Jim Turner | Crain's Dallas

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jim Turner

Background:  

Fashion designer Elaine Turner and her husband Jim Turner founded Houston-based Elaine Turner Designs in 2000 as a wholesaler of elegant-but-functional handbags, landing orders at Tootsie’s and Neiman Marcus – and earning Elaine the moniker of “Houston’s handbag queen.” The company later expanded into shoes and apparel and opened its own retail stores, which now number seven across Texas. Jim Turner eventually joined the company full-time after working in investment banking and private equity investing. The company is currently in expansion mode, launching a national direct sales effort this summer called Elaine Turner Elite with the former development manager of Chloe + Isabel leading it. It also plans to open another store in Dallas and one in Fort Worth. The couple own the majority of the company with the rest held by high-net-worth individuals.

Mistake:

I would have launched our apparel business a lot sooner.

Elaine started in the apparel industry, so she knew how complicated it was. A complete apparel collection would include bottoms, tops, dresses and outerwear, so sometimes you’re dealing with different sources and factories for each of those. What also held us back was that it’s a competitive space.

We also had convinced ourselves that customers didn’t look for apparel from us and didn’t want that from us. We convinced ourselves that was the case without diving into it and trying some things.

Apparel is 60 percent of the fashion business. By not doing it, we missed the biggest part of the market for a long time.

Don’t put off things because you’re afraid of them.

Lesson:

Don’t put off things because you’re afraid of them. You have to go after bigger markets and bigger opportunities and not let fear of the unknown get the better of you. Put in the work and try to figure it out.

It turned out to be not as hard as we thought. We were using old-school thinking. The factory we have now, in China, works well with all the apparel areas and is doing everything. You can always adapt and choose your own materials or your supplier. You can make it work within any factory situation you have so long as you’re flexible.

We launched apparel two years ago and it’s really done well over the last year. It’s already 15 percent to 20 percent of our business. It’s made a big difference to us and been really good for the business.

It also validated for us that people who like our brand really wanted us in that category as well. If you have a customer who is loyal to your brand, they’re willing to try more things than you think. The reality is that it’s a huge market, with room for everybody, especially if you have loyal customers.

There’s a lot to be said for the opportunities that have opened up. We get invited to do runway shoes, which we weren’t before because we didn’t have apparel. Selling shoes was also harder to explain, with the model wearing someone else’s clothes.

It’s also added dimensions for us. We couldn’t have done direct sales without launching the apparel business. It wouldn’t have been as attractive. Stylists weren’t going to produce as much volume if they didn’t have apparel to sell. The idea of launching the direct sales business wasn’t even on our radar until we had apparel. There are opportunities that open up that you don’t know about until you get into it.

Follow Elaine Turner Designs on Twitter at @ElaineTurner.

Photo courtesy of Jim Turner

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