Kendra Scott, chief executive officer of Kendra Scott Designs, shared her dungarees-to-designers story. “Farmers and coal miners are my family in Kenosha, Wis. At seven years of age in a blue-collar community, I saw the magic of fashion,” she said, explaining that her aunt, a buyer at a local department store, stoked her niece’s imagination with slides of European fashion shows.
“I went to school for business and marketing, but I had the fashion bug,” Scott said. When she was 19, Scott opened a shop, The Hat Box. “It was a great idea, but it didn’t work out,” she said. When Scott had locked the door to the store for the last time, she sat on the stoop, feeling sorry for herself. Like a bad Hollywood movie, it started to rain. Scott glanced back at the door and saw that the “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign had flipped over to read, “Yes, We’re Open.” “It was speaking to me,” she said. “Fear was holding me back.”
A few years later, Scott decided to try another business, this time designing and manufacturing jewelry and wholesaling it. “I couldn’t find jewelry I wanted,” she said. “I found a white space in a very big market. I made my first collection with $500 and went from store to store in Austin, Texas. People bought it.”
Scott has a talent for finding the silver lining in any situation. “The recession was a wonderful gift,” she said. “Stores we worked with for years were shuttering. All my eggs were in one basket. I realized I needed to talk to my customer and opened retail again in 2010. The company by year-end will operate 39 stores, with 15 to 20 slated to open in 2016.
“We created a reason for people to come into our stores,” she said. “It’s a phenomenon. In one week we do 120 companywide events, including Girls Night Out parties every Wednesday night. Every store has an events coordinator and community outreach director. You’ve got to create a soul” for your store.
The Color Bar, is the heart of Kendra Scott stores. A design studio where customers can create a custom piece of jewelry, the Color Bar is manned by trained jewelry-setters. “It’s instant gratification,” Scott said. “You can also do the Color Bar Online.”
Scott said she connects with the communities where her stores are located by volunteering “to give to every charity that has a silent auction. We do Kendra Gives Back events. When you give, you receive so much more. Giving back is the truest form of success.” Kendra Scott Designs has donated $1 million and more than 50,000 pieces of jewelry to date.
“We want to be a local brand,” she said. “We always have Champagne and cupcakes in the stores — we’re from the South.”
Scott, who has 580 employees, said turnover is low. “We believe in a group commission structure,” she said. “We have a bonus structure.”
Kendra Scott Designs wholesales to Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s, among other stores and Scott educates sales associates on the brand. “I did a breakfast training meeting with Bloomingdale’s associates,” she said.
As the company grows, Scott is trying to make sure she’s building a sustainable business and maintaining the corporate culture.