Samantha Tobias, Director of Marketing of Sprovieri’s Custom Counters (formally Modern Luxury Chicago)
Samantha Tobias is a seasoned marketing professional with over 12 years of experience specializing in brand management, media relations, events and partnerships. As the Director of Marketing at Modern Luxury Chicago, Sam led the market’s eight affluent-focused multi- media platforms in the areas of sales support, partnerships, events and PR. Prior to joining the Modern Luxury family, Sam was the Director of Marketing at Jo Chicago building out the marketing division of the PR/Communications firm that specialized in lifestyle and design.
Sam started her career at the city regional brand, Chicago magazine. For seven years, she led the media company’s brand strategy and execution of client promotional programs in the Chicagoland area. Her extensive time at the media company allowed to her build a strong foundation and network in Chicago that expands arts/culture, culinary, design, music, technology, events and philanthropy. As a Chicagoan, Sam finds time to give back to the community she grew up and calls home. She is the recipient of the 2012 Chicago Tribune Publishers Award as well as the min + Folio’s 2014 FAME Award for her work in fundraising efforts. In August of 2014, she was asked to join the Soho House brand as a founding member in Chicago due to involvement in the creative arts community. She recently received the Cook County Peace Officers Award in 2016 for outstanding service to the community by the Fraternal Order of Police.
*Please note that transcription may not be exactly 1:1 to what was stated in the video.
Luxury Branding Tips with Sam Tobias and Dan Salganik | VisualFizz Growth Series
Duration: 1 hour 1 minute 23 seconds
Dan Salganik (01:40): Cool. So we’re a couple minutes in, if anyone is joining us later, that’s okay. Feel free to comment below, in the chat area. But thanks so much everyone for coming to the first virtual VisualFizz Growth Series. This is not our usual setup. Normally we are somewhere in a cool venue talking to very unique business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing directors, professionals, you name it. We launched this a year ago, pre-COVID. And now we’re all stuck in our homes and we can’t shake hands with anybody, but we can still enjoy a drink. For anybody who does not know who VisualFizz is, or what VisualFizz is, we are a full service digital marketing firm. We’ve been around since 2016, so just about four years now. And we are based in Chicago. We do work predominantly in two spaces where 50% is agnostic and 50% is in the construction, manufacturing and industrial space. We serve clients large and small but really have our foot in the door with a lot of growth oriented, mid-size companies. That’s really our bread and butter.
I want to thank Samantha for coming on today. Samantha is a Director of Marketing for Sprovieri’s Custom Counters. I got to meet Samantha briefly just a few weeks ago right before we started planning the Growth Series, because we were talking about the luxury space and how it’s changed a little bit. And how COVID has changed many of our lives in many different ways. So Samantha, I really appreciate you coming on. Feel free to give the crowd here, just a little brief introduction and I’ll give them an introduction to how this whole Growth Series works.
Samantha Tobais (03:21): Fantastic, yes. Thanks Dan. Hi, I’m Sam Tobias. I am actually originally from Chicago, grew up between Chicago and Indiana. Went to Indiana University, really loved journalism and all things, media and publishing. Currently I’m at Sprovieri’s Custom Counters. We are super excited to really branch out all of the awareness for the brand. And I work alongside Danielle Sprovieri and the Sprovieri team and her dad and her cousin. I am about seven weeks in now, all very exciting in the interior space, which I accidentally fell into about 10 years ago. But we’ll get all into that and I’m very excited to be here.
Dan Salganik (04:04): Thanks for coming. And you do come from Modern Luxury and we’ll talk about that as well. And it’s a really interesting progression of how you got to where you are. But still, for everyone who hasn’t been a part of this process here, we’ve built the Groeth Series very similarly to how I built this, which is a podcast by Guy Rob. And it focuses a lot of entrepreneurs and founders who’ve grown substantial companies, and have been able to get them acquired or to grow them to a sizeable brand. So from our end, we’re taking a more local approach here, which is just really fun because we get to talk to real people and have that one-on-one conversation.
We’re going to dive into Samantha’s life a little bit. Sometimes we get based on conversations, a little deeper and we find out about the childhood and how they grew up and how they got to where they are. So it’s going to be a really interesting 45 minutes to an hour here. So Samantha, I’d love to hear more about your upbringing, you said you’re Chicago born and raised Chicago land. We would love to hear how did that all get started?
Samantha Tobais (05:11): Yes. I’m originally from LaGrange Park, which is a Southwest suburb. My parents are in the medical field, so this is a far departure on the other side of the spectrum, from what they, and what we grew up and are used to. I would say my first taste of wanting to get into the industry was being around my aunt and uncle in New York. They’re both on the creative side, business tech world out in New York City. My aunt used to be the senior vice president for Victoria’s Secret and they introduced to me one of my first internships which was in New York, working at US Weekly as a fact checker, on the editorial side. At the time, my uncle’s cousin was the editor in chief. So, obviously, I got a little bit of special privilege and treatment.
But it just opened my eyes from living and being in the Midwest, to what the whole New York world was. I was 17 years old. I hadn’t even graduated high school yet. And I really just fell in love, always loved magazines, runway shows, fashion, retail, publishing, and I just absolutely fell in love with it. I was on the newspaper team in high school, The Inklings [inaudible 00:06:21]. And I ended up checking out a couple of different journalism schools in the Midwest. And I ended up going to Indiana University and did journalism and communications there. I did various internships because I wanted to see what part of media and publishing I was interested in. So I also did an internship and worked for the Late Night Show with Conan O’Brian, the NBC. So I worked in Rockefeller.
I got my feet wet in broadcasting. I worked for a music PR firm in Bloomington, Indiana, and we repped bands like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Say George. So it was a real eyeopening experience to be in this small liberal arts, state college town and have again, more open to all these experiences, and especially musical tastes. So getting more of the radio, PR music tastes that way. Then my senior year of Indiana, I worked actually at an engineering architecture firm in Indianapolis, that also specialize in municipalities and work over in Dubai. And I worked in the marketing department there. Our main job was to take mayors out to casinos and steak dinners and get them drunk and have them bid on our projects. It was my first taste into the architectural design world. Super fun. Everyone was lovely and outgoing. After school I moved back to Chicago. And it was 2007, 2008, we all know the world took a huge hit then, the economy and the hiring market.
Dan Salganik (07:57): Can relate right now. Right?
Samantha Tobais (08:00): I can’t believe we’ve had two of these in our lifetimes already. I worked actually at a retail boutique called Stinky Pants. It was owned by a local news anchor, Michelle Allegory. I love her, one of my first mentors here in Chicago. And that was when Facebook and social media became something for businesses to amplify their platforms or messaging and get in store events and those types of elements out into the world. So that was my first taste of social media for business. Obviously, I’m going to date myself Facebook came to Indiana University, when we were juniors in college, so that’s 2006. That was interesting, I did that for about eight months. I finally got an internship at the Tribune Company for a Chicago magazine, and they ended up hiring me two weeks later, full time. And I spent six and a half years there working my way up from an intern coordinator specialist to manager. And then I ended up leaving to actually work at an interiors PR firm. Again, we had an interiors magazine under the Tribune umbrella, and then went over to a PR firm here locally. And then from there, I got recruited for Modern Luxury, the larger umbrella here in Chicago.
Dan Salganik (09:09): That sounds great. And I would say, based on what you mentioned, would you attribute all this knowledge and understanding of not only the luxury space, but all of these moving parts from entertainment, public relations just general content magazines that are print, to your ability to just travel and get a slice of life in those places? Because, you’ve been to New York and understand it’s a very large difference from the Midwest and going to the big city there and living that life. Would you say, as you’ve been traveling, which turns into who you are at today?
Samantha Tobais (09:49): I think so. I think what I always mentioned and encouraged when we’re at Modern Luxury, we had all interns and intern programs. And even all the mentees that I have now, especially with the COVID situation happening is, go for any open position, either internship or entry-level when you graduate, because you may be surprised at what you like and what you don’t like. I went to Indiana University thinking I was going to write for a newspaper, not necessarily a fashion magazine. I got to junior year and it was absolutely awful. All these writing projects they had us do. And I was like this is not what I want to do. I want to be more on the go, go, go. And I discovered the marketing and sales side of it and that totally spoke to me. So I think going out and having all the different internship experiences really honed in and narrow down, okay, this is what I like in this industry. And then I went for it, in that direction.
Dan Salganik (10:40): I totally agree. I think it’s all based on experiences and the more time you get to dip your hands into things, you create a hybrid of what you like and don’t like. And you get to know exactly, from the beginning. Because even with college, you learn pretty early on, thankfully, even though it was through that semester. But a lot of people find out when they’re 40 or 50, that they hate what they do and they have to figure it out. So I completely agree that the more that you dip your toes into, or hands into you could really learn a lot. I’d love to learn more about your experience. And when we chatted a little bit about the Modern Luxury era of your life there were some very, very cool stories. I actually asked Samantha, can you invite me to some of these events, because I really liked to join them? And she’s, you have to continue working on your net worth here and I was, all right. There’s not [inaudible 00:11:28] Come on guys. No, but it sounded really cool. So I’d love to chat through a couple of the events that you’ve worked on in the past, as well as additional work that you’ve done at Modern Luxury. And how that’s also helped you grow internally, and then also, through your network, et cetera?
Samantha Tobais (11:49): Absolutely. So when I got recruited from the PR firm to Modern Luxury at that time we had eight publications. So we had our CS brand, which is our flagship downtown, eat, see, drink, do, shop. We had our North shore brand, Interiors, Weddings, Date Book, which is all about black tie fundraisers and galas here in Chicago. Men’s Book, which obviously spoke to, you know, the distinguished gentleman in Chicago – what watches to wear, what car to drive. And so a lot of the companies and brands that I’ve worked with previously, under the Tribune umbrella were very similar. A little more on the national side, as far as the Chanel, the Hermés, the Prada, Graft, Tiffany’s, all of those brands. They started working our way into our portfolio here locally. And we’ve done some really cool things with integrating not only national local luxury brands, but also into our own events and experiences for clients.
I would say one of the most recent integrations that we had, and I see Sarah Salvastery is on here. So I’m going to pull her into this. Back in, I believe it was November, we did a really cool collaboration with Simon G, the diamond jeweler. They were looking to amplify their philanthropic program in the local markets. And they wanted us to find an influencer that had this certain criteria, which was a very detailed shortlist. As it happened to be, one of our sales reps was at a Cubs game and was sitting next to Taylor Kenney from Chicago Fire, the actor, and one of the newest additions to the cast, Miranda Ray Mayo. She came in the next day and was, Hey, I think I found your girl. So we had a couple conversations over a couple of weeks.
She was just so down to earth, lovely, very spiritual, very into the philanthropic angle of Chicago, helping the younger Boys and Girls Clubs down here in downtown. And we put together this beautifully executed event at a brand new venue. It was like a diamond dinner. So we had all these diamonds everywhere, staged. She came in, we did a photo shoot with her prior, ran an editorial piece and she hosted dinner. So it was a really unique way of integrating a national brand with a local angle, but still making it elevated and luxury.
Dan Salganik (14:02): That sounds great. I’m really excited to go to the next one, honestly. Let me ask you this question, because this is something that comes up a lot times, especially with individuals where the young entrepreneurs are trying to grow their network. We always hear the stories of how you find that person at a game. Okay, great. But how did you build that network? What did it take to find the right individuals at that time, that will continue growing? Because I think what I’ve heard in the past is, you really have to get lucky once. And that allows people to snowball effect into this lifestyle, which is the luxury space. Or even just getting to know the right connections as you continue to progress in your career. What would you recommend or what would you say you’ve done on your end to help you get those right connections at those right times?
Samantha Tobais (15:01): I would say personally I’ve been told that I am not afraid to talk to anybody. I can pretty much find something in common between myself and someone else. Whether it’s, where are you from? Where’d you go to school? What industry you’re in. Find out are you in a certain organization or philanthropic club? I try to find that common denominator, that I think because I come off very genuine, authentic, because I am, people respond to that. And I believe I’ve grown my network and my surroundings and my colleagues both past and current, is that I’m willing to help anybody. I’m willing to offer a connection, do an introduction, create a partnership. I’m really just about helping. I’m a dot connector. I really want to help brands connect to consumers, people connect to people, brands connect to the market.
And I think it is hard and I’ve noticed even with the younger generation, some people get a little timid about approaching individuals that might be older or obviously more established. And just feeling nervous about talking to them or networking with them. And really, it’s just simple. Like, Hey, what’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your sign? What do you drink? Find anything just start the conversation. And then from there, I think it just spirals. In Chicago, it seems like a big city, but it’s like a small town feel. I mean, everybody pretty much knows everybody, especially in our industry. A lot of it’s the same players. You just shift around at different places, different brands.
Dan Salganik (16:37): Definitely. That makes perfect sense. And I agree, it’s part of talking to the person and getting some commonality, getting to know who they know and building it up from there. But I totally agree as well because I think something that comes up is when you’re making a connection, a lot of individuals think, where’s my reward for this? What is in it for me? And I think what you just mentioned solves that, if I connect you with someone or you connect someone to me, you don’t get anything back. But in six months, I remember that you did this nice favor, and that will come as a reciprocate. You will get that back in some capacity. That’s something that I think I’ve been trying to do a little bit more this year, too. Especially as we’re cooped up in our homes. So I agree with that completely.
Samantha Tobais (17:24): I also want to add that, I think you trust your gut intuition. I listened to my gut intuition a lot when it comes to work in business, and even just meeting new individuals. I think starting off in this industry, so young I’ve really understood who really wants something from you and is trying to either social climb or get involved, or just using you. Versus who is actually an authentic person that is, let’s make a connection. Let’s do this, come to this party, let me introduce you to my friend. Oh, you want to get on this board? I have a connection that’s really truly helping you. And I think as you get older with this experience, trusting your gut instinct on who’s a good person, who’s going to be good for you in the long run. And you don’t have to be best friends with everybody, but keeping that good relationship going throughout the years, through all the different phases of your career, I think is crucial and important to being successful.
Dan Salganik (18:14): Definitely agree. So let’s get into where you’re at today. I know right now that the topic of conversation for everybody is COVID, and I can’t listen about COVID anymore. I’m sure everybody else is the same, but it has affected a lot of people’s lives. So I want to get to that part in a little bit, but I definitely want to hear more about this is how you got into this particular role. It’s through people that you know, as well, a friend. You mentioned friends, so I’d love to hear more about where you’re at. Who are they? You can do a little bit of promotion here. That’s okay.
Samantha Tobais (18:58): So yeah, I’ll do a plug for Sprovieri’s. So Danielle is a really good girlfriend of a girl who used to be on our marketing team. I don’t know if you’re on here, shout out to her. Shout out to all my ModLuxer’s on right now. So I know Brian’s on, Sarah’s on, I hope Steph is on, but I met Danielle through Stephanie. Stephanie was on our marketing team for a year. And we hit it off. And I know Danielle for probably about, I would say, we’re trying to figure this out the other day. It was like two or three, maybe even four years. And when I finally understood what she did for a living, I was, Oh my God, you should come to the events. This is perfect for you networking, interiors. So she started coming to the events, and understanding our business model and how it can work for her.
So introducing her to interior designers and builders is helping her get her name out there, the family name and building her Rolodex. Obviously, COVID hit this year and Modern Luxury let go a lot of individuals around the July timeframe. And we were out to dinner with Steph and Danielle, and we were just having a conversation. And I was, this sounds interesting. I’d love to nitty-gritty to get down to the brass tacks of what you actually do and what the company does, because as far as fabrication goes, I’ve never obviously been directly involved. But it’s quite fascinating. It definitely sharpens your skills on the geology side of science. So getting to know all the different stone materials has been fun, and challenging, and math. Math has now come back into play, which is we’re getting there, we’re getting there.
Dan Salganik (20:26): And throwing those stones, which is half the battle. How do you not get stains on your stones?
Samantha Tobais (20:32): Well, you have to choose quartz, right Danielle? You have got to go the quartz route for sure or Corian. This is what I’m learning. So we had this great day of shadowing and, it’s a 50-plus year family run and operated third-generation company. It’s got 50,000 square feet of facility. It’s massive. And there’s a showroom in there as well. So once you actually saw it, Oh my gosh, this is a lot more involved and larger production than I was expecting. I was expecting a wood shop somewhere. I have no idea. And it’s just all this beautiful stone and the way it’s showcased and just the different ways they can cut these. And it’s not just custom counters. I learned, they could do a lot of different individual things.
So obviously bathroom vanities, they could do showers and wall coverings, fireplaces. It’s crazy what we can do now with this innovative technology. So now I think it’s all about, okay, understanding the message, figure out the storytelling and get it back into the market in a luxury way. So connecting with a lot of the interior designers, builders and architects that I’ve worked with throughout 10 years here in Chicago. With the different multiple magazines and the PR brand is really just getting the word out. And that’s what I’ve been doing is, Hey, I know you haven’t heard from me in a couple of months. I want to let you know, this is what I’m up to. This is what I’m doing. You’ve got to check us out. Love to give you a tour. Obviously, some people may be a little hesitant because it’s COVID but really just want to spread the word and really help out branding the company in an elevated way downtown. So people can understand, we’re not just a stone cut shop.
Dan Salganik (22:10): Definitely. That’s really interesting. And it’s definitely a pivot, altogether. In some capacity it is, in some capacity it isn’t. Because you said you work heavily in interior design, so it definitely makes sense through a series of different moving parts, how you ended up there.
I want to talk a little bit about luxury in general, the luxury space and then talk about how COVID hit it. Because I think in some capacity you can’t say the luxury industry died due to COVID, because so much is changing. But there’s a huge change in the way that luxury is being presented along with anything else, anything from marketing to buying toilet paper for a while. So I want to talk about luxury as a whole. It’s interesting because it seems the dynamic of luxury has shifted quite a bit over the past let’s say, 10 years versus 20 years, versus 50 years ago. Can you go into detail about what the luxury industry looks like now, and maybe for the future versus what it looked like. You could give me the decade range of the seventies or eighties or something like that.
Samantha Tobais (23:21): Sure. So I actually did a little research, and I found some great articles, which I can send to you to include if you want for a post followup and when you post this on your website. But CMDC actually had a really interesting article on this that just came out. And they said that the luxury apparel and accessories consignment grew to $24 billion before COVID. And they had this whole article about resale luxury right now, which I’ll get into in a second here. But I did a little research in twofold. I talked to a lot of individuals in the higher net worth category and just ask them, how were you spending your money in the last six months and then looking forward in six months? And it was definitely quite interesting, based on situations. A couple of financial guys and doctors that I had spoke to were, listen, I’m turning 50 in a couple of months, I’m still buying that high end Porsche that I’ve been saving for.
Or, we’re not going on family vacations this year, maybe not next year. So we’re going to put in that $40,000 in-ground pool. So I think at a certain level, individuals are still spending money on luxury items in just a more thoughtful way. A lot of the women that I spoke to who, I guess it depends on how many luxury items you buy a year. If you buy them weekly, monthly, quarterly are thinking more strategically about what they purchased. It’s more iconic, timeless pieces. They’re spending more money on jewelry, watches and bags versus throwaway items. Because a lot of what, especially our industry with publishing media events, dressing up and buying new clothes and following these fashion trends, are dependent on social activities. And now, that has totally gone away, so individuals might be in luxury cashmere sets, lounge sets, but they’re still looking at that bag they’ve been wanting or saving for, or that watch or that piece of jewelry that will probably, if you want to go Hermés or Cartier, that really the value won’t decrease. Also, on the flip side of that going with this resale, and which I thought was very interesting, is a lot of individuals have started putting their luxury items up for sale.
Or, for example, my generation, I guess younger, people that still want those luxury items are looking more towards the resale consignment industry to purchase those items without spending the full price ticket. So there was a lot of interesting tidbits and details that the CNBC article had too, which I loved. I love this quote here, “More people are going to resell sites to sell their possessions out of necessity, including higher income people who’ve lost their jobs. Well healed people with expensive possessions, especially called the ‘Henry’s’. I’ve never heard this, ‘High earners, not rich yet’ who may be eager to sell their high-end apparel and accessories or start to do so as anxiety and insecurity continues to rise. So I thought it was just very interesting to see both sides of the coin here. And that just goes for retail.
I know we talked a little bit about prior to starting this, a lot of health and wellness is now considered the new luxury. Self-care has obviously taken off, all the beauty products, skin, everybody has a 12-step skincare routine now, myself included. And then also Peloton. I know that Danielle and I were talking about Peloton earlier today, and Peloton sales are up. It’s like a status symbol now. And a lot of girls that I know in my inner circle have purchased them starting in April until current day. It was very interesting to see where everyone’s spending their money.
Dan Salganik (26:55): It is, and this feature was presented to you by Peloton. And if you’d like… I’m just kidding.
Samantha Tobais (27:01): And yes, I’m also sponsored by Peloton. I’m trying to get a free Peloton.
Dan Salganik (27:04): You know the link at the side here. No, but that definitely makes sense. And I can see where those individuals who, they know this is temporary. There were some statistics that the rich got richer in some respects and where you’re seeing those people starting to sell their goods, also makes sense. It’s also interesting to find that men continue to buy cars and put pools in their yards. But I did actually read up into that a little bit, because the real estate market. Especially, maybe in Chicago, where it has been increasing year over year, at this point, with particularly the McMansions of the world, when you go into the first and second tier suburbs. They were struggling for a long time. And now, I’ve found upon doing some research that a lot of these suburbs and other areas due to COVID, and the need for a yard and things like that. [inaudible 00:27:55] has skyrocketed. You can’t find a house for sale that has an in-ground pool, or that has a backyard because some people have shifted into that environment. And I think that makes sense. It seems like a lot of people are still maintaining, they’re waiting for the real estate market to crash a little bit so they can purchase something. But I’d be interested to hear a little bit more about it because this is a space that you’re kind of in. It’s not the real estate space [inaudible 00:28:26] real estate is doing. Are you finding that with the custom counters that there are more for renovation instead of maybe they’re buying it at that, like it’s already fully completed or are you finding a mix? I’m interested to hear a little bit more about it.
Samantha Tobais (28:47): Absolutely. So Danielle and I, and Sprovieri’s team had a conversation about this last week. More so about the interiors not necessarily real estate, but obviously, more people are staying at home, which makes sense. Individuals that either had money set aside or, had been looking at doing a project for a while. The residential interior project space and remodel space has just totally skyrocketed. That’s a large portion of what’s Sprovieri, as part of their business. Obviously they do a lot of commercial projects as well, but what we’re seeing is a sharp increase in even small things like little bathroom vanities to redoing full kitchens. It runs the gamut too, as far as price point too. I would say I’ve noticed a lot of individuals and so more so a lot of individuals, my age, looking at buying places outside of the city versus staying in the city. It’s kind of 50/50. But then, when you do buy, you get excited, you want to make it your own.
And so, if you’re going to spend that much time there, especially in the kitchen, especially if we go back into a shelter in place for the fall winter. I think that’s top of the priority list. They want to invest a little more, make it homey, make a cozy. And that’s what we’re seeing as far as our residential side of the business, which we’re really excited about, because I think some people are stepping out of our comfort zones. We saw this trend in white kitchens for years. And Danielle always says, we get really excited when someone comes in and they might have something crazy in the kitchen. Like they want to a black, I call it, it’s the black Panda marble. And it’s fantastic and it’s super sexy. It’s actually, the background of my computer right now. But we really want people to get excited about it and come to us. And if you have an interior designer or a general contractor or not, we’re here to help you and we’re here to make the process easier. And it’s really cool to see all these kitchen design, home trends happening that’s really making people happy. It’s an impactful decision that they’re making, despite obviously the doom and gloom of the world right now.
Dan Salganik (30:40): Absolutely. In some capacity, it keeps people busy which is nice. They’re happy, they’re working on things that probably included their significant other or their kids or something like that. That’s very cool. I want to talk a little bit about other individuals, because what happened during the last recession, which is kind of different, but there was a huge spike in entrepreneurship, a lot of new business. So at the end of the tunnel, there was actually something of value. And I’d be interested to hear a little bit more about, what you think, regarding with COVID happening. And there are a lot of people who follow VisualFizz, who are founders and entrepreneurs and marketers that maybe, they’re looking for a job, or they’re looking to build a job or, whatever that looks like. What can they be doing to get to that next step in a time where you don’t really know what’s happening? Especially as you mentioned, we get into the fall and the winter, and people start to almost go back to sheltering in place because they can’t sit at a restaurant outside. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts there.
Samantha Tobais (31:50): Absolutely. So I think it’s a two part answer on this. I think one, what I’ve told a couple of mentees that I’ve been talking to is, as far as being out of work and being out of work for multiple months, is thinking outside the box. So off the top of my head, did I think I was going to be working for a custom fabrication company? No, but it directly is transferable, relatable as far as my marketing skills, my experience, my Rolodex, the network, and it’s fun and it’s family run, and they’re cool. And what we’re doing is really cool, and we just have to get the word out about it. I think if you’re stuck in this vision of, this is how I thought my life was going to be, I was going to do this, then do this, then do this. You’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to be stuck in a rut. You’re not gonna be able to open your eyes to other opportunities.
For example, you might have to take a step backwards in a different industry to even move forward in a new industry. I think also, at the time when everything started and shut down, Modern Luxury, I would say, was never a work from home model. We always were required to be in the office. Obviously, we had events, client meetings, and what I found interesting, even for myself and our team and our clients, and even moving forward, is that everybody had to adapt to working from home and making it work for them, in whatever way that made sense. And now, it’s interesting that all these companies have learned, well, maybe I don’t need an oversized office with this overhead to have employees and have this business run. Everything can be basically in the cloud.
So one of the other companies I interviewed with during this, was an agency that had been totally, totally remote. Everybody was remote. That was the format. That was how they started, how they founded themselves and then COVID happened, and the business model took off. So it’s really interesting to see how you can have traditional work settings, and the direction of your career. And then all of a sudden, just flip totally on your ass three months later. And everybody has to be a chameleon and be adaptable, and figure out how is this going to work for me moving forward? And I also went through that, I was thinking to myself, okay, if I don’t move forward with Sprovieri’s, what does the next three, six, nine, 12 months look like for me? And what if we go back and shelter in place? Then it’s Q1, is anyone going to be hiring, am I gonna be out of a job next year? So you have to think on your toes, you have to open your mind. You have to be open to other opportunities. I even looked at marketing manager positions at digital agencies, because I know I didn’t have direct digital experience, but I’d be willing to take a step back in title, to learn more to then excel forward in a different path, but same industry.
Dan Salganik (34:31): It makes perfect sense. And I will tell you this, when we launched VisuaFizz, because I’m actually traveling right now, during COVID. I’m taking this opportunity to go and travel to the East coast and the South. But we built this business on that model and that principle. So we’ve always had a shared office space or a small office that we can keep a central home. We’re Chicago born and raised, loved that about ourself, but we have a team that is, they’re working moms, they’re individuals who prefer to not commute an hour and a half in the snow. And when we launched the business, we were [inaudible 00:35:08] we kind of grew. So we wanted to have a place where we can meet up a couple of times a week, but we never had that type of model where you have to be in the office.
And when COVID hit, the first couple of months where we’ll just wait with everybody else. And once people starting to get out of their panic mode, we took off, we were busier than ever. We right now, we are we’re busier than we ever, ever been. So it’s interesting you mentioned that, because more companies are finding that with the time that you save, not having to commute every day and dealing with all of those hassles. Even though people do have right now, some of the issues like not having childcare and having a bunch of dogs that are barking behind them. Or having their kids walk up to them during a meeting, they’re still getting so much work out of their day, because of the lack of distractions otherwise. So I totally agree with you there.
And then, to your other point, hiring for a role. From my end, being a digital agency, we love to hire entrepreneurs and individuals like yourself, because you come from a wealth of experience that isn’t the agency. If somebody comes from the agency and they live the agency life forever, they don’t really have that same type of experience from real life. So it’s good to have a well-balanced team of both. So I completely agree with you there. It’s finding that little community that makes sense. [inaudible 00:36:29] question, but finding a community that makes sense for you, and then just sticking with it, and growing with them. And I did want to ask, because as I looked through some of the information about you, you were asked to be one of the founding members of the Chicago Soho House, is that correct? And I’m curious, what’s that, why did they choose you? And I’d be interested also just to understand, because they’re very community centric. And it’s a very specific type of community, and you think that helps individuals, having that type of community and building that up? I mean, we all know the obvious answer is generally [inaudible 00:37:06] setting up communities, but what can people do because it’s an investment of time, energy, and there may not a result for months and years. So I’m just interested to hear a little bit more about your take on community. Because it seems like you’ve been a part of a number of them.
Samantha Tobais (37:22): Yes. I love being a part of the creative culture community here in Chicago. That’s funny that you brought that up. So let’s see if I can, it’s like my friend’s dogs, neighbor’s lawn mowers, kids connection. A good friend of mine from college, her ex-boyfriend started an agency in New York. He was friends with the Soho House Founder’s son. So this had been seven, eight, nine years ago. They were looking at Chicago as a market to open, and he is actually originally from Chicago, but has never moved back after college. So he went to went to college in New York and stayed out there. He’s like, you gotta talk to my girl, Sam. She works at the magazine there. She knows everybody, everything. And I was like, well, thank you. That’s such an honor. So he came to town, he emailed me. He’s, I’d love to just grab coffee with you, pick your brain. And he asked me about all the different neighborhoods. And where he thought, and my input where he’d be successful building Soho Chicago based on, what he’s researched as far as other clubs there, social clubs, alumni clubs, things like that. And they’re British, they’re from England. So, he obviously had no idea, the nitty-gritty of what goes on here in Chicago. So it was very interesting to give an insider’s perspective on, they’re looking at this market. Why are they looking at this market? Where are they going to build it, who they’re targeting? Because we don’t have a lot of celebrities here.
We do have a lot of artists and musicians and creatives and tech people, which is kind of that they targeted. They don’t target your traditional business, medical, law individuals as their demographic, their guests, their clients. So it was just really interesting to kind of get his perspective on why Chicago’s cool. We’ve got to get there. Now, where do we build? And that’s how that came about. So when they they built it and everything came about I applied for membership there, and they gave me the founding member card and title, which was fantastic. It was so great. But yeah, it’s a great place to be. I think it’s gone through its waves of ups and downs. It’s a great way to network. It’s a cool scene. There’s always very unique and colorful characters that are there. So it’s always a good time when you go there. I would say besides Soho House, I think just joining different boards, affiliations organizations, anything that you’re passionate about, or that’s relatable to your industry. Which is actually funny, you brought this up because Danielle and I had this conversation today about which design organizations we should join, now that I’m back in the design world? So we were kind of going through a list of them and, okay, you take this one, I’ll take this one. So we can spread ourselves out, but re-immerse ourselves back into those affiliations to get our name out there, and use it for networking opportunities when they start having events again. But just to be around like-minded people and other individuals in our industry.
Dan Salganik (40:18): Definitely. It makes perfect sense. And it all goes back to who you know, and obviously there’s a lot of your own personal brand and your own messaging in a sense. And your perception, and how people perceive you, which has been great. You have some shout outs in our chat here about how awesome you are. So, I’m glad [over talk] [00:40:39].
Samantha Tobais (40:43): I know, I’m trying to read them as we’re talking too. I was oh gosh.
Dan Salganik (40:45): I know. But that’s really cool. And this will be one of my last question before Q and A’s and just a quick reminder for those what hasn’t been here yet. Feel free to send over either through a private message or through the general chat, your questions. And we’ll get through as many as we can in a speed round if you will. But I’m going to ask one more question. It almost goes back to the other one that I asked but how do individuals like entrepreneurs, individuals who aren’t quite at the level of director of marketing, how do they get involved in these types of organizations?, when their voice is maybe a little less heard than others?
Samantha Tobais (41:28): It depends. I can give you a more specific answer, but for specifically, our industry, I would say, getting your foot in the door, any way you can. Whether that’s at a company, volunteering somewhere, joining a professional group and you don’t have to be the most outgoing person. I think that the more you cast your net, the more places that you actually apply and get involved in, you may or may not like one place. And so, you’re, that’s not for me, wasn’t a strong enough board or initiative or goals or the people weren’t friendly or whatever your reason is. Again, it’s you have to try more things than just, Oh, I tried this once and it didn’t work. It’s not going to happen for you. I think researching all the different elements for your industry and what you want to do, and then apply, volunteer, show up. Even if it’s you want to get into events, you’ve never done events before. Apply to a [inaudible 00:41:32] or an HMR or be hey, I just want to shadow someone for the day, or I want to help you guys out like pro bono, you don’t have to pay me. I just want to learn the industry. I’ve done plenty of free apprenticeships just to understand a certain aspect of a business. So I have that firsthand knowledge and, then I can okay, take away that, add it to this and now I can move forward. I think that there are so many opportunities out there. Even in Chicago, we’re looking today for all the design groups. There’s actually more design affiliations now, than there was five years ago when I was fully immersed in this industry. And it’s wild, they’re everywhere. There’s Facebook groups, there’s clubs, organizations, there’s philanthropic organizations that are involved. So I think just doing your research, doing more than just one thing to see if it works, or reach out. Actually, I’m going to shout out to Brian right now. Actually, Brian is a shining example of someone who hustles the hardest I’ve ever seen as an intern. When he was an intern with us a couple of years ago, he had like four jobs, and he was in school full time, and he would reach out and he still does, reach out to individuals that he sees on LinkedIn.
And he’s, I want to be that person. I want her job. I’m going to message her and say, Hey, I want buy you coffee. I want to talk to you. I want to pick your brain. So, we love that kind of stuff. I always offer pro bono career development advice, resume workshops with all of our interns and individuals that I know. So I think, just biting the bullet, move forward, don’t be afraid, reach out. Sure. You probably may not hear back from them, but I think it’s worth a shot. And if you find someone in a job that you want, and yes, it could be five, seven, 10 years down the road, give them a shout. LinkedIn them, message them. I think that’s the way, especially in our industry to be seen, be heard and get your foot in the door and move forward.
Dan Salganik (44:23): I completely agree. For us, it’s been so heavily based on even collaborations a little bit, that’s part of why we did Growth Series because you and I may not have something in particular common at that one time, but now we’re talking. We’re having a conversation, everybody who’s watching and listening is part of that community in a sense. And it’s all about asking, that’s why we built this thing. And what I found is, especially once you can offer something to individual, they start to listen more. This is going out for anybody who’s in that place, where they’re growing still. I contacted individuals who are way above my level, because they know I’m marketing to them, but I started asking them if we can do things for them, offer free, this and that, or have them on our Growth Series, and they suddenly started to respond.
So I think, especially what you mentioned, Samantha being an asset, asking for help, asking to be part of something to learn. A lot of people who are like yourself and like myself here, you want to give back a little bit and provide any insight that you can to offer that person. Because, one day they’re going to be director of marketing and you’re going to look for a job. So you never know.
Samantha Tobais (45:36): Yes, I’ll be out of a job.
Dan Salganik (45:36): It’s hey remember me? So, we’re at 44:45 here, and we’re gonna ask some questions. It’s going to be a little bit more rapid fire. So the answers will be about two minutes each. Everybody who’s here, feel free to continue asking. Don’t worry, it’s okay. Feel free to ask questions. I’ll start from the top. So what are some key elements of branding that businesses should be sure to include in the luxury space?
Samantha Tobais (46:04): Ooh, that’s a good one. In genera, or are you thinking of specific category?
Dan Salganik (46:13): No. Let’s just keep it pretty general. When it comes to luxury, what should we be focused on in terms of the branding? I like the general questions.
Samantha Tobais (46:24): Yeah. So I think one thing which we talked about before, was the luxury experience as it relates to branding. So because of what’s going on in the world right now, a lot of what we’ve done at our events, we pride ourselves on this white glove service. So yes, of course you see a brand ad or you can walk into a Chanel store, peruse, touch, feel, the whole sensory experience. But what those brands want to accomplish when they approach modern luxury or someone of, I’m not saying my level, but someone who marinades on what they’re looking for and how to execute it in the marketplace. And then understand how to develop a program for them, that is different from someone just walking into a store. So you want that white glove experience. You want that little something extra. You want to be greeted with a glass of champagne or a little brag or takeaway bag or something else.
Actually, I’m going to shout out to Max on this one. I actually went into the Cartier store just last week, and we were cruising around. It was one person per shopper. It just felt so safe, secure, elegant, elevated. And though we did not get a glass of champagne, which I was a little bummed about, I was getting something fixed. And on the way out, I was, Oh, you know what? Besides this bulky thing that I have, do you have something that’s just like a little bit sleeker, more discreet that I could put something in to travel with. And they gave me a branded cardia bag. A little velvet pouch Cartier bag. And, my jaw just dropped. I was, I mean, this is amazing. It’s just those kind of touch points and white glove service and brand experiences, I think is what individuals looking to spend money in the luxury space are looking for in return. We’re going to spend all this money, I want a little something extra.
I think for branding, it could run the gamut. There’s luxury liquor, there’s luxury auto, there’s luxury time pieces, there’s luxury dining, travel health and wellness. Like I said, I think everyone, it depends on what level you’re at, but everyone is looking for that little something extra. They want to feel special, especially in these times. So we’re going to spend their hard earned money on it, or their hard earned stimulus checks, that they want to feel special about it.
Dan Salganik (48:44): Yes, absolutely. And I agree, and I know this is something we actually chatted about during our first conversation. When you go into a hotel and you might be spending two to three, $400 a night, and especially in the luxury, it could be a thousand to 2,000 a night. Having something as simple as a $20 bottle of champagne, or maybe some chocolates or whatever that looks like, is memorable. So having somebody walk your suitcases up. Just little touch points, which really defined the luxury space versus even the ‘high-end’ space versus true luxury. Very cool. I’m going to continue here. This is a long question, would you say it’s the ‘long game’ or the ‘short game’ with luxury audiences? For example, are luxury buyers more likely to purchase luxury items as a spur of the moment purchase? Or are they more likely to purchase in calculated ways after a long shopping process?
Samantha Tobais (49:37): I think it goes both ways. I think some people are just tired of this bullshit and want to get on with their lives and want instant gratification, and they want to spend their money to feel good. Which I can definitely relate to. And then I think you have your other end of the spectrum. And it depends obviously, where you are as far as your job. If you have a job, if you don’t have a job, if you have money saved, if you don’t. If you had money stashed away for a birthday gift, or this was the Christmas I was gonna buy that Chanel bag for myself. And I think that some are more calculated. Some are indecisive, they go back and forth, do I really need that $4,000 bag? Or should I save it just in case, I then lose my job because we’re going into December? So yes, I think it goes both ways. I’ve seen and talked to a lot of individuals and I feel it’s pretty 50/50 at this point.
Dan Salganik (50:32): Yes. That makes sense. I’ve got another question here from a fan, Christina. So she runs a high-end architectural firm in Chicago. So, Christina [over talk] [00:50:43].
Samantha Tobais (50:45): Yes, let’s definitely connect.
Dan Salganik (50:46): And she said she will, don’t worry. But she said, what are some of some ways that we can begin building our personal brands and how can we present ourselves in the marketplace?
Samantha Tobais (50:56): Ooh, I love this question. So we’re starting to do that now. It was [inaudible 00:51:00] it is amplifying our brand and our awareness here, downtown Chicago. So for example, my personal take on this is that once, the whole modern luxury thing happened, and I was no longer working there, it wasn’t like the next day I uploaded something on LinkedIn. And I told obviously my close inner circle and my colleagues, my business associates, what was going on, kind of teased it all out. But then, I coordinated with Danielle to tell this story, and how that happened was, last Friday Sprovieri’s put something up on their account that said, Hey Sam, welcome to the team, a little bio about myself, my Instagram handle. And then, I took that and re posted it.
And then, on the heels of that, obviously, then sort of promoting the VisualFizz conversation we’re having today. So it told a story of, okay, you haven’t seen me active. You’d not sure if I’m with Modern Luxury or not, but now it’s all coming together, and it tells a story. And I wanted to make it strategic too, so that people could really connect the dots and I can fill in the blanks of, okay, so you were at a magazine and now you’re at a stone fabricator> So I feel bridging the gap and telling that story in my voice, in my way, and holding and controlling the messaging was the best way for me and my network to fully understand where I’m at right now.
And because of that, I know that Danielle has been very hard at work. So you guys can follow us. It’s @Sprovieriscustomcounters on Instagram. And she has done a fabulous job of posting all of our projects. We have a lot of amazing designers that we work with and builders, and they’re just a lot of very cool projects that she’s posted. And so, it tells that luxury story on the Instagram. So it’s all tying it together. So with that, we are now trying to bring our LinkedIn, Facebook and website current. And then we’re working on a marketing campaign to go out into the market. So we’re doing these very strategically. We’re not in a rush, we’re telling our brand story, we’re updating our assets. We’re making sure everything looks good, feels good, tells the right story in the right way and then strategically releasing it into the market.
Dan Salganik (53:13): Awesome. That’s very cool. Your personal story is just as important as your brand story. Rather, let me rephrase, as the brand that you’re working with, or the organization, and they do intertwine quite heavily because that’s where you spend half of your time. I will ask one last question before we close out with a couple of thoughts. And this is more around consumers. You can talk through COVID if you want, but I think let’s keep it, how you want it. Let’s keep it general, because eventually, COVID will end. In what ways are luxury audiences different from let’s call them ‘standard’ consumers? I know we talked about it, we touched on it a little bit, but how are they different? How are they treated differently? What does your process look like when selling to them or marketing to them? Any other examples maybe, even that you’ve had at either organization?
Samantha Tobais (54:09): You mean like talking and selling to clients?
Dan Salganik (54:12): Yes, because you’ve worked in a few different spaces. So your clients, I know from a previous experience, one might be a media buyers or sellers and the others are maybe a high-end architectural firm, or a condo. So, it’s [inaudible 00:54:27] building. So I let you answer the question in the best of your ability. But again, I know I make it so difficult. But when you are selling to your clients or customers who already, they know the luxury space, and they have certain expectations. How does that differentiate to if you were to sell to a regular consumer?
Samantha Tobais (54:49): So I’ll equate this to a more like Modern Luxury, for the time being. Only because we would have a lot of individuals that came from luxury brands that had a specific vision and budget to execute their branded elements, or their touch points into the market. Without really truly understanding all the work that goes behind it. And Sarah can back me up on this. So I think what worked best for me, in managing expectations upfront is fully understanding and digesting what they’re looking for, and not promise everything under the stars right away. Have time to understand it, do a little bit of research on them, what they want to do. Go back to them and say, okay, because a lot of times these luxury brands, even though they’re luxury brands, they don’t have luxury budgets. So they want a $50,000 event, but they’re willing to spend $10,000.
So I mean, obviously that’s a big gap in their vision, versus what they can afford, and what we can pull off. So I think managing expectations, but understanding, okay, I can get 90% of what you want done, and then, having that white glove service of the magazine and the publishing arm. And being, but I can amplify it by providing these 10 things in the backend. Maybe having la surprise element at the event, showing up on time, everything’s coordinated, details all solidified. So they feel comfortable that we know what we’re doing with their brand in our hands. Regular consumers too, obviously, with the magazine we have I mean everyday entrepreneurs, local businesses and such. But I would say for the majority, we had a range from plastic surgeons to diamond dealers to hotels and retail, auto. Everybody, they expect I’m paying this premium, I’m coming to you. I expect that you’re the best and so they want the best delivered. And I would say the same thing with Sprovieri’s. I think being transparent and not over promising, under deliver, even right now, I’m in the learning stages of a lot of it. Is understanding what they want. Double, triple check that I can do it, and then clearly communicate back to them and say, Hey, if you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them. Just because some of the answers, I don’t know myself. So I think authenticity, transparency, managing expectations, but also with that white glove, little Hershey Kiss on top is the differentiator, in the luxury market.
Dan Salganik (57:18): So, I said last question, but this question has fans too, so I can’t ignore it. Let’s do it in a way where it’s like a few words can really sum it up here. You’ve talked about your inner circle. What are some of your criteria, to select your own? We all want to be part of your inner circle now. So, how do we get chosen?
Samantha Tobais (57:38): How do you get chosen for the inner circle? Oh, wow. I have actually, many inner circles. It just goes in and goes smaller. I feel it goes with the gut intuition. We do good business together, we worked well together, I can trust you, you can get your stuff done. You can provide one thing, I can provide something else. We have a good rapport, a good respect for each other. I’ve built many friendships off of clients and partners that I’ve worked with in the industry. I have friends from my internship still, to my first job, to this last job. And now, obviously got this job from a friend from a former colleague. So, I think just being a really good person with great tastes gives you the audition.
Dan Salganik (58:32): Awesome. Okay. So we’ll hold auditions later. Guys, I want to thank you so much, tSamantha, you as well. Just really quick, a few things. We’re going to send a quick survey after the webinar to everyone who attended. That will help us guide future conversations and topics. Along with that, we’re going to send you guys a link to the other Growth Series events. There are a series of them, we’re planning to host them every two weeks. They’ll either be around noon, give or take as well as 5:00 pm Central Standard Time. But this is something that we’re going to continue growing and our hope is to really provide as much expert knowledge, information, fun, data, all that good stuff, similar to how Samantha has provided it. I think she’s done an awesome job. She was our test pilot for the first virtual version of this.
It’s definitely not as fun being able to see everybody in a room and have drinks afterwards. But I know, because Samantha told me she took one ahead of time, just in case. Maybe I’ll have one now. But we really appreciate everybody hopping on today, as well as anybody who is attending or listening or reading because we will transcribe all these for the future. And we will be posting them in that same Growth Series link. As, previous Growth Series links. Beyond that, as we mentioned, VisualFizz, we’re a full service marketing firm. So if you guys, need anything, even just to chat about your marketing, your branding, [inaudible 00:59:59] goals as it pertains to growth in general, that is what we do. We work with most businesses from startups to well-established fortune 500 or 1,000 types of companies.
And last but not least, I do really want to thank Samantha for her time today. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience totally awesome. I don’t know if she will accept you into her, at least, I don’t know if she’ll accept me into her inner circle. But I am excited for that next diamond event. I think I’ve annoyed her enough times about that event. I just want to go. But we really appreciate you coming on board. And once COVID is gone, what we’d like to do, is maybe by next year, invite everybody back for a large, conversation or chat or party or whatever it may be. So please do keep in touch with everybody on this channel, everybody from the VisualFizz side, as well, Samantha. We really appreciate everyone’s time here, and have a good rest of your day.
Samantha Tobais (01:1:00): Thanks Dan.
Dan Salganik (01:1:00): Thanks guys. All right. Any questions? Feel free to shoot us emails or messages, and we’ll be happy to either forward them to Samantha, or find her on LinkedIn as well. But you’ll get a survey soon. Thanks everyone.
Samantha Tobais (01:1:13): Bye. Thank you.
Dan Salganik (01:1:23): Bye, bye. Thank you.
Growth is one of the best problems a business can have. It is also something that you, as a business owner, Director, C-Suite individual, or team member have to deal with on a regular basis. Whether it’s closing a sale, seeking outside funding from investors, hosting a successful networking event, hiring new members, or even simply not going crazy, you have to be mindful about the actions you take when growth happens.
This is why we launched the Growth Series. Many of us have questions and few of us have all of the answers. VisualFizz, a digital marketing company that predominantly works with ‘growth stage’ businesses has been asked these questions constantly and we felt that it’s time to provide you with some answers.
We have asked Chicago’s best and brightest to speak up and chat with us AND YOU about what they’ve learned through their years of GROWING their own thing. These individuals are industry leaders, founders of notable companies, sales geniuses, event hosts and personalities, and so much more.
We work hard to ensure that you can stay up-to-date with the Growth Series. Click below to see what’s coming up, or to listen to previous Growth Series talks.