Alumni Success StoriesTiara Hallman, B.S. '92
It’s A Wrap! Production Wardrobe Sales
What kind of business did the entrepreneur start?
Tiara Hallman is the Co-founder of Its A Wrap! Production Wardrobe Sales, a retail clothing outlet situated in the heart of Burbank, California. Not just any purveyor of fashion, this store liquidates wardrobe for film and television production studios and independent production companies and sells it to the general public at a discount. The merchandise that is sold in this 6,800 square-foot showroom is picked up straight from the sets of film or television shows or from wardrobe departments of major studios and production companies. The apparel is marketed as movie and television memorabilia as well as discount fashion clothing. The majority of the stock is contemporary wardrobe, but the store also sells vintage clothes, costumes, western apparel, Sci-Fi, or specialty items such as sportswear and gear. With a continuously changing inventory, the store currently sells wardrobe from the movies Scream 2 and Face/Off, the television series Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, and the soap operas General Hospital and Another World, to name but a few.
The concept behind this enterprise is rather simple: when a studio or production company finishes a movie or show, they are left with a stock of wardrobe that is usually stored away or otherwise liquidated. It’s A Wrap! provides the service of either purchasing the wardrobe from these companies or agreeing to sell the wardrobe for them on consignment, providing the valuable benefit of alleviating these businesses’ wardrobe budgets and reducing their storage and security costs. It’s A Wrap! offers to store production companies' wardrobe during post-production and makes it readily accessible any time it is needed for re-shoots. In addition, the store provides free pick-up from these companies’ facilities and negotiates to pay half of their costs to ship the wardrobe from various filming locations as far away as Maryland and Toronto.
It’s A Wrap!’s customers have the unique opportunity to purchase an item previously worn by a famous movie or television actor or to own a piece of movie history. Many of these items are brought from all over the world, while others are custom made or one of a kind. The store receives new stock every day of the week, offering shoppers a virtually endless variety of clothing at substantial savings, with prices reduced as much as 95 percent off retail prices.
The geographic location of the showroom provides a strategic advantage for It’s A Wrap!. Home to Walt Disney Studios, the city of Burbank is centrally located and close to other major film studios and independent production companies in such nearby cities as Santa Clarita, Hollywood, and downtown Los Angeles. This places the company within accessible distance to its suppliers, helping to reduce costs of transporting wardrobe to It’s A Wrap!’s warehouse, which is also in Burbank. The store’s location is central to its customer base as well, as its proximity to three major freeways makes driving to It’s A Wrap! convenient and quick.
What is the background of the entrepreneur?
Tiara comes from a long line of entrepreneurs as far back as her great-grandfather who came to America from England after World War II and opened his own toy store called Ted’s Toy and Hobby Shop. Ensuing generations would follow in this spirit of entrepreneurship, as Tiara’s grandfather, uncle, and mother eventually started businesses of their own. In particular, Tiara’s mom, Janet Hallman Dion, was greatly influenced by this entrepreneurial environment, which helped to instill a belief in her ability to own and manage her own business. In fact, the idea to retail wardrobe came from Janet, who established a partnership with a colleague in 1981 to open the original outlet selling wardrobe called Retake Room. However, after ten years of operation, the partnership turned sour and dissolved. Leaving the partnership but not her business concept, Janet started another store of her own, which would later be known as It’s A Wrap! Production Wardrobe Sales.
The fact that she inherits a family history of entrepreneurs would not be lost on Tiara, as she too would follow the career path of her predecessors. Even as a child, Tiara had demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit, from selling lemonade in the park to selling hand-made mistletoe decorations at Christmas. She was twelve years old when her mom created the Retake Room, giving Tiara early exposure to the retail and entertainment industries. The combination of family influence and early exposure to entrepreneurship were critical factors that made Tiara gravitate towards this field. She commented that she "felt comfortable with it" and that it "felt right" for her to become an entrepreneur herself.
As an undergraduate at the Marshall School of Business at USC, she enrolled in the Entrepreneur Program and graduated in 1992. Tiara believed that the program was an invaluable learning experience and has prepared her for what she would encounter in her own startup. This preparation included various activities from learning how to write a business plan to looking to the past and the future and to acquiring the lingo and knowledge specific to her field. Especially noteworthy in this program were the entrepreneurs and experts in the industry who shared their true-to-life stories and offered their practical advice and personal insights. She credited this education as being one of the most useful learning experiences she has ever had--and one that she continues to draw from.
During the summer prior to her graduation, Tiara interned for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. While her friends went vacationing in Europe, Tiara remained in Los Angeles to work and attend a two-week training course in sales. From this experience she learned the value of persistence and the power of being a good salesperson. "Never taking the first ‘no’ as a no," Tiara has the quality of firm tenacity without being overly aggressive. As an example, if a potential supplier declined to sell her the company’s wardrobe, she would probe to uncover the reasons behind the "no" in an attempt to address the person’s hesitation. She does not give up, because she sincerely believes in what she is selling. She maintains that having the ability to sell is critical in one’s life, since all actions inevitably involve some type of selling or persuading others to "buy into" your product, whether it is a good, a service, your skills, or your ideas.
The establishment of It’s A Wrap! represented Tiara’s first foray into the entrepreneurial world as well as a continuation of the Hallman tradition of startups. She was present at the store’s inception in 1991 during her last year in college and was made a partner in the business shortly after. Upon graduation, she began working at It’s A Wrap! immediately, accepting no opportunity to take a break between school and complete immersion into a full-time career. Tiara was quick to mention that the partnership arrangement was far from being a "sweet deal," as she started with minimal money, lived at home, and received no pay for the first year and a half of work. With sheer determination, Tiara and Janet "worked at it together to make it what it is today," a company that has grown from a tiny 800 square-foot shop to its current operation that brought in over $1.2 million in revenues in 1997.
How did the entrepreneur get the idea for starting business?
As previously mentioned, the original idea to sell movie clothing to the public was developed by Tiara’s mother, Janet. It was during the early 1980s that many companies were downsizing their work force, and Janet was one such employee caught in this wave. After she was laid off from her job at CBS Studios, an executive at the studio asked her to run an auction for the company and offered to hire her back at less pay. Janet refused to work for less pay, but agreed to run the auction. Witnessing the studio sell their wardrobe for small amounts of money, Janet saw a valuable business opportunity to take these clothes and sell them at retail to the general public.
What did the entrepreneur do to start this business?
Since the concept to sell wardrobe at retail began with Janet who brought the idea to life, It’s A Wrap! has its origins in the first shop, Retake Room, that she started as a partnership with her colleague from CBS Studios. The two partners opened this store in February 1981 in Studio City, where they sold clothing in a space of 800 square-feet. After a decade of operating a profitable business together, the relationship between the two became increasingly disagreeable, resulting in an eventual disassociation on unfavorable terms.
Unable to continue working with her partner, in November 1991, Janet decided to open another store on 2705 West Burbank Boulevard in Burbank under the same company name. During this initial startup, Tiara, now in her last year at USC, remained on hand at this new location to provide assistance to her mom. As she became involved in the store’s operations, she learned the particulars of the business and gained an understanding of how the retail and entertainment industries operated. This experience in the field and the interaction with people in the industry helped Tiara build a familiarity and knowledge of a business that she had only previously observed from a distance.
In March 1992, Janet’s partnership in the Retake Room legally dissolved. The split was a rather abrupt one, since Janet essentially left the entire business with her partner, taking none of the files, client phone numbers, wardrobe, or other assets with her. Without delay, Janet and Tiara started their own company on April 1st with an entirely new operation. The store that they opened had no name yet, and it was not until mid-April that the name "It’s A Wrap!" was conceived for the new store as a result of a customer’s suggestion.
After Tiara graduated from USC in May of the same year, she made the decision to go into business with her mother at It’s A Wrap! instead of following the usual path to go to work for a company. In July, Tiara became a legal partner with Janet in It’s A Wrap! holding a 50 percent share of profits and losses. Tiara’s first actions as partner were to contact studios and production companies to ask if they were willing to sell their wardrobe. Thus began Tiara’s ongoing efforts to build relationships with clients.
The date, May 1993, marked a turning point for the business when It’s A Wrap! received its first media coverage on Channel 5 News at 10. This story helped to build the store’s credibility and prompted Tiara to jump on the media band wagon and initiate her own publicity campaign for the business. Her work paid off, as the store received subsequent media spots that included a string of news stories on television channels from 2 to 13 and news coverage on CNN. Later, Tiara would make an appearance on The Oprah Show in May 1996 to display the store’s variety of clothing to a national audience.
In May 1994, two years after initial startup, Tiara wrote a business plan for It’s A Wrap!. During this time, Tiara was making plans to move the business to a larger store, which would require huge financing. With this in mind, she drafted the business plan to be presented to a banker in request of a loan. As it turned out, the loan officer was less concerned with the plan itself than with the company’s financial information, and in the end, her application was denied. Not to be defeated, Tiara turned to other sources to finance major purchases, which included personal credit cards, charge accounts, and internal funds. In commenting on the process of writing the business plan, Tiara admitted that the plan helped to align her thoughts on the company’s current situation and future plans. However, she did not believe that writing the plan was a crucial step in the startup of It’s A Wrap!.
After months of planning and preparation, It’s A Wrap! moved to its present location on 3315 West Magnolia Boulevard on July 1, 1994, and held its grand opening. With the old store closing down just the night before, Tiara and her crew worked all through the night to make the transition smooth and seamless for its customers. The new building, approximately five times larger than the old store, was a 50 percent lease-purchase with the option to buy after one year. After deciding that the market in Burbank was secure enough to remain in this location, the partners made the investment the following year.
In June 1996, two years after the store’s expansion, It’s A Wrap! reached another milestone when it successfully obtained a $100,000 line of credit with Wells Fargo Bank. This credit gave them more spending power, enabled the store to purchase more wardrobes and upgrade its facilities and helped build financial creditability.
In May 1997, It’s A Wrap! leased a 3,000 square-foot warehouse in Burbank in order to accommodate the increasing amount of wardrobes that it was receiving. Up to this point, inventory had been stored in public storage bins. As more companies began entrusting their wardrobes to It’s A Wrap!, the store needed larger storage space to receive and hold large and consistent shipments of merchandise.
In the following July, It’s A Wrap! was incorporated with Tiara and Janet as officers of the company. Although they are no longer the business’ legal partners, the two entrepreneurs still work as diligently as ever and consider each as other as equal partners in the venture.
Today, in 1998, Tiara is contemplating the idea of expanding the business even further by adding a new location in Century City. Already, she has sent out questionnaires to gauge the potential demand and has received positive feedback thus far. In support of this possible plan for expansion, Tiara foresees that she will be writing a new business plan for It’s A Wrap! within the next twelve months.
What major problems did the entrepreneur encounter during the startup of this business?
Tiara found that one of her initial problems during the startup of It’s A Wrap! involved losing contacts with many suppliers. After spending considerable time to develop a relationship with someone, she would unexpectedly discover that the person had moved to another city or company. Janet likened these contacts to "gypsies," as she explained that production companies often set up tent somewhere, make a movie, and quickly move on. Other companies may be bought by big studios and thus, dissolved. People in the industry come and go frequently and without notice, at times they stay for a year before moving on to another company. This was an extremely frustrating experience for Tiara because she was forced to begin new searches for contacts and to re-establish relationships with suppliers. The inconstancy of her contacts imposed formidable obstacles for the business especially during startup, as the company was just beginning to establish a name for itself.
Another difficulty concerned the acrimonious terms under which Janet had left the partnership at Retake Room. When the relationship severed, Janet left the business to the other partner, complete with all the files and telephone numbers. Starting another retail store under different ownership required Janet and Tiara to distinguish the new store from the old one so that no confusion would arise from customers and suppliers. However, this challenge was further complicated by the ex-partner’s efforts to bash It’s A Wrap! by sending slanderous videotapes and letters to major studios and independent production companies. Although unsuccessful for the most part, these attacks have occasionally created confusion for It’s A Wrap!’s clients.
How were those problems solved?
To resolve the issue of lost contacts, Tiara stayed updated on the latest events in the industry. She made an effort to keep informed of the latest film productions and spent as much time as possible developing contacts with these new movie suppliers. This required that she dedicate a substantial amount of time on the phone nearly every day to secure new accounts and to keep studios and production companies aware of It’s A Wrap!’s business.
As for the telephone numbers of clients that were left behind with the old partner, Tiara worked to inform clients about It’s A Wrap! and their new location as quickly as possible. Deciding that the store needed to project a more professional image, Tiara created letterheads and business cards to be sent out to all prior, existing, and potential clients. In addition, Tiara frequently took her clients out for lunch meetings as a method of building stronger relationships.
The situation concerning the personal attacks by the ex-partner against It’s A Wrap! remains ongoing. Although she has sought legal assistance to prohibit the ex-partner’s behavior, Tiara has discovered that little could be done to resolve the issue, short of pulling her clients into the fray. Even as of this writing, Tiara has learnt of yet another letter that was recently sent out to a major studio to discredit her personally. She has yet to take any forceful action, as she hopes that the matter will eventually work itself out. As a buffer against potential harm, It’s A Wrap!, throughout the years, has earned a reputation among industry participants for being easy to work with and reliable. The fact that many studios and companies are giving It’s A Wrap! repeat business is evidence that Tiara’s relationship-building efforts and attention to quality service have not been wasted.
Who did the entrepreneur use for help and guidance during the startup of this business?
Tiara looked foremost to her business partner and mother, Janet, for guidance. Janet’s prior experience in this line of business provided a valuable resource to Tiara, who often consulted her for advice and suggestions. Their interaction extended beyond the traditional mother-daughter relationship, as their familiarity with each other helped to strengthen their working relationship and build a solid foundation of mutual trust and respect. They often used each other as a springboard for ideas and threw ideas back and forth at each other to find ways to improve their business.
Her boyfriend Dominic was also a key supporter during the critical startup phase. He encouraged her to pursue her general interest in business and in this particular entrepreneurial venture. He made certain that Tiara carried out all the goals that she had set for herself. He was unwavering in his confidence and emotional support at times when she would become mentally exhausted under the strain of assuming most of the management and operational responsibilities. Now her business associate at It’s A Wrap!, Dominic continues to be a reliable source of assistance and understanding.
What advice would the entrepreneur give to someone thinking about starting a business?
The first piece of advice that Tiara offers to aspiring entrepreneurs is to write a business plan. Much different and more effective than simply thinking or talking about action steps, committing your ideas to paper forces you to think through issues that you would not normally think about unless you were actually writing a business plan. This process helps to solidify several broad issues in your mind, such as what you want in your business, where you want to go, and where you are at the moment. It helps you to discover whether the business will work with your lifestyle and your financial life, and whether the business will provide you with the things you need. The business plan also helps you to see reality by forcing you to deal with practical issues like financial planning and feasibility studies.
Tiara also stresses the importance of recognizing where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you are not strong in a particular area, she suggests forcing yourself to learn about it and to make a dedicated effort to improve. For her, she admits that she is not particularly strong with financial numbers, which explains why Janet’s primary responsibility is to manage the store’s finances and cash flow. Rather than ignoring this aspect of the business, Tiara makes herself become more involved in the company’s finances and acquire at least a working understanding of the numbers. Tiara also adds that remaining strong in your strengths is just as important as shoring up on weaknesses. Realize what you do well and stick to your core competencies.
Lastly, Tiara emphasizes getting in touch with people in your industry. These contacts will help you throughout your entrepreneurial career, not only as a way to open yourself up to future opportunities, but also as a means to seek advice from people in the industry and from whom you can learn through an exchange of ideas and experiences. As a related suggestion, Tiara advises entrepreneurs to stay abreast of their industry. Stay knowledgeable by reading newspapers and business-oriented magazines, such as Wall Street Journal and Inc. Magazine.
Why was the entrepreneur successful at getting into business?
In listening to Tiara’s story, it was not hard to identify key characteristics and environmental influences that have contributed to her success as an entrepreneur. From a search perspective, in which entrepreneurial activity is viewed as a search for ideas from a vast set of possibilities, Tiara’s persistence has been a virtue that has enabled her to continually pursue different avenues and find ways to create value for her customers and suppliers. She never accepts an initial "no" for an answer, rather, she sees the response as an opportunity to learn more about her clients and how to better meet their needs. Knowing the information behind their decisions has expanded her knowledge base and thus her space of available ideas, from which she is able to scan for creative ideas and choose among feasible options. During the startup of It’s A Wrap!, her tenacity has been the glue that held everything together, especially during the first years of startup when the store experienced more than its usual share of difficulties from Janet’s ex-partner’s efforts to deliberately discredit the company.
Being a good listener has been an important element in Tiara’s search for ideas. She is attuned to her environment and the people in her work and social spheres. Her ability to recognize business opportunities has been made possible through careful listening to what others have to say. She learns from a broad spectrum of people, from the diverse speakers in the Entrepreneur Program to her business partner and employees. She is responsive to the concerns of others and makes it a point to stay in touch with her customers, either by directly asking for their input or by simply talking with them casually in the store. By being attentive to details, Tiara has been able to identify areas in which she could take her business to a new level or improve an existing situation.
Tiara’s preparedness to take advantage of new opportunities also facilitates her continuous search process. Her background is filled with examples of actions that Tiara has undertaken to prepare her for the entrepreneurial world. Her exposure to entrepreneurship as a child helped to instill a type of mind-set that encouraged both creativity and hard work. She became a young student of entrepreneurship by watching her mom work at the Retake Room and learning from her experiences. Later, her years at USC provided a more formal education, equipping her with the analytical tools and skills needed to bring a business concept to life. Even from her personal interest in clothes and fashion to her internship at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, her experiences as well as a prepared mind have made her ready to exploit opportunities as they arise, making her search for workable ideas seem almost effortless and natural.
Certain psychological attributes become evident in Tiara that lend a better understanding of her achievements. The most obvious quality that one immediately observes is her ability to communicate well with others on all levels, whether with clients or customers in a casual or professional setting. She understands the importance of being able to effectively articulate one’s idea or product. As part owner of It’s A Wrap!, one of her many responsibilities includes procuring new business as well as developing relations with existing clients. This task requires her to perform many social functions, a role that comes naturally to her since she enjoys meeting with people. She also assumes the management role of overseeing the crew at the store, and her unassuming demeanor and ability to relate to others has allowed her to communicate her vision for the business to all employees.
A relentless curiosity combined with an open-mindedness toward new and different perspectives is another quality that typifies this entrepreneur. Tiara not only is one to question her environment, but she also tries to actively pursue the answer until she arrives at a satisfying explanation. She welcomes new ideas and input from all sources and seeks to increase her knowledge in different things. As a way to extend the type of learning that she received in the Entrepreneur Program, Tiara has joined Town Hall of Los Angeles, a speaker’s forum that invites various notable figures from all over the world to talk with members of this organization. Recommending these events to everyone, Tiara sees these series of speakers as an invaluable opportunity to hear from a large pool of diverse viewpoints who speak on different topics, some of the past speakers include Elizabeth Dole, Larry King, and Magic Johnson.
Other attributes that provide fuel for Tiara’s actions are a passion for her work and a solid belief in her product. Her drive remains unfazed by the hard work and long hours that she must commit to the business because she thoroughly enjoys her work. She has effectively combined her knowledge of the retail and entertainment industries, her skill in sales, and her love of clothes to create a business that is consistent with her lifestyle and interests. What results is a fierce passion and vigor for a business concept that is matched in intensity by a strong belief in what she does and what she offers to her customers.
From a social perspective, Tiara has been fortunate to be raised in a family that encouraged and supported independent thinking and action. Although she believes that entrepreneurship is both something a person is born with and learns later in life, she asserts that this ability hinges more on what a person is exposed to in life. Tiara attributes her own entrepreneurial proclivity to being exposed to her mom’s business all her life, turning her onto a way of thinking that is grounded in the principle of doing something for herself and working hard to make it succeed. The guidance and unwavering support that she received from her family to start her own business helped to create an external environment that was nurturing to her entrepreneurial imagination.
Having been set up in an entrepreneurial situation for the majority of her life, Tiara has worked to maintain the same type of working environment at It’s A Wrap! that she has grown accustomed to and believes is necessary for the business’ success. Believing that good customer service begins with the employees, she establishes relationships based on mutual respect with all her employees. Everyone at It’s A Wrap! is treated as equal. In a line of business that allows merchandise only sixty days to liquidate, the entire crew must work closely and cohesively together in order to inventory, process, price, steam, tag and put the merchandise on the floor in a timely manner. Tiara often looks to her employees for their suggestions for improvement and input on the customers. It is not surprising that the family-like working atmosphere that she has cultivated for her business at It’s A Wrap! has, in turn, become a source of inspiration and creative energy for Tiara.
- Angela Chan