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PROFILE: Julie Goldman Rolled Out the Original Runner Company to Instant Success

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Julie Goldman and QB Community Leader Leslie Barber cozy up at QB Connect 2017 in San Jose Julie Goldman and QB Community Leader Leslie Barber cozy up at QB Connect 2017 in San Jose

Name: Julie Goldman

Business: Original Runner Company

Launched: 2003

Location: Bridal shop in Livingston, NJ

A couple decades ago, when Julie Goldman was planning her wedding, she wanted to walk down the aisle on a beautiful runner. She needed something that suited a Victorian mansion and complemented the autumnal colors she loved. Julie quickly discovered her only options were plastic tablecloths made for kids’ birthday parties or flimsy paper that could easily rip or wrinkle. So Julie made her own runner, painstakingly designing, painting, tea-staining and decorating every inch of it by hand. After the event, photos of the stunning runner were posted online – and then Julie’s phone started ringing. Within a month, she had a website, clients and – wait for it – the opportunity to make the runner for the nationally televised Bachelorette wedding. Since that auspicious beginning, business has continued to boom for Julie and her Original Runner Company. She tells us about her unexpected foray into the wedding industry and how staying nimble helps her business thrive in a highly competitive market.

This interview is based on Julie’s conversation with QB Community Leader Leslie Barber at QB Connect 2017 in San Jose.

Julie, a month after launching your business, one of your runners made a grand entrance during a televised wedding seen by millions of people. Talk about marketing! How did you get that amazing opportunity?

I’d been in business for about two weeks. Back then, it was just me alone in a studio apartment in Manhattan. The phone rang. It was the event planner for a brand new TV show on Lifetime. She wanted a runner that said, "And they lived happily ever after."

Around the same time, the stars of The Bachelorette were getting married in a televised event. Someone I knew who worked in reality television got me the name of the production company. I called and offered to donate a runner for the wedding. They said no. When I told them I had just done a wedding for Lifetime, suddenly, they were interested!

That’s incredible. Was there a business lesson you learned from this experience?

I think entrepreneurs need to recognize the power of “the ask.” We should never be afraid to ask for an opportunity. If you want it, you have to go after it. I’ve heard it takes seven tries before you get a “yes,” and I do believe that's true. I pursue. There are many big vendors I've been pursuing for years that I’m finally closing deals with. That feels awesome.

When I started the business, I looked at companies in the events space that I respected and were doing amazing things. I would call them up and say, "Listen. We're not competition. I'm a new company. How did you do this?" I would say 90% were extremely receptive and really, really helpful.

Your business model is based largely on partnerships. Are there any particular rewards or challenges when working with so many vendors?

My very first partner was Mindy Weiss, one of the most famous event planners in the world. Not a day after I’d booked The Bachelorette wedding, Mindy called me about working together. Fifteen years later, we're still doing events together.

Today, I'd say about 85% of our business is vendor-based. We sell mostly to event planners, florists, venues, corporate accounts and colleges. We do sell direct-to-bride, but that’s a smaller client base. From a business perspective, counting on brides to come back because they’re getting remarried is not the most lucrative option! Vendors are my repeat customers.

I love working with all-inclusive venues, too. We have an exclusive license arrangement with Disney World. You can’t do aisle runners with the Disney castle, Cinderella or anything Disney-related unless it's through our company. We do close to 700 weddings a year with Disney alone.

We work very, very closely with all our vendors and clients because this is very much a relationship-based business. Most of our clients have been with us at least ten years. They know they can call me last minute, and we will get the job done. It will be beautiful, and it will be on time.

The Original Runner Company is known for giving great customer service. Is that a priority for you?

Providing incredible customer service is really important. Here’s an example.

A while ago, we had a wedding-planner vendor who forgot to order the runner. We created something very quickly for her, and it was really beautiful. We FedExed it on a Tuesday. The wedding was on Saturday. Now it’s Friday and the runner is MIA.

We had an all-hands-on-deck. Every painter in my studio was hand-painting another version of this runner. We got it in the mail overnight. It arrived at 10:00 on Saturday morning – and so did the one that got lost. The wedding planner went on Instagram and every other social media platform and said, "This company is so unbelievably insane with their customer service." The bride told everyone we’d saved the day.

Sometimes you have to go above and beyond. It cost us a few hundred dollars, and it was stressful for everyone at the time, but now we’ve made a client for life. The vendor said, "From now on, you are a line item in every wedding I do." I think that's really the relationship -- she knows she can count on us. You have to come through every single time.

That’s an amazing story. Julie, over the years, you’ve rebranded ORC from selling products for weddings to offering runners for all of life’s “grand entrances.” Tell us about the shift.

We talk a lot about the importance of “pivoting” in business. In the beginning, I thought I was creating a company that would service weddings. Now, we do everything from bat mitzvahs to quinceañeras to corporate events. We do convocations or orientations at colleges. People buy runners to protect the floor in open houses.

Our runners help direct traffic, too. If you want people to steer a crowd toward lunch, we’ll make a giant runner with "Eat" on it. In that sense, we’re offering a clever way of doing signage. Sometimes, you just have to think outside the box and figure out how your product could be used in new ways.

Last question. By all accounts, ORC is a wildly successful business. Julie, how you define success?

I think success is often misinterpreted. People think success is a purely financial thing, and it isn't. Success can be, "I've grown the business to this scale" or "I've distributed my product this far across the world." Or it can be about giving back. The founder of Warby Parker giving millions of eyeglasses to needy people around the world, and I think he's successful as hell.

Here’s something that will help you recognize your own success. When you've been in business for one year, take out a calendar. Write down something great that had happened during each month of the year. If you’ve achieved something every single month for 12 months straight, you’re pretty damn successful.

I go through moments of doubt myself. I'm a slightly seasonal business, and when we're not in bridal season, I can be complaining to my husband every night that I’m failing. But deep down know I’m successful because I have done so many amazing things over the last 15 years, and I've had such great opportunity because of this business.

I have to say, for me, success would be to never see a paper or plastic aisle runner in a wedding ever again. It's a tripping hazard, it’s garbage and it’s dangerous. So that’s my real goal in life: to make sure nobody ever trips coming down the aisle.

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