Stella & Dot's CEO on the Brink of Making a Billion

Jessica Herrin reinvented her jewelry business twice before finding a concept that really clicked with consumers—and made her seriously rich

by Amanda Robb
jessica herrin image
Photograph: Jessica Haye and Clark Hsiao

More than half a million dollars sounds like a lot. But when Herrin left, its sales were upwards of $100 million. To get back into the really big leagues, Herrin did something she felt was key to her first business success: She found a mentor.

Early in her career, during Della & James’s start-up phase, Herrin had sought investment from the venture capitalist Doug Mackenzie, then a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “He told me, ‘Nine out of 10 companies in their successful form look nothing like their original form when they began,’ ” says Herrin. “So achieving a good outcome is not about being right from the start. It’s about being tenacious and committed to constant improvement.”

Now Herrin wondered, How could she improve Luxe Jewels? She decided to cold-call Mike Lohner, former CEO of a direct-sales company, Home Interiors & Gifts, that during his tenure had deployed a force of 120,000 consultants and generated about a billion dollars in annual retail revenue. Herrin got Lohner’s home phone number in Dallas through a friend and asked to meet with him. “She was on a plane the next day,” Lohner says with a laugh. “She explained Luxe Jewels, then asked what I liked and what I didn’t. I told her flat out that I didn’t like the beading-party concept. There wasn’t enough money in it—for her and her sales force.”

Herrin’s response: “Oh, great! We can change that.” Lohner was impressed. “You could give her bad news, and it took her about 30 seconds to get over it and turn it into a positive.”

Herrin knew she didn’t have the design chops to create a whole jewelry line. So she signed up Maya Brenner, whose delicate, playful jewelry is a celebrity favorite. Then Herrin rebranded. Luxe Jewels was no longer just a direct-sales business; it was also a “social selling” company. Herrin’s reps, called stylists, ask customers about their social lives (a training manual suggests asking, “What special events are coming up? Weddings? Parties?”), then offer to help them find the right jewelry for their outfits. Stylists learn to mix and match different looks. They make money through a tiered system in which they recruit other reps and earn their own sales commissions (25 to 30 percent of retail) as well as varying commissions on sales made by reps “down-line.” Like most other direct sellers, Herrin requires her salespeople to buy a starter kit (currently $199, which includes $350 worth of jewelry), and they typically invest an additional $800 to buy more jewelry, business cards, display trays and a carrying case.

In 2006, Luxe Jewels hit $1 million in sales. But Herrin was far from satisfied. “I saw the company as something that could do more than make a million dollars,” she says. “We offer people—women mostly—the opportunity to work when they want, as much as they want.” That summer she spotted a chance to reach her goal when she met Blythe Harris, who had recently introduced Banana Republic’s jewelry line. The two shared a vision of selling fashionable jewelry that had broad appeal, and Herrin decided to relaunch her company a second time. She offered Harris the title of chief creative officer and asked her to participate in renaming the enterprise. (Brenner, who already had her own successful high-end line of jewelry, would continue to design for the company.) Harris feels her sense of style and passion for beautiful things come from her grandmother Dot. Herrin traces her drive and tenacity to her grandmother Stella. Stella & Dot was born.

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