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Shopping for six hours a day would land most people in credit card debt, but Roxanne Hauldren has figured out a way to make it work for her. The former actress—currently ranked New York City's number two fashion tour guide on Trip Advisor—got her start taking friends of friends bargain-hunting in-between musical theater gigs. "I was always auditioning for roles and had to have nice outfits, but designer clothes were really expensive," she says. "So I found ways to scout sample sales and deals and dress really well for a great price."
Since she became a full-time shopping sherpa last year, Roxanne has struck up relationships with wholesalers, showrooms, and boutiques—which is why even native New Yorkers book Shop with Rox appointments for access to $20 Michael Kors blazers and $3 enamel bangles (the same ones that sell for $60 at C. Wonder).
We chatted with Roxanne about her very first client (an intimidating French lady), why this is really an extrovert's job ("essentially, I'm blind dating someone off the internet"), and how to best diffuse mother-daughter meltdowns.
You came to New York as a performer and singer! How did you get into giving personal shopping tours?
I was always auditioning for roles and had to have nice outfits, but designer clothes were really expensive. So I found ways to scout sample sales and deals and dress really well for a great price. People would ask, "Where'd you get that?"
I always had a lot of free time during the day because I was working non-traditional jobs, and I always wound up taking friends' and coworkers' moms and sisters around to shop.
I saw that people from my area, West Virgina, and even some New York women didn't know where to find good sales. They knew to go to Bloomingdales, they knew to go to Opening Ceremony, they knew the really big stores where they could walk in and find what they wanted, but they didn't necessarily know how to get the most bang for their buck. So I had this idea that I could do an off-the-beaten-path kind of personal shopping experience.
Do you remember the first time you did this? How did you get your first client?
I posted my services on Trip Advisor, I think I had one review, a friend of a friend who had shopped with me.
My first five or ten clients were free. I took them around shopping just to get my bearings. Essentially, I'm blind dating someone off the internet and spending three hours of time with them.
My first client was actually from Paris, which was super intimidating. I was like "Oh my god I'm from West Virginia, and you're from Paris, and I'm trying to tell you how to shop in New York." She had been to New York four or five times, and I was like, "Oh yeah, well have you been to Williamsburg?" So we spent the day in Williamsburg and we shopped for everything. We went to Brooklyn Denim Supply and got awesome jeans. She even took some chocolate home from Mast Brothers.
How long is your typical shopping trip?
Three hours is the average. I do bill by the hour, so sometimes I'll have someone say, "I want to bill six hours and replace my entire wardrobe."
I'm best known as the deal diva. I will help you replace your wardrobe as affordably as I can, you tell me what stores you shop at in your hometown or even here in New York, what brands you like, and then we go after similar pieces.
Where can a customer expect to go on one of your tours?
My tours are a combination of sample sales, wholesale showrooms and brick and mortar stores. I have a lot of partnerships with wholesale rooms in the Garment District, so, for instance, you can get a Michael Kors leather jacket for $200 instead of $500 if you buy it wholesale.
How did you get that access?
A big Southern smile! My first year of doing this, it was a lot of proving to these people that I was bringing in customers who would spend money. They're not just going to let me in to wander around.
They have, like, Vince Camuto, Nine West, Michael Kors. I just got a girl a $240 Walter blazer for 20 bucks.
We'll go to about three showrooms—maybe they'll get a jacket, a blazer and a dress—and then we'll shop along 29th where there's a lot of great jewelry places. I had a client who saw some awesome enamel bracelets at C. Wonder for $60 and we ended up getting the same bracelets from a wholesaler at around $3 apiece. So it's just comparing, and that's where I come in—doing the research on what you already like and trying to find you something unique from New York for a much lower price point.
Do you do this full time?
I do. I was able to make this my full-time career last year.
A lot of New Yorkers use your service! How do you help them?
I just recently took a woman who works at the U.N. shopping. She lives in Williamsburg and she wanted to have a fun wardrobe for after work. She was like, "look, I know how to dress at work, I know where to find button-up shirts and black pencil skirts."
It was the weekend wardrobe that she was struggling with. She wasn't interested in super-trendy outfits, but she wanted to look young and fun. So that's the market—unique pieces that aren't a bajillion dollars.
A lot of women want to amp up their wardrobe with jewelry, so I might introduce them to a designer like Erica Weiner—someone they didn't know about. I'd rather have them get one nice bracelet or make a necklace at Brooklyn Charm instead of going into H&M and buying a bunch of junk.
I know you mentioned you take your clients to sample sales. Do you get to go in before the crowds?
Not really. If it's a smaller showroom I'll tell them I'm stopping by. But as far as the big ones like J. Crew—yeah right. But I do go, and I scout to see what's going to work for the client. That way we can kind of get an idea before we go.
And honestly, a lot of the time—like the Barney's Warehouse Sale—the men really score, too. I had a woman yesterday with a boyfriend and I asked, "Do you want to take a half hour and go get a nice blazer for your boyfriend? There's nothing for you at the warehouse sale, but if he wants to go…" And she's like, "Yeah!" We got him a really nice blazer.
How many people usually shop with you, per week?
During the fall, we're super busy. Sometimes I'll have two three-hour sessions per day. I shop Monday through Friday mostly, because the stores are quieter; you get better attention, and you can go to the sample sales and the showrooms.
If I book someone on a Sunday I tell them that we're not going to be able to go to the Garment District because nothing will be open. But, for someone who's never been to New York, that's okay.
Where are most of your non-New-York clients from?
I would say London. I get a lot of Australians and a lot of Canadians, and, honestly, a lot of Americans, I've had almost one person from every state. I'm missing Idaho and South Dakota.
What kinds of deals do your clients go nuts for?
Everybody loves a great deal on any kind of jacket or blazer, and they love jeans.
People from other countries are most thankful for my help because I save them so much money. They'd go into, I don't know, Bloomingdale's and buy Joe's for $220. But I can take them to the Garment District, Joe's showroom and get them jeans for $50.
Instead of buying Theory pants from the Theory store maybe we'll go to Second Time Around and I get them awesome Theory pants that still have the tags on them for $40.
It's really just explaining how to be a smart New York shopper to these people from out of town. They don't realize that you can find great things at consignment shops—I mean these girls turning in clothes are sometimes editors from fashion magazines.
How much do people tell you about their personal style before you take them shopping?
They fill out a survey on my website, and if I don't get enough info from that we do a phone chat.
I'll ask, "What your favorite store at home? On average, how much do you spend on a pair of shoes? How much do you spend on a shirt? How old are you? What do you do for work?"
Size is very important, since most showrooms only go up to a size 12, but I do have plus size options. They're more limited, but there are one or two showrooms that work with plus size wholesale.
Has there been anything that someone has asked you to find that's been really difficult to track down?
I had someone searching for a vintage picnic basket—they really wanted like a '40s or '50s picnic basket. I did find them a great one at Pippin.
Also, people wanting to find a perfume for themselves. I've had a lot of women create a fragrance.
Do you give opinions?
I do. I really do. I've done this now for two years—I've been to Fashion Week every year, I went to Paris and London last year and I scouted the fashion scene there.
I'm really good with what is worth the price. Even if an item's on sale, it may be two seasons old, it may be poor quality.
Obviously I read the people, and they buy what they want in the end. But I really do try to help you use your money wisely. Maybe you're deliberating between two shirts or a really nice leather jacket. I'm going to convince you to get the jacket, because you're not going to be able to get it at that price. It's worth it. It's from New York you'll remember it. It's more about coaching people on what's current, what's a great price, what's a better fit. I'm honest with people when it's too tight or too small. In a nice way, but ultimately it's my business.
Are there any stores that are really crowd-pleasing?
The crowd pleasing stores change daily for who it is. If they're international they're wowed by different things.
Warm on the Lower East Side, people really love the inside, they just love the store. We do browsing, there's no pressure to buy.
People love a deal, and I think visiting the Garment District, for the first hour, people really love that. They don't understand wholesale, they don't know what that means, so seeing the behind-the-scenes part is really fun.
Do your friends make you take them shopping on your off days?
Um, every week. You have no idea, I've actually started to do a quarterly Shop with Rox. I'll say "Okay, we're gonna get some drinks, and then I'm going to take everybody to a place where we can all get a winter coat." Because otherwise, I'll end up taking 12 different people every week.
Also, some of my boutiques offer a little discount, like 10% off at Shoegasm or different places.
Is it difficult when you have a larger group, or maybe a family who's a little tired of traveling?
Yeah, I mean I have a background in entertaining and I love people, so I can read people really well. I've been with grandmas who need to sit down. So I know going in that we're going to have to stop at a coffee shop, and I just make it part of the tour.
I've seen a lot of meltdowns, a lot of mother-daughter meltdowns especially. I try to diffuse the situation. I just had a teen and her mom who I took took to the Scoop sample sale. The daughter picked up a dress and she didn't realize that even on sale it was like $700. She got stuck on this dress and I was like, "Well, you know, I don't think that's the best one we can get."
How much ground do you cover on a typical trip?
We definitely cover quite a bit of ground. We use the subway, and we walk. So I'm kind of giving you a short subway tutorial. But car service is optional. I discourage it because that's not what we do on an everyday basis.
I'd say we cover about four miles usually. Since we start in the Garment District, we'll usually hit Chelsea, a little bit of Nolita. But it's catered—if you need to end up somewhere else, I can take you back. I'm not going to leave you in the middle of nowhere.
Do people ever request special tours? Like "I want an all-vintage tour," or, "I want a Brooklyn tour"?
Absolutely. I have women who will absolutely not try on anything consignment. Fine. I have people who only want to do vintage, and we spend most of our day in the East Village, or in Brooklyn.
Roxanne has a deal to share with Racked readers! Mention Racked New York through January 2015 and she'll take 10% off your Shop with Rox tour.
· Shop with Rox [Official Site]
· Odd Jobs: What It's Like to Be a Professional Line Sitter [Racked NY]