Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why is Kathy Ireland the Biggest Name in Home Furnishings?

Tony Hsieh, Co-Founder and CEO of I am a big fan of Tony Heish and his book "Delivering Happiness". I never questioned his decision to combine his IT genius with an idea man, and then to seek out someone who is an expert in Shoes to get that idea to market. I have, however been very skeptical (and that is a nice way of saying it) of Kathy Ireland's success in the Furniture Industry. I'm sure it is just sour grapes, I mean, heck she's a stunning woman, a pioneer in the 'supermodel' world, and has a self made $350 million empire. As Melanie Griffith Said in the movie "Working Girl" Kathy Ireland has "a head for business and a body for sin." 
This weekend, I read the Forbes cover article about Kathy Ireland "How Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Kathy Ireland Became a $350 Million Mogul" this weekend. It had been sitting on my kitchen counter for a month and I had been avoiding it. Growing in in Santa Barbara it was enough to know that a stunning supermodel lives her, let alone is now the biggest name in the furniture industry---my industry--- OUR industry.But as I read the article a few things about her story struck me as being similar to that of Tony Hsieh.

Entrepreneurs out of the Womb 

In his book "Delivery Happiness" Hseih recounts the numerous entrepreneurial jobs he had starting at a young age. He was even flipping businesses for profit before the age of 16. Hsieh learned young to fail fast and fail often in order to succeed. Surprisingly, Kathy Ireland reveals in this Forbes article that she also started in business young. She had a paper route at 11, demanding a job as a "paper-girl" when the ad called for a "paper-boy". She painted rocks and sold them door to door. Ireland even hired a contractor to price a remodel on her family home so that she could have her own bedroom at the age of 11. And. like Hsieh, Ireland is an author of a business/self help book "Real Solutions for Busy Moms".

And, like Tony Heish who knew nothing about the shoe business, Ireland does not profess to be a home furnishings expert. Heish attributes the success of to their business model of 'Wowing' the customer. He beleives they can sell anything from toasters to timeshares as long as they focus on exceeding customer expectations. Similarly, Ireland, has built her brand on the value of “Finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.” Where a traditional 'designer' sketches a product based on form and function, Ireland takes aesthetic inspiration from around the world. "Her design ideas are then boiled into the company’s eight style guides, which are created by the professional designers within the company." Those guides are then passed along to licencees who develop product for the Kathy Ireland Worldwide team to review. So, while most likely is not the actual "designer" of the individual furniture or home decor items, she does influence the final product by making sure the style is within their style guidelines, and more importantly the products live up to their tag line of making like easier for busy moms. 

Is she a busy mom? Well yes, in fact she is very busy as the head of a multi-million dollar corporation, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a sister. In addition she is active in several charities in Los Angeles and locally. So sure, she may be rich, but that is because she has worked hard, her whole life. So she does in fact understand the life of a busy mom in as the article says "fly over country." In fact, her home is a relaxed and comfortable environment where the dogs are allowed on the sofas and coasters aren't required on the tables. Rather than live their lives to protect their furnishings, Ireland ensures that that the products she buys for her own home are safe for her kids, protected from stain, and aesthetically beautiful. Similarly, all the products licensed under the Kathy Ireland brand to include features that make her furniture and decor family friendly and durable. Examples included rounded corners on furniture to protect kids from injury and Scotch-guard or other protective coating on textiles.

This summer Kathy Ireland will deliver the Keynote Address at Licensing International Expo 2012 in Las Vegas. And, I am signed up to attend and very much looking forward to it.

In Conclusion
Great job local girl Kathy Ireland. And I'm sorry for all those nasty, jealousy induced thoughts I had about you. Clearly you are a kick-ass business woman. 


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