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Design with an MBA

I could tell there was more to this direct selling business.  Stella & Dot is a boutique-style jewelry line with pieces priced from $15 to $250 each. Independent stylists sell online and at in-home trunk shows. I attended a friend’s trunk show the fall of 2009 and then in the spring 2010. I indulged and bought a few statement pieces (I love jewelry….). The quality necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings are gorgeous, on-trend and stylish. I started seeing Stella & Dot featured more frequently in magazines like O, People, Lucky and In Style. Hollywood celebs, morning news anchors and talk show hosts have been wearing Stella & Dot too. There has been a noticeable momentum and buzz from this San Bruno-based company founded in 2008.  Maybe you’ve been invited or attend a trunk show too? What makes this company different than some of the other direct-sales businesses? It’s worthy of investigating, especially since Stella & Dot revenue has grown from $33 million in 2009 to more than $104 million in 2010. It comes down to appealing design and a precise marketing plan. It always does.

It’s no surprise then that the executive team is a well-educated, business savvy group, each bringing a proven track record to the table, or to the jewelry box as it were. Entrepreneur and Stanford School of Business graduate  Jessica Herrin is founder and CEO of Stella & Dot. Earlier in her career (at age 24) she co-founded the ground-breaking and successful Wedding Channel.com in the 90s (coincidentally one of my high school friend’s worked for her) which later was acquired by The Knot. In 2004 Herrin was ready for her next venture; she established Luxe Jewels and worked with celeb designer Maya Brenner.  In 2007 Mike Lohner and Blythe Harris joined as Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, respectively. The impressive trio re-branded the company Stella & Dot, coined after Jessica and Blythe’s grandmothers.

Herrin wisely partnered with Blythe Harris to create her vision of irresistible jewelry.  Harris studied fashion and accessory design at the Parson’s School of Design in Paris, and with her MBA from Columbia held top positions at DeBeers in London, LVMH Group, Cartier and Banana Republic prior to joining Stella & Dot. Harris blends her luxury market background with her hands-on training in Mexico (metal smithing) and apprenticeship in rural India with artisan jewelry makers to create fresh, on-trend designs. Maya Brenner , Lizzie Fortunato, Nancy Liebowitz and  Wendy Mink are also part of the Stella & Dot design team; their jewelry designs have been sold at such retailers as Fred Segal, Henri Bendel, Anthropolgie, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, and featured in numerous fashion magazines with trend-setting celebs donning their designs. The team follows the apparel fashion calendar and each season’s ready-to-wear runway shows for inspiration for Stella & Dot’s collections. The combination of materials Stella & Dot uses – Czech crystals, leather, semi-precious stones and pearls to name a few – gets this former jewelry buyer very excited indeed! And, thankfully, the range of price points within each collection makes purchasing seasonal trends easier on the budget.

But how has this home-based business taken off in a down-turning economy? BYU and Stanford Graduate School of Business graduate,  Mike Lohner former CEO of Home Interiors and Gifts, Inc., a billion-dollar-a-year party plan company now serves as Chairman of Stella & Dot. Lohner has worked with Herrin to position the company into what they call “a revolutionary entrepreneurial direct-sales business model”. Using e-commerce, social media and direct home sales, Stella & Dot uses a “social-shopping” model for their independent stylists. And, it’s working – business is growing in the United States and Canada, and plans are to expand into Europe.

Does anyone leisurely shop anymore? If you’re like me, shopping is task-oriented. If I go, it’s for something specific – not to mention getting to Arden Shopping Center in Sacramento or The Galleria in Roseville is a challenge with work, kids’ sports schedules and family commitments. So, the “social-shopping” concept of home-based businesses is convenient for visiting with friends and shopping stylish assortments of clothes, accessories, jewelry or  home decor.  With direct sales businesses getting more creative with ways to support independent consultants and stylists using the Internet to market their businesses, resources are able to be directed into developing and creating quality products for purchase. Consumers are savvy. They aren’t going to let go of their dollars easily. Stella & Dot seems to have their market defined both in attracting their sales force and with luxe, fashion-forward product.

I spoke with one Stella & Dot stylist based out of Davis, her name is Lisa Qvistgaard.  Prior to becoming a stylist for Stella & Dot, this Sacramento native, Cal grad and former commercial property manager has been a stay-at-home mom of three children. She was considering her options for supplemental income, while keeping in mind her need for a flexible schedule, a desire to use her Economics degree and a drive for business. After attending a friend’s Stella & Dot trunk show, she was hooked! The quality product, design and marketing support made for an easy  jump-start into this “not your grandmother’s Mary Kay” business. Venture capitalists agree that Stella & Dot has what it takes.  In fact, Alfred Lin, former COO and CFO of  Zappos.com who recently sold Zappos.com to Amazon.com, invested $37 million into Stella & Dot.  What makes this all so interesting is how capitalism can flourish over the Internet and in living rooms, fostering the skills of a hidden workforce (educated women at home with their children) and making accessible high-quality, on-trend fashion accessories all over the world with relatively small start-up costs!

With Valentine’s Day coming soon it’s the perfect time to treat yourself to a new bauble or two. Check out the latest looks by clicking here, or come see it for yourself in person at Sudwerk’s in Davis this Wednesday, February 9th from 6pm to 9pm where there will be a trunk show set up open to the public. Tell your Valentine to go grab a beer AND your Valentine’s Day present. Or, get your girlfriends together for wine, a bite to eat and shop local to your heart’s content!

Photo Credits to Stella & Dot

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