Custom tote outfit finds home in Schenectady

In the seven years after Trish Rost gathered 10 or so women in her Hudson living room to talk handba

In the seven years after Trish Rost gathered 10 or so women in her Hudson living room to talk handbags, her then-infant company became a veritable made-in-America success story.

And in the past week, that story began a new chapter in Schenectady that could double the success of Madison Handbags.

The company relocated its production facility from Troy to the former Girl Scouts building in Schenectady. Production began last week inside the 131 State St. facility, and city officials couldn’t be more pleased.

“This is a great time to really be in the company because of our presence in Schenectady,” said company spokeswoman Sandy Washburn. “We really want to be good neighbors and we’re excited to be a part of the community in a business district.”

Besides adding 40 employees to the city’s job count, Madison Handbags has also put the building back on the tax rolls. It had sat on the market listed at $529,000 for nearly two years after the Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York moved out and before the design-your-own-handbag company would enter into a contract to purchase it for $365,000 last September.

The sale closed Jan. 26, but the two-story facility needed renovations and some new equipment. Schenectady County’s Metroplex Development Authority board members approved a $50,000 grant to the company in June to put toward renovations, happy to have the successful company in the city’s backyard.

“We’re happy they’re coming to downtown and it adds to the momentum we’re trying to build on State Street,” said Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen at a June 23 board meeting. “It helps create that buzz on lower State that we saw with the Proctors block.”

If anybody knows the importance of buzz, it’s the people behind Madison Handbags. The company relies on direct selling through a home party model to sell its handbags.

In fact, it’s how the company was able to grow to what it is now. With 500 design consultants across 40 states, women are carrying the Madison Handbag label across the country by word of mouth.

Despite the Capital Region’s high concentration of design consultants and customers, Washburn said the company is still trying to get its name out there.

“There’s certainly a lot of people in Schenectady and across the country who have not yet heard of Madison Handbags,” she said.

Athena Pagnotti was one of those people before she negotiated the sale of the company’s new Schenectady facility.

But when the Niskayuna real estate agent invited her friends to a Madison Handbags party at her home last Thursday, she was surprised to find they were already tried-and-true customers.

“They pulled out their handbags and said, ‘I bought this tote so and so years ago’ and they’re still carrying it around,” she laughed. “That speaks to the durability and quality of the product.”

Of course, the same women had no problem opting for a new handbag Thursday night when Washburn and company business manager Kristen Nunziato showed up at the party with fabric swatches and patterned linings.

Customers get to choose two fabrics for the handbag, as well as a lining and strap hardware. If they prefer an already designed handbag from the company catalog, they can opt for that.

“I love to hostess,” said Pagnotti, as she did some last-minute cleaning and prepared hors d’oeuvres for the 15 women who would show up to her home Thursday.

“We’ve always entertained throughout the years,” she said. “So I’ve done Tupperware parties and I’ve been to all the jewelry and china parties. It’s a nice evening out for women and it’s an opportunity to entertain in your own home and relax without having to go out in traffic to shop.”

Now that Madison Handbags has moved to Schenectady, it can produce double the handbags it did in Troy.

“We went from 7,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet,” said Washburn. “We’re two floors now, whereas before we were just one.”

The extra space allowed for a second cutting table. Madison’s handbag production is a high-volume operation. It produces anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 handbags a month and has about two dozen independent contractors who sew bags at home. In total, it produces more than 80,000 bags a year.

“We were in a situation in Troy where we ended up running a night shift to keep the table going 24 hours a day so that we could produce more bags,” said Nunziato. “Now, we can produce twice that.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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