Manhattan born Leslie Cohen has co-owned Transitions, located at 1353 Old Northern Blvd. in Roslyn, with husband Andrew for more than three decades. Now a full-fledged Nassau County girl living in Port Washington, Cohen struts around Old Northern Boulevard confident about the high-end retail store and its success.
With brands like Rag & Bone, Elizabeth and James, Joie and L’Agence on the shelves, customers who can’t get enough of Cohen’s trendy arsenal and 30 years in the business, she has every reason to ooze confidence. Cohen has turned her passion into a career, but she gets the biggest kick out of seeing others smile.
“Nothing jazzes me more than being out to dinner and having my customer show me how good they look. That to me is the icing on the cake,” Cohen said. “I love what I do.”
I spoke with Cohen about the evolution of Transitions, the importance of building relationships, what to buy this fall and how to make it in the retail industry.
Long Island Pulse: More than 30 years in business, that’s incredible…how did Transitions come about?
Leslie Cohen: My husband started the store [when he was] going to be a sophomore at Boston University. He’s very much an entrepreneur. The store started in Westhampton, several years later we opened in Roslyn, and then a couple years after that we opened up in Massapequa under a different name. We closed the Hamptons store after 22 years, in 2003. It’s different, the Hamptons changed.
Pulse: How did your husband choose a name for the store?
LC: My husband, since he started the business, was trying to find a name since women in fashion are constantly changing and it’s constantly evolving. He was trying to find a name that evoked everything in transitions. Transitions was born.
Pulse: Why women’s clothing?
LC: Why not women’s? Men are certainly not buying a new piece every other week. Women have the addiction. You know, it’s retail therapy.
Pulse: What do you attribute to the longevity of Transitions?
LC: Truthfully, I really understand the customer. Style and fashion is constantly evolving and I feel that we are evolving with our customer and with the time…with what’s happening on trend. I feel like I keep my lady trendy yet classy, yet I find that she’s very on point.
Pulse: Would you say that really knowing your product is a key ingredient to that longevity?
LC: Whatever way she wants to do, let’s say fringe, I have enough selection that she can do it her way. I know what to pull. I’m buying it. I’m very selective. I have very good relationships with the market. I try to be on point with the designers, the styles and the labels. I feel like we’re really on the forefront of fashion. And I feel like I know what’s going to work. I know the lifestyle. I live the lifestyle, so it’s very easy for me to translate it to the customer.
Pulse: So, when someone comes in looking for a job what do you look for in an employee?
LC: I was in wholesale for many years. I worked for many companies in the garment center, and I am sales driven…Selling is a lot of things. You have to be personable. “Hi, how are you?” You have to want to approach and engage people in conversation. That’s how we know their families, they come in, we know their names. “How was the wedding?”
Pulse: What do you do as a business owner to make life-long customers?
LC: We like to make the shop very personal so I’m able to say, “I have the perfect top for you, please come in.” I know my customer, that’s how I’m able to choose these clothes. Without customer service the doors would’ve been closed a long time ago. It’s really about being nice to your customers. They’re the gold. I try very hard to make them feel comfortable and special and that they’re taken care of. Girls come in with their mothers, go to college, live in the city, have babies and now move back and now are customers again. Over 30 years in business…it’s an evolution.
Pulse: What advice do you have for new business owners or someone who has dreams of starting their own business?
LC: Stay true to your brand, stay true to your vision. It’s hard work. It’s determination, like any business. You get knocked down, you pick yourself up. There are going to be some good days and there are going to be some bad days. Just because your neighbor next door is doing something, if that doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. Don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing, worry about what you’re doing. It’s your vision, your brand, your store. Stay true to it.
Pulse: Do you believe staying true to your brand and your vision has contributed to your decades of being in business?
LC: My husband wanted contemporary women’s clothing, he stayed true to it. The women are trendy and classy and on point, he stayed true. That’s why it’s Transitions: it’s forever evolving.
Cohen’s Style Tip: “Fringe and animal, especially animal, are always in style. It depends, some years are very strong, but a classic animal print shoe, a bag, a belt never goes out of style. It’s like a loafer (laughs). It’s like a pump.”