding a motorcycle.
HW: Do you have any thoughts to share about owning your own bike?
Jackie: The most important thing about having my own is that it really gives me a chance to express my free-spirit and a sense of true freedom. HW: Let’s talk about your shop…where are you located?
Jackie: In the heart of Malibu, in the civic center area right off the Pacific Coast Highway.
HW: How did you get started working with leather?
Jackie: In 1970 I moved to Laguna Beach from West Hollywood where I grew up. My goal was to be an artist, I had trained and studied art all through school. I opened up a tiny studio where I slept in a tent on the porch. I tried to do the starving artist routine, it got old real fast. I had sewn all my life and I always loved fashion, so I applied for a sewing job in a leather shop… that was my start. I left Laguna two years later and went back to L.A. where, I was able to get a job in a saddle shop. About a year later I moved to Malibu. Soon I was looking around for a little shop to do my leather work in. In June of 1975 I spotted my location and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
HW: What are some of your favorite pieces that you have created?
Jackie: That’s a hard question! Everything I create is one of a kind, they are all exciting and interesting. I guess my fa­vorite pieces are for clients who are really open minded, someone who has a lot of confidence in my ability, and who gives me the go ahead with not much of an outline, and lets it be open to me.
HW: Being in Malibu have you ever done work for any stars?
Jackie: I’ve done work for many stars, I have movie star pictures on my walls. I don’t like to play that end of my business up for a couple of reasons… one of them is that Malibu is a really casual community and people that are well known really like the fact that they can hang out here and be really natural, and not be hassled. The other reason is because most of the people I work for are not stars.
HW: What percentage of your custom­ers are riders?
Jackie: I’ve been in business for fifteen years, the bike thing has gotten really big within the last five years. Naturally since I have started riding, I have a lot more to offer. Anyone that comes in my shop who is a biker, I can really relate to. I know what is needed for riding. I understand what a rider is looking for in a custom jacket, chaps, saddlebags,or whatever.
HW: How has riding effected your business?
Jackie: Since I started riding, it has really enhanced my business. People really notice me on my bike, I make all the leathers that I wear and all my husband’s leathers. When we are riding it is like a loudspeaker advertising my shop. Rid­ing has been a real positive boost to my business. HW: What do you want for Christmas?
Jackie: A customized 1982 FLH!
jackierobbins-photo advertising-award

“Look as Good as Your Bike”– Award winning advertisement for Leather Waves April 1989

jackierobbins-photo advertising-award

Award winning layout in the “Magazine Print Advertising” category from the L.A. County Municipal Gallery awarded to Jackie Robbins in April 1989.

This Ad that was created for “LA Style Magazine” was submitted to the Los Angeles County Municipal Gallery for a art competition in the catagory of Magazine Print Advertising. We were a first place winner, which of course was an honor and exciting because Jackie Robbins modeled with her Harley-Davidson customized 1980 Sportster 1000, and created all the clothes for the shoot. It was a great photograph that captured the era, the clothes, and what we were into in those years!

Leather Waves in LA Style Magazine 1987

Leather Waves’ hot fashion item of the late 80’s-the decorated Jean Jacket. In this photo some our our first “Leather Waves Babe” fashions, a denium skirt with fringed bottom, matching belt and decorated Levi Jacket, for babies. She wears a combination denium and cowhide fur outfit with mink tail accents and matching custom boots. He wears a snakeskin leather belt and Leather Waves classic men’s bomber jacket made from shrunken lamb, and matching custom boots. By Jackie Robbins Leather Waves circa 1987
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