By Sean Tarry
The company has hosted somewhere in the region of 450 warehouse and pop-up sales events since its inception a little more than 20 years ago. It’s worked with some of the world’s most iconic brands, including Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew, Dolce & Gabbana, Levi’s, Lacoste, The Gap, Ted Baker, Hugo Boss, TOMS, Tommy Hilfiger, and dozens more. The success it’s enjoyed at its events has been immense, often selling out entire inventories for its brand partners. And the trust and respect that its built among an engaged and adoring community of ‘style democrats’ means that its reputation in the liquidation space often precedes itself. Despite all of this, however, Oliver Berg, Vice President of Style Democracy, believes that the company has the potential to be even more.
He is the latest in a line of hugely successful Bergs, inheriting leadership of a business that has an extensive and storied history, one that was started by his great-grandfather, Ira, back in 1929. The company originated as a small women’s boutique before expanding in scope during the decades that followed to become known as one of the premier retailers for designer labels in the country. Through the years, leadership of the company was passed down from one generation to the next, with Russel Berg and Michael Berg (Ira’s son and grandson) subsequently at the helm of the business for 50 and 20 years, respectively. A combination of detrimental effects resulting from a low Canadian dollar, increasing clothing tariffs and the rise of cross-border shopping led to the demise of Ira Berg, with the retailer closing its doors in 1997.
Ira Berg didn’t go out with a whimper, however. Instead, the family business closed with a liquidation sale unlike anything that it had ever seen. On the heels of its success, Michael Berg immediately recognized the interest and appetite among the store’s patrons for a “can’t miss sale”. It was only a few short years later when the family business – one responsible for introducing Torontonians to brands like Prada, Celine, Louis Vuitton, Benetton, DKNY and Kiehls, to name a few – retooled and renamed itself, marking the beginning of one of the leading warehouse liquidators for brands in North America.
Building on Success
With a pedigree and lineage like this, one could perhaps be forgiven for resting on the family’s earned laurels and simply staying the course. But this isn’t the philosophy of Oliver Berg, whose leadership and vision are guiding Style Democracy into an entire new age of growth and possibility. In fact, the company just celebrated its most successful year to date. It’s an achievement that Oliver almost seems to take in confident stride, but it’s one that isn’t lost him, either.
“We’re grounded in our roots,” he says modestly, “and we stay focused on what we do well for our consumers and the brands that we work with. But Style Democracy continues to grow and succeed as a result of the work, commitment and vision of everyone within the company today.”
Oliver became involved in the business at a very early age, attending some of his father’s shows on weekends to help box and unbox event materials behind the scenes. He was only 21 when he took on the role of events manager, planning coordinating and managing all aspects of the warehouse events leading up to the show and on the show floor itself. And soon after, around the age of 24, his dad Michael started to integrate him more and more into some of the company’s day-to-day operations, including greater involvement in client relationships, sales and business development.
“I quickly realized at that point that it’s a side of the business that really appealed to me,” he explains. “I started to quickly really understand the economics of the business. And I recognized then that these were areas that were more suited to my strengths. As much as I enjoyed event planning and management, I really started to enjoy the hustle of the sale. In a good year, we do about 12-15 warehouse sales, so every event and each client is lucrative to our success. Everything about the pursuit of that next big client and the sale and the potential that it posed for our business started to mean a lot to me.”
A Fresh Perspective
Today, Oliver Berg has developed into one of the industries brightest young talents. Though he is quick to recognize the teachings that were passed down to him by his father, he’s increasingly being recognized by peers as a leader who has been able to provide a fresh perspective, instilling a nimbleness and flexibility into Style Democracy’s operations that allow it to pivot more easily and to continue to find opportunities during challenging times.
The most obvious and recent example of this is in Style Democracy’s operational response to the COVID-19 crisis. For a company that not only specializes in the in-person warehouse sales event, but indeed relies on it, the pandemic presented some interesting, if not critical, challenges for it to overcome.
“We became aware early on that, because of health restrictions, we wouldn’t be doing any in-person shows anytime soon,” he explains. “And so, in trying to understand the long-term ramifications of COVID, we realized that this might actually be providing us with an opportunity, and we didn’t want to waste it. So, we acted quickly to set up an ecommerce platform and have now run six online warehouse sales in the last two months.”
In addition to building a platform that would allow Style Democracy to host sales online, the company also repurposed its team to be able to manage various roles of ecommerce and even brought on a couple of experienced ecommerce consultants to help advise the team. And one could figure that during a time when there is so much excess inventory, the sky could be the limit concerning the company’s foray into omnichannel services.
“We’re definitely optimistic that we’ll be returning to in-person warehouse sales soon. But the results that we’ve experienced so far with our online sales are very positive. Because of this, we think that we have an incredible opportunity to offer both types of sales to our clients and customers. It’s opening up a much wider audience for us. Ecommerce provides us with greater opportunity to utilize technology to scale, allowing us to think bigger, to think outside of Canada, to think globally and sell around the world. It’s really just a matter of how we integrate physical and online sales effectively.”
What’s up Next
As it seems, so far so good. Style Democracy just last week wrapped up it’s latest online warehouse sale for Ted Baker and another huge success for the company. And it’s also already lined up two more (a multi-branded luxury streetwear sale featuring Off-White; Anti Social Social Club, and Palm Angels, and a multi-branded luxury footwear sale featuring Gucci and Prada), as well as three physical warehouse sales, including the first Canadian sale for Sandro/Maje (SMCP) Canada.
During a moment in time when the landscape seems to offer businesses more challenges than opportunities, Style Democracy has, through innovation and savvy, begun to navigate a way forward, positioning the company in excellent stead for the future. Nonetheless, Oliver Berg remains grounded and concentrated.
“Its all about the results, and we deliver results for our clients. It’s what we’ve always focused on, and we’ll continue to do so. We’re always going to be a warehouse sales company, but we don’t consider ourselves to be a retailer. In what we do, though, we become the most powerful retailer for retailers and brand for brands. We view these relationships as partnerships. And our priority will always be to provide great representation for all the partners we work with.”
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