General Online Retail has a young, fierce competitor: the "members only" sale sites such as Gilt Group, ideeli, and Beyond the Rack which host an endless variety and supply of surplus merchandise. Now, brands are seeking out companies to present and sell their extra stock to the public. Of these companies, HauteLook.com has risen above the competition, and rightfully so. Without HauteLook CEO Adam Bernhard, most of the merchandise would not be in countless homes across the country—it would be unsold and abandoned in New Jersey warehouses. The modern market for surplus, now a dynamic epicenter of commerce, was once just a figment of Adam Bernhard's imagination.
Education Attended Cal State Northridge but left two units shy of a degree. My mother still hasn't forgiven me.
Mentor Brett Markinson, Venture Capitalist and an original investor of HauteLook
Next Move Building HauteLook for the long haul
Travel destination Santa Ysidro Ranch in Montecito
Local Restaurant Sushi Park
Song "Tupelo Honey", Van Morrison
A self-dubbed "serial entrepreneur," Adam Bernhard followed a twisted road to become the fashion industry mogul that he is today. Honing his business sense early on, Bernhard sold sticks of gum to the cool kids in his fifth-grade class. With some pocket money from his grandmother, he bought bubble gum and brought it to school on the day of a book drive, a day he knew the other kids would be carrying money. That foresight and acute awareness is still readily accessible, as if in a holster at his side, always ready for a quick draw.
Bernhard tried – and excelled in – everything from movie production (the 1995 drama The Bridges of Madison County) to majority share holder in a pizza chain (Mulberry Street). When a good friend with a contemporary clothing label named Joie asked for his help around 2004, Adam took to the fashion world. As Joie's executive vice president of international business, Adam introduced Joie to the global market and established the label's place in the leading retail stores of Europe, Japan, and Canada.
Along the way, Bernhard gained experience in off-price retail when he saw physical sample sales – an in-person method brands use to get rid of inventory surplus – in New York and Los Angeles. Seeing the flaws and limitations of these sample sales, he founded Liquid8, a company that would bring excess merchandise from top-name brands to the rest of the country at lower-than-wholesale prices. The Internet was only the next logical step. In 2007, Liquid8 evolved into HauteLook.com and has since successfully scaled the industry's walls.
Since Liquid8's breakthrough in merchandise distribution, Bernhard has been whittling and detailing a new market, one where prices stay reasonable and brands stay exclusive. "My skill as an entrepreneur," he says, "is recognizing inefficiencies and figuring out a better, more efficient way of doing business." Like the late visionary Steve Jobs, Bernhard's genius lies in his editing. By consistently reinventing the surplus realm, he pioneered a frontier where his company can thrive. Bernhard deems HauteLook's niche his "greatest innovation so far—the private sale space did not exist in the U.S. four years ago."
Exploration into that space has yielded HauteLook some transformative yet competitive results. Expertly recognizing the nature of the burgeoning industry, HauteLook has maintained a tenacious "smart growth" model, in which financial discipline leads to sustainable business choices. "We had to be very creative and persuasive," Bernhard says, adding that the smart growth model paid off. In early 2011, HauteLook was acquired by Nordstrom for $270 million; however, their operations remain virtually unchanged. Bernhard is ecstatic that his business continues to grow at such an astounding rate; even in this bleak economy, HauteLook boasts over 40,000 member interactions per month—a 20 percent increase from last year. However, Bernhard also recognizes his personal growth from this process. Along with a boost in patience, "HauteLook has taught me to become a much better communicator," Bernhard reveals, "and I believe I've grown as a manager. Every day, we're driving each other to innovate and improve. It's an exciting time."