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Gilt City's Tina Kirkpatrick

Tina Kirkpatrick spent the past few years in Chicago, including a stint working as a buyer for Oprah’s Harpo Productions. But the 33-year-old Seattle native is excited to be back in her city leading the charge for Gilt City.

As we’ve noted in the past, there’s no shortage of daily deal sites. But Kirkpatrick actually bristles at that daily deal term, explaining that Gilt City — an offshoot of the four-year-old luxury private sale service Gilt Groupe — is far different than the Groupons and Living Socials of the world.

You may be hearing a lot more from Gilt City in the coming weeks. The company hosted a fancy cocktail reception at Rover’s in Madison Park earlier this month, and officially kicks off its service in Seattle on Tuesday. (Kirkpatrick declined to disclose the upcoming offers).

We chatted with Kirkpatrick — a graduate of Eastlake High School and Washington State University — to find out how Gilt City is attempting to rise above all of the noise in the fast-growing daily deal arena. We also took a moment to ask her about her work for Oprah, and how that experience is helping in her current role.

How do you describe Gilt City and how it is different from other sites?

“We are not a daily deal site. We are not ‘$20 hot dogs for $10.’ We just don’t do deals for deals sake. We aim for five to seven offers per week, and we take so much pride in true curated sales for coveted experiences. It is really hand-picking, with our Gilt City members in mind. So, we are truly reaching out and finding what is true access to the most luxury and exclusive businesses and experiences that Seattle has to offer.”

But it operates much the same way as other daily deal sites. You sign up to get deals via email on local restaurants, spas, correct?

“Correct. But it is not daily deals. Our model, for Seattle specifically, is Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m. we will run our offers. So, on Tuesday, we will have three to four offers, sometimes five.”

How else are the deals different than what you might get through a Groupon, Living Social or other sites?

“It is celebrating the exclusive and experience and true hospitality, which oftentimes has more weight than any deal or discount ever could. It is, oftentimes, not a financial deal per se, it is an offer of an exclusive experience.”

Why do you think that will resonate in Seattle?

Tina Kirkpatrick, with Rover's chef Thierry Rautureau and Gilt City president Nathan Richardson

“From just a pure numbers standpoint, we based our analysis not only on the existing Gilt Groupe membership base and spending habits, but also how our great city has so much to offer by way of cuisine and the support of the arts and the local access to products and Seattle born businesses. We, as a Seattle community, are so excited in wanting to support local and our own. So, I think that resonates well with our community that we really do want to pump money into our community, and support all of the greatness that our city has to offer.”

Around Seattle there must be a dozen, maybe two dozen, companies that are providing offers on local restaurants or shops. How are you going to rise above that noise?

“We are very aware that the industry is evolving at a very rapid pace with so many innovations in mobile and deal locations and real-time deals. Gilt City exists in that same digital space, and that is relevant today and how our consumers are buying. I am constantly thinking about what is our true differentiation and who we are and exploring new ways in that digital space to constantly push the bar — to drive the bus — for integrating what we do into businesses. Brand marketing for us is really talking with our business owners, and truly finding out — it is not just about offering deals — but finding out how Gilt City can be a platform for really integrating in their marketing and developing their brand.”

Can anyone sign up for Gilt City or is it a private invite?

“Yes. Anyone can sign up.”

What types of offers are coming up?

“I can’t really speak to things that are coming up because they are surprises. But, an example, (the other night) I was at a Gilt City exclusive event at Crush — he’s a James Beard Award-winning chef, Jason Wilson. It was a prepared menu exclusive for Gilt City, with wine pairings. And when everybody left, they were giving goodie bags for everyone and his wife, Nicole, had fresh lavender cut that morning from her garden … and casually bundled together with homemade pretzels from chef Jason and the recipe card and a specialty salt and an invitation for another visit. It was a menu picked out in mind exclusive for a Gilt City member. It was a takeaway that had a surprise and delight and really catered to Crush and their model, and everything was elegant and wonderful. And they were really able to showcase to our members who they are and what they are about. So, every offer will have a surprise and delight factor.”

One of the problems with daily deal sites is that people tend to sign up for the offer and then never go back to the business. It sounds like you are trying to get around that bottleneck, or is that a problem with Gilt City too?

“We are curating offers and partnering with the types of businesses that understand true hospitality, so we really spend a lot of time coaching and getting to know our partners. It really is an opportunity for (our partners) to convert customers from that experience. Not everyone is going to return to a restaurant — whether they have been given the opportunity to go for a deal or offer or on their own. It really is in the hands of the business partners to truly embrace that they are there and celebrate that they are there and really invite them to return. Our members are of that type — they are an affluent group in Seattle’s community that appreciates hospitality and that’s what they are looking for is true experience. And they will return. We have already seen proof of that in our preview week.”

What was it like working for Oprah in Chicago?

“It was like an experience like nothing else… In a sense, that was (my) grad school. Some people work for a few years in the workforce and then they head back to grad school where they scrape and crawl and learn. My five-and-a-half years there was very much a pivotal school for me, and really set the bar high for me in how I conduct myself and where my career goals are and the capacity for what I am able to do now and how I am able to think about challenges.”

Oprah often endorsed products, kind of like a forerunner to Gilt City. Did you get any specific education from that experience that you are applying in your new job?

“I’ll give you a little nibble. I was actually on the buying team for the show, so I was very much involved in that Oprah stamp of approval, and really seeking out the best-of-the-best. And I think that goes hand-in-hand with this position, and really understanding what is hospitality, what is luxury? It doesn’t have to be something expensive. But, if it is scone by gosh, it is the best scone you’ve ever tasted and it changed your world. So, for me, it is one of the things I loved so much about working with the show is just finding all of the wonderful things to … show to the public. So, to come back to Seattle and kind of find all of the secrets of Seattle and put my own stamp of approval on them with Gilt City Seattle, and just create more reasons why we love our city more.”

What’s the strategy for growing Gilt City here in Seattle?

“I really feel like daily deal sites were a band-aid for a serious problem happening in our economy for small businesses. And what was really a quick fix for yesterday, I think, in a sense, can become small business suicide today. So, Gilt City Seattle, really offers our businesses the opportunity to not participate in that recession and truly get back into why they got into hospitality or design or fashion and create those experiences that they want to show our community.”

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