Women in Business: Brooke Richman, Founder of Coop & Spree

05/01/2015 11:29 am ET | Updated May 01, 2016

coop & spree is the brainchild of founder and CEO Brooke S. Richman, who graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. Brooke then worked at Citigroup as a Credit Sector Specialist, covering high grade & high yield retail companies before leaving Citi to work as a buyer for Theory & Helmut Lang. Knowing she wanted to open her own retail venture, Brooke wrote her business plan at Columbia Business School, where she graduated with an MBA in 2013.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Coop + Spree?
Working at both Citigroup and Theory/Helmut Lang were critical in equipping me to run coop & spree. At Citigroup, as part of the sales & trading analyst program, I worked on the CSS (credit sector specialist) desk where I performed research for high yield and high grade retail credits. I garnered the business acumen needed to run c&s from the corporate side. At Theory/Helmut, where I was a full price women's retail buyer, I developed the skill set needed in overseeing all of coop & spree's buying and merchandising.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Coop + Spree?
Challenges: definitely the entire construction process! Completely revamping a piece of property in downtown new york city is no easy feat - so I'm thankful that's completed. With that being said, a key highlight for me was our grand opening - to see the entire store come to life - from an idea to a tangible reality was really special. I've also loved working with, and cultivating relationships, with my employees - we've really become a tight knit c&s family. It's extra fun to come to work every day and genuinely love the people you're surrounded by.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business, particularly in retail?
Don't be afraid to ask for help - the only silly questions are the ones never asked (as trite as that sounds)! Also, make sure to leverage all the different sorts of relationships in your life (friends, family, past co-workers & teachers, peers etc) - people definitely want you to succeed and are rooting for you - you would be surprised to see how much people genuinely want to help your endeavor (even if they don't necessarily have expertise in your particular line of work). As with any industry, but particularly in the fast-paced climate of the retail world, don't be afraid of the hustle: embrace it. People will respect your drive and will be more likely to want to do business with you.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Since I absolutely love what I'm doing, I don't really consider my position at c&s under the traditional sphere of 'work.' I love wake up every morning since I'm excited to start my day - whether it be attending buying appointments or working on the sales floor. I also have a great team at c&s who I'm able to delegate a lot of roles and responsibilities to - they make it a lot easier for me to ensure that I am living as balanced as possible for a young entrepreneur.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship at Theory/Helmut Lang, in particular, was critical to my personal and professional growth - my mentors at Theory/Helmut were instrumental in developing my skills as a buyer and in shaping how I approached working with my colleagues. After Theory/Helmut Lang, I stayed close to my mentors - who have done everything from write my business school recommendations to serving as a sounding board for my business. My mentors have become extremely close friends of mine personally - and people who I trust and value immensely in my private life. It was definitely helpful to me to have such strong mentors when forming my business since their advice and unyielding support always helped to keep me on track and focused.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
My mom is the female business woman and leader who I admire and respect most; she was a trailblazer in corporate America starting in the 1970s, serving as the first female Vice President of Marketing at a major, global consumer products company (to boot, she obtained her MBA at NYU's Stern School with Beta Gamma Sigma honors while working full-time). She has worked arduously every day of her life and has shown me, through her own example, that hard work and dedication will always pay off irrespective of gender. She continues to impress me till this day: she's currently an Ivy-league business school professor, a board member of a number of charities, and an active political fundraiser who is currently a presidential appointee, under President Barack Obama, to the PACA (the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Arts)

I also admire Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, the co-founders of SoulCycle, who turned what was once a single brick & mortar spinning location into an incredible brand and national phenomenon characterized by tremendous consumer loyalty. In addition to opening multiple SoulCycle studios across the country, they have leveraged their cult-like following beyond the spinning realm: they've created a tremendous retail brand and have positioned themselves as a major player in the luxury, lifestyle sphere. Ultimately, I really respect how Elizabeth & Julie have created the consummate experiential business which is what I aim to build at coop & spree.

What do you want Coop + Spree to accomplish in the next year?
In the next year, on a high level, I'm focused on learning more in detail about who our c&s customer is and what she, and her lifestyle, values. How does she interact with the world? Who does she follow on Instagram? How does she take in the news/the media? What does she do for fun? The answers to these questions will be instrumental in shaping our efforts to generate brand awareness and to drive traffic into the store. Ultimately, over the course of the next year, I'm steadfast in my aim to greater customer acquisition/ to building a robust client base. I also want to incorporate more digital aspects into the store, capitalizing on the digital styling phenomenon and incorporating some sort of app which will highlight key product, new designers, etc. and ultimately drive user engagement.