After sixteen months of on and off closures, the world of retail is beginning to get back on its feet. Doors are reopening, production is getting back to normal and business may soon be back to where it once was.
We spoke with Carlos Ortiz, founder of lifestyle sales agency 8Point5 and veteran in the streetwear scene, about his last year, how the business has changed, what he's optimistic about, advice he'd give to new brands looking to get their foot in the door with retailers and of course, his go-to food spots in the city.
Hey Carlos! For those that may not be familiar with you, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Carlos Ortiz and I’m the founder of lifestyle sales and strategy agency 8point5. I got my start about ten years ago when I helped open and manage the first Livestock shop. After that, I started working for a distribution company that was run by the owner and helped open the Toronto office, managing brand accounts like The Hundreds, BBC, Alife and G Shock.
In 2019, I decided to go out on my own which is when I started 8point5. The name was taken from my shoe size. Luckily the guys I worked with before were encouraging and supportive of me taking some of the brands I had worked with previously and now I have G-Shock, Taikan, Jason Markk, Rizzoli Books, Baxter of California, Clae Footwear, House of Blanks and Toyo Street on my roster. We help these brands gain exposure in east coast Canada and get into a ton of the top boutiques and stores.
Really cool stuff! What would you say are the biggest differences being on your own now versus working for a larger company?
Great question! The biggest thing for me is that I have way more freedom now to work how I want and with the brands that I want. I also have a really great work-life balance now that I’m on my own which has helped a ton with my mental health, especially in the last year and a half. I've been able to get outside way more which I love and have gotten a better outlook on the city.
I will say though that it’s not always so easy being on your own. The ups feel great because I know they were all mine but the downs are tough when you don’t have a team behind you. It’s just a different game now.
That makes a lot of sense. Speaking of the last year and a half, what was it like for you and the business?
Man, I won’t lie, this last year was tough. There were a ton of manufacturing pauses which were difficult because in this business, you get paid when products ship. So, if nothing is shipping and you can’t complete orders, that really hurts on the revenue side. I also lost a couple brands during the pandemic simply because they couldn’t operate.
Everything in terms of operations and strategy really changed. I wasn’t able to rent showroom spaces and have people come through anymore so like many others, it was a lot of Zoom calls but that just isn’t the same because people need to feel the product to truly understand it. So that was hard.
On the bright side, I grew a lot and many of my strategies have developed. I’m now more particular about the brands I work with and stay away from seasonal brands which means I can focus on “at-once” brands that can always ship and help me grow when I need to. I’ve also built my network and started helping other retailers develop their e-commerce and digital businesses which has helped them as well as me. If the stores are operating better, it drives more business for me and my brands.
As hard as it all was, I think the pandemic brought out the good in everyone and brought the community together.
It’s interesting to hear how your perspective has changed. In addition to focusing on at-once brands, how else does 8point5 choose which brands to take on now?
Portfolio Alignment: For me it’s important to ensure that all of the brands we carry can sit together so that shops can get multiple brands from us. It helps them and helps us.
High & Low: Another thing we look at is if the brand can work in both high and low tier retailers. For example, Jason Markk is carried at Harry rosen which is a top luxury store for men, but it’s also in streetwear boutiques and even at the Nike store.
Not Too Niche: Sometimes this is tough but I need to take on brands that are generally loved by many so that I can sell them into a lot of doors. I love some really cool Japanese brands but there’s only maybe 1 or 2 shops in the city I could sell them too so unfortunately it’s just not smart to work with them.
Product Diversity: Diversity of brands is very important. My roster has footwear, books, bags, watches, cleaners and grooming products. I want 8point5 to encompass the entirety of men’s lifestyle and this also helps me stay away from seasonal products like apparel which faces greater risk due to manufacturing delays but also usually goes on sale so is harder to sell.
Ethical or Sustainable Practices: Lastly, I’m very focused on trying to work with brands that have a focus on sustainable production and practices. Not every brand that I work with has this but it’s a bit plus for me as I expand the roster.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen brands put more focus into their direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels and reduce the number of wholesaler doors they’re carried in. Why do you think this is and do you think retailers are still as important for brands as they were 5 or 10 years ago?
Well, I mean, there’s way more money in DTC. That’s just the truth. We see brands like Nike pull out of shops every month basically BUT, I don’t think stores are going away. They’ll always be important for giving the brand more of a story.
You need stores to create that in person product experience. Some brands can do this on their own but many can’t and it’s not the same with only online. Even Nike that has a massic e-comm business and their own stores still leverages boutiques for big promos like Air Max Day. I think that says something about the need for shops. We may get fewer shops but we’ll always have them.
We definitely agree with that. It’s hard to imagine a world without our favourite sneaker shops and clothing boutiques. What tips would you give to a newer brand looking to get into retailers for the first time?
The first thing any brand needs to do is build up their DTC channels. I know this sounds counterintuitive but retails want to feel like there’s a partnership and not just that you need them to succeed.
Secondly, identify stores that have similar brands and styles. It has to feel like a natural fit.
Once you identify the shops you want to be in, work on building relationships with people there. The world of retail is a tight knit community.
Solidify your product offering and brand strategy. If you’re successful with growing your DTC to start, you’ll likely have this. You’ll need to convince the stores that you are the best choice to sit on their shelves so a great product and brand strategy is key.
Lastly, a sales and distribution agency can be very helpful. They often have the best relationships with stores and can be very influential as a promoter of your brand. They’ll also help manage product orders and logistics which isn’t always easy for new brands.
Love that! We agree, it’s definitely important to have a strong multi-channel approach. Before we let you go, we’re going to switch gears for a second. It seems like in the last year you’ve been all over the Toronto food scene. What are your top 5 spots in the city for anyone in or visiting Toronto this summer?
[Laughs] Yes! I think I’ve tried a new spot almost every single week for the last year and a half when we were able to. I was really looking to support as many small and local businesses as possible and I love spreading the word about them to others. The following places are all great and, even more importantly, have amazing staff. That’s key for me.
Mattachionni: An amazing pizza spot with 2 locations.
416 Snack Bar: Great drinks and quick bites.
Grandma Loves You: Some of the best sandwiches in the city.
Pho Tien Thanh: Great Vietnamese food. I always get the bun dish #59 w/ extra meat.
Ruru Baked: Awesome ice cream and such a nice team.
Check out Carlos and 8Point5 Agency on Instagram and keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest designers, artists, activists, entrepreneurs and more.