HOW THE MIDWEST WAS WON
THE ELSNERS KNOW WHAT HEARTLANDERS WANT: A LOT OF STYLE WITH A LOW PRICE TAG.

Byline: Melissa Knopper

Across the Midwest, women will have a chance to buy holiday outfits from Los Angeles designer Jane Booke that will make them look and feel like a queen.
This fall, Elsner & Associates will become the only representative in the Chicago area to carry Booke’s line of romantic fur-trimmed coats and gowns.
Booke is known for her couture line, worn by such stars as Jennifer Aniston and Melanie Griffith. But recently, she decided to offer a more affordable special-occasion line.
“We’re really excited about introducing it to our Midwest customers,” said Donna Elsner, who runs the family business with her husband, Ed, and two sons, Dale and Paul. Booke’s black fur-trimmed microfiber fleece “Snow Angel” coat wholesales for $200.
Most of the Elsners’ other lines have lower price points. For example, they do a good business with Soda Blu, a trendy young contemporary line that offers a one-shoulder tank for $10 wholesale and bleached novelty jeans for $25.
Even more youth oriented is Tractor, a junior line with sizes 00 to 13. Another popular line is American Groove, with flared black stretch workout pants and cotton T-shirts embellished with rhinestones.
For retail customers in their 30s to 60s, the Elsners offer linen Fenini jackets for $34 wholesale and embellished coats by Avaloo for $65.
When Ed Elsner started the business 14 years ago, after selling children’s clothing and a wholesale shoe line, he had a showroom in the Apparel Center. But two years ago, Elsner and his son decided to move their operation to the suburbs. In their new Park Ridge location, everything, from rent to parking and hotel rooms, is cheaper and easier for both the Elsners and their customers, Ed explained.
Each member of the Elsner family has a different role in the business: Ed is the manager and chief traveling salesman, Donna stays home to book appointments and place orders behind the scenes. The youngest, Dale, 32, is in charge of keeping up with the fashions and seeking new lines.
Looking back on his years as a rep, Ed sums up the keys to his success. First, he takes marketing seriously and tries to do something a little different from the competition. Second, he says, the customer comes first.
“If a manufacturer gives a customer a hard time, then we don’t need that manufacturer anymore,” he explained. Finally, diversity is crucial. That’s why Elsner & Associates carries a little bit of everything, from junior and misses’ lines to special occasion gowns for women in their 50s and 60s. They do some sales through their Web site and some catalog work.
It’s a formula that works. Despite the recent economic downturn, the Elsners report sales are up 10 percent over last year.
Customer Gale Allen says the Elsners’ good selection of loose, flowing clothes originally caught her eye. She always returns to stock up on Anna-Bella overalls and loose, funky Avaloo jackets for her Geneva, Ill., boutique, A Different Drummer. “They keep us coming back — and they are the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”