Assembly New York, the brainchild of designer and entrepreneur Greg Armas, is part clothing store, part design label. Assembly New York began as a menswear retailer on Ludlow Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side in 2008 before branching out into women’s clothing in 2011. The brand opened its Los Angeles location on the city’s iconic Melrose Avenue in 2015.
Assembly offers its clientele a truly distinctive retail experience. The stores feature a limited number of garments from established and emerging designers from around the world, in addition to items from Assembly’s own ready-to-wear collections. The garments sold at both locations are presented alongside select vintage items and objets d’art—a delicate balance of old and new; luxury and accessibility.
Since opening its doors, the Assembly New York brand has undergone almost as many changes as the store's Lower East Side neighborhood. And keeping pace with the changes hasn’t always been easy.
Growing out of DIY inventory management
In the early days of Assembly New York, the demographics and overall feel of the store’s Lower East Side neighborhood were drastically different from what they are today.
For the store, that meant having to continually rethink how to position the brand’s merchandise without compromising on the brand’s aesthetic and creative vision. It also forced the Assembly team to consider how to elevate the sophistication of the space while maintaining its sense of accessibility.
Ale Tarver has managed Assembly New York’s Ludlow Street space for the past three years. During that time, Ale has overseen every aspect of the store's operations, from training new staff to managing a new point-of-sale (POS) system, so we sat down with her to discuss how she navigated all of these changes.
"We've seen a rise in clientele with the neighborhood. More affluent people are coming in, whereas before it would be kind of cool people who are into luxury but not that into the fuzziness of it, so Assembly was their little place to come because we have nice stuff, but it would be more approachable," explains Ale.
As customer demands and expectations change, there's been a need to organize a bit more, and using Shopify has definitely helped with that.
Switching from QuickBooks POS to Shopify POS
"As customer demands and expectations change, there's been a need to organize a bit more, and using Shopify has definitely helped with that," Ale says.
For the first several years, Assembly New York relied on QuickBooks POS to manage sales, as well as a range of disparate systems for other essential tasks. However, as the store’s popularity grew and the brand became more recognizable, it quickly became apparent that the store’s piecemeal approach to managing day-to-day operations wasn’t sustainable.
Prior to joining the Assembly New York team, Ale didn’t understand the complexities of managing a retail store. Ale’s predecessor showed her the ropes, but it was still a tough transition.
"Getting a grip on all that needs to be done in the store—from training staff to making sure the floor looks presentable, to making sure inventory is organized and clean, and making sure that everybody on the team is pulling their effort into doing what needs to be done to maintain this base—that took a lot of adjustment," Ale recalls.
One of the biggest adjustments Ale had to deal with was how to manage Assembly’s growing inventory. With limited resources, an online store, and two retail locations in Los Angeles and New York, keeping track of which items were available at which location was painful.
“When I first started, there were always problems with inventory,” Ale says. “We're a small business with a small team, in two locations, and it's difficult to allocate resources and try to push sales in both ways. Our New York inventory is tied with the web inventory; essentially, what's online is at least 95% of what we have in the inventory here, and then L.A. has a separate inventory account through Shopify, so they manage their own inventory.”
Having it all together here on the Shopify platform, that's been very helpful in the day-to-day operations. Now, we maybe do one or two manual inventories a year with periodic checks here and there. But overall, we haven't had the issues that we've had in the past with things being counted or processed incorrectly or sold incorrectly.
Managing seasonal collections and a dynamic inventory
Shopify’s inventory management tools haven’t just simplified Ale’s life as store manager. They've also proved invaluable as Assembly New York has grown. As the brand’s own collection has gradually expanded, Shopify’s inventory tools have allowed Ale and her team to scale their operations in a lean, responsive way.
Especially with the growth of the Assembly Collection, using the different categories for the product input has been very, very helpful in Shopify, because the interface is very intuitive. We've been able to control our inventory, check on what we have, see what's left over to liquidate or to sell, or to move on to the next season.
Shopify’s inventory management tools have helped Ale and her team to not only manage the store’s products more effectively but also learn more about exactly what the store’s clientele expects.
"We're an established brand, but we're still learning every season what works and what doesn't work for people. Even just having a dialogue about how people's experiences with the clothes that they already purchased, that's something that's important for our curation and how we know what works for people," says Ale.
Shopify POS and its backend reporting has helped us analyze our business, and understand which collections are doing well. Being able to have one system where every aspect of the store is put together from the transactions, reading into the backend, to the website—that's been really, really helpful.
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Staff training made easy with Shopify POS
As the brand has grown, Shopify has grown along with it to meet the brand’s needs and to reach new customers. Assembly has introduced and subsequently retired collections, new staff has joined and left, and fashion’s fickle trends have come and gone. Throughout it all, Shopify has helped Ale and her team adapt to those changes.
“I really think doing everything in Shopify was the biggest change, because there's been staff turnover, that kind of thing,” Ale says. “There's always a big difference when you have new people coming to the store with different experience to take over certain roles, but I think having the website and our physical inventory tied together in one program that has been really the biggest thing that has affected the workflow, and something that we work towards all together.”
Migrating to Shopify didn’t just make it easier for shop staff to keep track of which items were available at any given time. It also made it much easier for the staff themselves to get up to speed on a new system quickly with minimal disruption.
“We like hiring creative people for staff because they're just more fun to talk to and hang out with,” Ale explains. “It's more fun to shop that way, but a lot of creative people don't necessarily want to sit in front of a computer and try to figure a program out.”
Shopify’s intuitive user interface means that Ale can spend less time training staff on how to use the system, and more time taking care of Assembly’s customers and overseeing the store’s operations. Ale’s staff can also focus on doing what they do best.
Now I'm free to hire more creative people because we have an easy program to use. Our staff are great at merchandising and styling, without worrying so much about the nitty-gritty of the numbers and formatting a spreadsheet, which is what you'd have to do with Quickbooks.
Looking to the future of fashion
For Ale, Shopify’s simplicity has been key to growing the Assembly retail brand. Fashion retail is challenging enough as it is, which makes choosing a reliable commerce platform crucial for growing online brands getting into physical retail.
Shopify makes Ale’s job easier and allows her and her team to provide Assembly's clientele with the attentive, personalized shopping experience they expect.
"Having things broken down by category, by vendor, looking at units––I have a physical picture of the space, and I also have a digital picture of the space. Having those two images has really helped me be able to know what I'm doing, and that helps me communicate better to staff to give them tasks to do, and to teach them exactly what needs to be done to provide the best service, and maintain the integrity of the shopping experience here," Ale explains.
Shopify's unified back end has made it easier for Ale and her team to stay on top of Assembly's constantly changing selection of luxury garments and vintage gems. But it has also enabled the brand to set its sights higher and envision the next chapter of Assembly's journey.
“We've been here 10 years,” Ale says. “This neighborhood didn't look like this 10 years ago, but we've been very fortunate in the way the city has changed. That this neighborhood is now somewhere where people, our clients, are living and traveling and wanting to be in, because it's kind of like a clubhouse I guess, that's why I like it. The New York store has always been the foundation of the Assembly business, and I don't think that's going to change anytime in the near future.”
If you're a fashion retailer looking for a point-of-sale solution to help with your inventory management needs, find out if Shopify POS is right for you.