Posted on October 09 2015
The best way to become good at business is to learn from people who are good at business. You can read all the books you want but there is no substitute for learning firsthand from somebody. If you can’t pin down a mentor, instead try case studying a business and seeing if you can’t learn from their secrets of success. I want to drill down into the why and how of the best businesses out there as much as I possibly can. Doing so helps me look at my own biz differently, and push it further.
Lets take J. Crew. When I lived in the US J. Crew wasn’t yet cool – it was kind of rocking a preppy Nantucket trad sort of vibe. Fast forward 10 years and it’s now morphed into a cult with their creative head Jenna Lyons as high priestess. For anyone who doesn’t know of Jenna, she is almost single-handedly responsible for creating that girl meets boy style we now see everywhere. Her aesthetic is sequin-sprinkled androgyny. She perfectly melds nerdy/preppy style with glamour, whether that’s clothes or interiors too for that matter. It’s not enough to be super stylish of course, she also needed to pack real business punch to make J. Crew what it is today. So what can we learn from Jenna?
#1: Buy, make, sell what you love
Jenna is a walking brand ambassador – she can nearly always be found wearing J. Crew, and of course looking pretty darn fabulous in it! But apart from causing major envy and street style inspiration it also shows that she really loves and believes in the products. Interestingly enough it was only when Mickey Drexler became chairman and CEO of J. Crew and promoted Jenna Lyons did things start to change. No longer was product designed by corporate strategy, from then on they would only make and sell what they loved. Major tip!
#2: Constantly assess and re-assess
J. Crew keep it moving constantly. Assessing, re-assessing and trying out new ideas all the time. They get rid of stuff that doesn’t work, and they get rid of it quickly! Second major tip: if it won’t work, move on. Anything that isn’t moving should be taken off your website and off the shopfloor by discounting. Introduce new things all the time and keep it fresh and exciting for your customers!
#3: Step out of your comfort zone
Lyons takes risks creatively – persuading a brand to move from their homespun preppy Nantucket origins to a grown up and city cool aesthetic is a bold move. But it’s now a multi billion dollar retail powerhouse which resonates with a lot of people. You have to leave your creative comfort zone to achieve the bigtime.
#4: Brand is everything
Designing distinctive clothing was only the first step in turning around the business. Jenna realised that everything had to be unified from the bricks and mortar stores to the catalogue to the website. She gave it one singular vision, so no matter if you strolled into a store or shopped virtually it all felt the same. She upped the ante with the brochures turning then almost into a fashion magazine. Their mantra was so fun and inspiring that I tore it from a brochure years ago and framed it in my studio. Now there’s a company who know who they are, and know their brand!
#5: Stay strong
Interestingly, J. Crew sales have somewhat slumped over the past year. Their CEO Drexler blames intense competition, a decline in mall traffic and the rise in cut-throat online discounts and promotions. But of course the headlines and the press blame Jenna Lyons. Every business has bouts of failure and temporary setbacks. What truly matters is how you react to them and learn from those failures like slumps in sales.
So my biggest tip is ultimately failure should never stop you from following your vision or quitting. It might mean you have to go back to the drawing board a couple more times or it might make you take a different direction. The more I read and learn from the bigwigs the more I realise that many successes are often rooted in failure. Interesting no?