In 2008, Leonie Stockmann and Olivia Zirkel opened the multibrand store Simon and Renoldi in the heart of the hip Belgian quarter of Cologne’s city centre. The shop offers labels and styles for quality-conscious women who are looking for a clear, individual and pure style that can sometimes be playful, but never boring or stuffy. Leonie and Olivia have developed their own style language and attach great importance to personal contact with their customers and to open and authentic advice.
Both Leonie and Olivia, new to the city, were on the lookout for new career prospects and got to know each other – where else in Cologne – at carnival. With sympathy at first sight. The result of this meeting was the founding of Simon and Renoldi.
Although both had sound professional experience in fashion and PR, this step was a courageous one that required flexibility, creativity and determination. They have never regretted this step.
Simon and Renoldi are now among the absolute top addresses for fashion in Cologne. The secret of its success is owed not least to its friendly, honest and unpretentious owners.
How did the two of you find each other?
OZ We met in 2007 through our present husbands. Simon und Renoldi’s idea was born in the middle of the Cologne Carnival, on the eleventh in the eleventh in the house Unkelbach. This idea of opening a store had probably been around for quite some time, albeit with different motivations. A handshake sealed the founding of Simon & Renoldi. Nine months later we opened in the Belgian Quarter in Cologne. That was already eleven years ago…
LS At this time, we were both at a turning point in our lives. I was looking for a new professional perspective and Olivia came from Como where she worked for the Italian label Jet Set. Before that, she worked for several years in New York as the right-hand man of designer Charles Nolan. Me, I was in a PR agency at the time. Quickly we realized that we ticked similarly, sharing a common vision.
We’re both honest, direct people, have a common mode of work and the same values. From the beginning we worked together there was no initial wrangling. We brought our different skills 100% into our company at all times. Of course, all this makes it easy to find each other…
OZ We were the perfect counterpart for each other, had the same priorities.
Did you have a clear concept from the beginning or did that develop?
OZ The starting signal for the Cologne Carnival was also the starting signal for the draft of our business plan. We had a clear vision of what our concept store should look like. The idea behind “Simon und Renoldi – The Concept Store” was to offer an individual, high-quality lifestyle off the beaten track. We wanted to offer a comprehensive lifestyle that included selling fashion, books, gifts, interiors and art objects. Inspired by stores like Colette in Paris or L’Eclaireur.
Over the years, we have naturally developed our concept further and adapted it to the circumstances. We had to realize that not everything is as feasible as we thought it would be in theory. About three years ago we took the step of repositioning. We deliberately decided that we no longer wanted to be a concept store. Our name today: Simon and Renoldi – The Fashionstore. We focus. But we have remained true to our philosophy.
LS Since our launch in 2008, our concept has naturally changed. Anything else would not have been good, would have meant standstill. In recent years, a number of stores have opened in the Belgian Quarter, specialising in home interiors or books, for example. These are very good, owner-managed stores with a lot of passion and a great selection. It makes no sense for us to offer these themes as well.
“Concentrating on core competence”
In addition, the idea of the “Concept Store” has been made suitable for the masses. One has the impression sooner or later that all stores are “Concept Stores”. We don’t necessarily want to join them. Much of what we offered as an owner-managed concept store is now produced and sold at much lower prices by large chains. We had the impression that our customers wanted a clear line and direction again.
Concentrating on our core competence is therefore our buzzword. Of course, there are still great concept stores, such as “The Store” in the Soho House in Berlin. But for us it is no longer the right concept.
The step into self-employment is courageous. Would you jump again?
OZ Absolutely. Both of us come from families in which we experienced professional independence. Of course, this is what characterizes us. According to the motto, choose yourself what you want to do or achieve in life… and don’t wait. But you don’t even jump… You have to be courageous again and again. Reasoning needs courage, time, energy and above all persistence.
LS If your heart beats for the project and the passion is there, it is not difficult to take the step into self-employment. So much for theory. In my case there was certainly a lot of naivety involved, but that also made sense.
“Courage, time, energy and above all persistence”
In everyday life, however, there are already many hurdles to putting theory into practice. In our case it started with the financing of the project, went over the location search, the availability of the desired labels and products… The reality check must not be missing because of all the euphoria.
Likewise one must be able to rethink at short notice. Because even successful months are no guarantee for lasting success. To set up your own shop you need a lot of determination, dynamism and always new ideas to inspire the customers.
What are your most important experiences of the last years?
OZ The desire to always ask new questions and take new paths. Not only with regard to the strategic orientation of the store, but also with regard to yourself, you have to question yourself. Be sincere to yourself as to whether this is really what you want to do. Only then can success be achieved.
LS I would say the same… The only constant is change. A fact that we have felt repeatedly over the years. It is so important to ask questions again and again. Because this is the only way we can find out why certain things work in business or not. That is what drives us.
I have also learned to admit to mistakes, which are just as important as success.
You work closely together and are also private friends. How does that work?
OZ This works very well. We have similar values. Not only in terms of business, but also in terms of our families, our children and what is important to us in life – alongside Simon and Renoldi.
LS We didn’t really know each other well before we started S&R. But we got along great right from the start.
I think the main reason why we get along so well in our private and professional lives is that we have always given each other room to develop in the store. At all times we had respect for each other and are both tolerant and open to criticism. We are still a loyal “counterpart” to each other.
Do you share areas of responsibility or does each of you do what is necessary at the moment?
OZ We have clear areas of responsibility. Leonie is responsible for marketing and communication as well as personnel, and I for purchasing and strategic orientation.
This also includes a great deal of trust in the partner. However, we always discuss decisions and exchange ideas. Ultimately, we shape Simon and Renoldi together. But everyone knows exactly what is on their to-do list.
LS Without a clear division of tasks, the “red thread” in the company would easily be lost. A clear division of tasks ensures concentration on the things that make day-to-day business successful. As I said at the beginning, we complement each other in our abilities. They provide different perspectives on the various issues that arise in everyday business life.
You have deliberately decided against online business. What were your reasons?
OZ In the past, we cooperated with the Luxodo shopping platform and used it to display our range online. Based on our experience, we decided against continuing the online business.
The fashion industry is undergoing rapid change. It has become faster and more short-lived. Collections are changing more frequently than ever before. We are a small company that cannot keep up with the big brands and chains, not only for economic reasons, but also for other reasons. A professional online shop with everything that goes with it requires a large budget. If this is not provided, one simply gets lost in the net or is not noticed.
“Simon and Renoldi stands for individuality and personality”
The other question we asked ourselves, is that us at all? Is it our philosophy to sell online? No, Simon and Renoldi stands for individuality and personality, for the exchange with customers in a pleasant atmosphere. We want to be close to our customers, offer special service coupled with individual advice.
We don’t want to deny this to online stores in principle, but this can only be achieved with enormous effort and budget, which is simply not possible for a store of our size. So we have come to the decision to concentrate on our core business – the stationary trade, the trade from person to person.
LS In addition, there is not only Simon and Renoldi in our lives, but also family and friends. And everything takes time. When I think about an online shop for us today, a saying comes to mind: “If you hunt two rabbits at the same time, you won’t catch one”.
A tip for new founders. Are there mistakes you can avoid?
OZ Of course, there is a base that should be there. Business plan etc. But on the other hand you have to make your own mistakes to grow.
LS Finding the right partner and a clear distribution of tasks. Beside the passion for the thing the readiness to work hard must be present.
A precise market analysis and elaboration of your own concept with a clear target group analysis is indispensable. When choosing a location, no compromises must be made, the cost of sales must be calculated precisely, sales and stock levels must be constantly monitored.
I wish every new founder never to run out of questions. Not asking questions or stopping would be a big mistake.
How do you describe your style?
OZ We don’t have much ‘bling bling’, we stand for a casual but still dressed style. Individuality instead of mainstream.
LS Our customers appreciate our style, which I describe as “unagitated”. We don’t have a one-to-one copy of the catwalks. The mix of good basics, special styles, sometimes a bit playful, makes the perfect look for us.
What is a suitable business look for you?
OZ That depends very much on the business occasion. For daily business a great skirt with a silk blouse, with or without print, is ideal. With good basic trousers and a plain white blouse, combined with a dark blazer, you are always dressed appropriately. But a well-cut dress is also possible.
It only really becomes interesting when you can turn the business look into a casual look for ‘after work occassions’ by changing shoes or accessories… That varies from person to person and cannot be answered in general. It is important that the look is authentic. There are also absolute No-Gos…
LS It is more important than wearing the right business look to have found your own style. For me, a suitable business look, just like Olivia’s, also depends on the occasion. A single-coloured narrow trousers, e.g. – preferably by Joseph in blue or black – combined with a simple top and a blazer is a good business look.
What does your personal power business outfit look like?
OZ That doesn’t exist! We are not subject to any compulsive dress code and enjoy the freedom that our profession brings with it. To adapt to business events without changing one’s style is then the freestyle…
LS Personally, I like it simple and also more muted in colour. My personal power outfit is rather high-necked, not too figure-hugging, simply well fitted and without elaborate patterns.
Do you follow trends?
OZ You can not free yourself from this. You have your own style, but the favourites come and go according to the trends of the season.
LS For sure. With me, however, most of the time they arrive a little delayed…
What advice do you have for women who are still looking for their style?
OZ Only wear outfits you feel confortable in, not dressed up. Have the self-confidence to show yourselves appropriately, but unadulterated. You don’t have to wear what everyone wears! Be careful to flatter your body type. Try it out. Try things on, even if it doesn’t seem to fit you at first.
LS I join this. Maybe be a little more courageous and reach for things that normally don’t end up “in the closet”. Listen to yourself, what do you feel comfortable with? A visit to Simon and Renoldi can of course also help…
Work and family, the never-ending topic: How do you manage the balancing act?
OZ I don’t know :). You have to have the courage to say ‘no’. Easier said than done… Our partners support us where possible. Apart from that, you have to organize yourself well and take advantage of the help you can get.
However, it often remains a bad conscience, because one simply cannot do justice to everything as one would like. Or how one’s own aspirations require it.
LS The family’s support for what you do is very important to me. I had to learn to communicate honestly and openly what I need in terms of support and assistance within my family. I wasn’t always good at saying these things.
Every day needs to be well organized. Sometimes I have to do without things or admit that I didn’t do everything on my list.
Where do you find inspiration?
OZ Everywhere! Mostly in everyday life and daily exchange. On journeys, with friends, our families and children, but also with our customers…
LS A good question. Travelling would certainly inspire me. But we don’t get to that as a family at the moment. But there are inspiring people in my environment. The social media (curse and blessing at the same time) from different areas inspire me, but also very old-fashioned books and print magazines. I think I go through everyday life with open eyes, which always gives me inspiration.
How can you relax?
OZ Of course (also) at work because we do what we love!
LS Relaxation has been “lost” to me for a long time. I wasn’t really mindful, I put the needs of the people around me above mine. That didn’t go well for long. The result was frustration all along and constant exhaustion. Today I consciously create space for myself and for example do sports even when it doesn’t really fit into the day.
I had to learn to leave things behind. I can also relax in the evening when the children are in bed and I find the peace to read a good book.
What social issue is close to your heart?
OZ How do we deal with the topic of digitisation? It is omnipresent and concerns us not only in business, but also in family matters.
We are also concerned about climate protection and sustainability. How far are we – and also our customers – prepared to go in order to change our lives in a sustainable way and to meet the issue “appropriately”?
LS I notice that I am increasingly concerned with the topic of sustainability at S&R, but also in my private life. We all bear responsibility. I try to live up to this responsibility in my everyday life.