Urban Outfitters Chief Sourcing Officer Barbara Rozsas helps the national chain, which originally got its start in Philadelphia, tailor to college-aged customers across the country.
Afternoon rush from the company lunch break is beginning to die down in Building 543. Lines are gone at Jharoka, the coffee shop across the hall, and everyone is heading back to their offices. Approaching the massive wooden doors surrounded by floor to ceiling plants and trees, Barbara Rozsas, chief sourcing officer at Urban Outfitters Incorporated, extends her hand for introductions and warm welcomes. Dressed in a basic black top and pants, with a splash of color from her scarf, she looks comfortably professional.
Rozsas works for Urban Outfitters, which is headquartered in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. She has been with the company for almost 12 years, through various promotions to her current position as chief sourcing officer.
Most recently, she teamed up with Wendy McDevitt and Wendy Wurtzburger, both of UO sister-store Anthropologie, to work on URBN Inc.’s new wedding concept. But even with her recent accomplishments, Rozsas radiates a pleasant demeanor that is contagious after even a short conversation.
UO, a name that often strikes up words like kitschy, hip and trendy, was started in Philadelphia.
In 1970, Richard Hayne started what was originally known as “The Free People’s Store” on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus as a school project. Hayne, a graduate of Lehigh University, collaborated with a friend from Penn as a business assignment. The original store sold used clothing, furniture and items for students’ apartments. Bins were located inside where you could take something and leave something else behind in exchange. Students would drop off their old furniture at the end of the semester, and others could come pick items up, often for free.
Today, the store has been turned into what we now know as UO, and although they’ve ditched the freebie bins, UO has kept a sense of community.
“Customer first, then product,” Rozsas said. “Always.”
Under the umbrella of the URBN Inc. name are the brands Urban Outfitters, Free People, Anthropologie, Terrain and Leifsdottir. URBN employees all currently work in the refurbished offices of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and Rozsas said they enjoy every minute of it.
She said she still gets excited every day driving through the gates of what is referred to as “the yard” and loves the possibility of running into so many people in places such as Building 543, which houses a coffee shop, cafeteria, fitness room, space for yoga classes and offices like her own.
“[One day], I was in line getting soup, and I cut a deal with someone from Anthropologie who was also getting lunch,” Rozsas said. “In two minutes, just like that.”
Rozsas grew up in Glen Mills, Pa. where she still lives with her family. Her father was in the construction business, and she spent much of her earlier years working with him, “learning to negotiate deals.”
She did not graduate from college, but she spent some time at a satellite campus of Penn State University. After moving around the country for a few months, she said, she decided she needed something new.
Rozsas eventually stumbled upon an advertisement in the newspaper for a costing assistant job at Mast Industries, which was founded by Philadelphia local Stanley Tuttleman, for whom Main Campus’ Tuttleman Learning Center is named. He later became one of Rozsas’ most respected mentors.
Tuttleman encouraged her to enroll in Philadelphia University, formerly Philadelphia Textiles, which Rozsas refers to as the “Wharton [Penn’s prestigious business school] of the industry.”
After completing her courses, she began commuting to New York for the next 10 years to work for Liz Claiborne. At 29, she became the youngest vice president of the company, and she managed the knits-and-sweaters division.
“They didn’t know the customer then, and definitely don’t know her now,” she said. “They used to believe they were selling to women ages 18 to 80.”
For the past few years, Rozsas has been working directly with current and potential vendors that distribute and manufacture URBN’s apparel. URBN works with a solid group of 15 vendors that supply 55 percent of the company’s business. Keeping business so heavily focused on a core group of vendors allows the product to get all the attention it needs. Because of the complexity of the products URBN sells, it is important for these vendors to truly understand the culture of the customers.
In addition to working out of her South Philly office, Rozsas and her team travel overseas approximately three or four times a year to work with vendors in places around the world, such as Asia, South America and Europe.
“Wherever I am at is my favorite place to travel,” she said. “I love delving into the culture, people and products of that location.”
She said that the teams used to travel more often, but now it is much easier to communicate with technology. Vendors still visit the States and the URBN campus frequently, however, so they are able to shop the stores and spend time directly with the designers and merchants.
Rozsas undoubtedly loves her job.
“I love my people,” she said. “They are motivated, smart, strategic and collaborative and know how to follow the triangle.”
The triangle, she said, focuses on the customer in the middle, with all other factors working around that focus.
“Smart merchants, a strong design team, effective internal and external supply chains and great sourcing teams all surround the triangle, evenly,” she added.
However, Rozsas notes that there are obviously constant challenges especially after “the economic tsunami hit last year.”
When the economy crashed, URBN said “Game on,” and the company unleashed its Concept-to-Market Plan, which had been developed for four years to help merchants and designers create last-minute products to follow the ever-changing interests of the customer.
Rozsas said the company recognizes that change is tough for everyone, but especially “creative folks.” She said employee personalities at URBN are different and require a different type of presentation, empathy and collaboration.
But at the Navy Yard, URBN seems to take of its employees, with a visually creative workspace and community feel that promotes a fun atmosphere. Rozsas said she wants her employees to feel that their creativity is nourished.
Rozsas glanced over at the clock to see that it was already 2 p.m. and realized she needed to get to her next appointment – but not before quickly mentioning how much her team loves The Devil Wears Prada.
Rachael Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.