By  on August 30, 2007

NEW YORK — Jodi Arnold is getting pumped for a big year.

As creative director of nine-year-old contemporary line Mint, Arnold has made some major changes to her company. Her first move was to partner with longtime friend DeForrest Borders 3rd, who spent 14 years at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. gaining experience in business development. Now, as principal and chief executive officer of Mint, Borders has helped Arnold in a turnaround of the business.

They took the line out of the Globe showroom and opened a corporate showroom at 230 West 39th Street here, implemented technology to help the sales team easily collect data on a more regular and consistent basis, launched a Web site and for spring, a new contemporary line, called Jodi Arnold.

"For several years, DeForrest listened to my frustrations about how tough this business is," Arnold explained. "So when he came in a year ago, it was a big relief for me to be able to really focus on the design, which is really what I know the most about."

Borders, who said he has seen firsthand how advances in technology can transform businesses, was eager to upgrade and reorganize Mint's practices. An in-house sales team was hired and trained to use Borders' new data system. Previously, Arnold said many things were done the old-fashioned way — with pen and paper.

"Good business is driven by process and structure," Borders said. "So for us to be in a multiline showroom didn't make sense. With our own sales team here under this roof, we have full control of how this business is run."

Since Arnold and Borders opened their own showroom and upgraded the technology, business has increased by 60 percent, Borders said. By the close of 2007, the Mint brand will bring in about $15 million in wholesale volume. With Arnold freed to concentrate on the creative side, she's had the time and ability to design a new line, Jodi Arnold, launching for spring.

Although the Jodi Arnold collection is still considered a contemporary line, it is priced about 20 percent higher than the Mint label, with the average wholesale price between $200 and $250. Jodi Arnold is also a bit more sophisticated than Mint, as Mint has become known for its playful prints and embellished details on tops, dresses and skirts. The Jodi Arnold line focuses more on the richness and textures of higher-end Italian fabrics draped in ways that flatter a woman's figure. Most of the collection is done in solid, vivid colors, such as in a bright yellow silk dress, bright blue fine cotton top and tailored high-rise, wide-leg pants."I tried introducing pieces like these within the Mint line and our buyers just didn't get it," Arnold said. "They weren't expecting it from us, so they weren't into it. Now that it's a separate brand, I think they will be more receptive and see it in a new way."

Arnold said she was inspired to create the line when she became older and more sophisticated herself, and had more interest in wearing simpler, well-made silhouettes. Arnold said she also thinks this line will open up more accounts for the company. Mint sells in 320 better department and specialty stores such as Barneys New York, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus. While the line should open new doors, Arnold was clear that Mint's mission is not to extend distribution, but to increase the amount of product in the stores on a more regular basis.

"A lot of time stores will order one season, but not the next," she said. "We want to do what we can to make sure we are consistently on the floor."

Arnold said she has begun doing more to connect herself directly with the Mint customer, and has been able to do that in a big way with the launch of mintjodiarnold.com, which went live three months ago. Though the Web site is constantly evolving with new elements, Arnold and Borders agreed that customer service is key, and the site is treated as any brick-and-mortar store would be treated. Each item sold is mailed to the customer in a carefully wrapped, visually appealing package, each with a handwritten note from Arnold herself.

Soon the partners will launch an interactive section on the site where customers can get style advice from Arnold. In addition, Borders and Arnold will introduce a charity element, where a percentage of sales will go to a charity of the customer's choice. Borders said he expects sales from the site to eventually be 10 percent of the company's overall volume.

Next up, Arnold and Borders plan to open freestanding stores and they have already started looking for space in the West Village and in SoHo.

"We are OK to wait until the right space opens up," Arnold said. "We want an intimate space so we can continue to have that intimate relationship with our customers."

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