Ellington Leather CEO Mike Edwards has an interesting professional journey to say the least. He began his career as a buyer at May Department Stores, working his way up the food chain at Target, CompUSA, Golfsmith, West Marine and Jo Ann Stores before transitioning into the executive suite at lucy activewear.
As CEO at lucy, he successfully positioned the company to sale to VF before leading a team of investors to acquire a family-owned leather handbag and accessory company, Ellington. I caught up with Edwards recently in NW Portland, where he was admiring the recently remodeled Ellington flagship store and headquarters.
What initially attracted you to Ellington Leather?
I liked the fact that a 20 year old company had so much potential to expand and develop its brand position. I knew that accessories would be one of the few bright spots in the soft economy. I also like the fact that the company was well funded by global private equity company. Finally, I like that it was based in Portland Oregon so I could capitalize on my business network.
What are your personal goals for Ellington Leather?
I want to create the next lucy but on a much bigger scale. I would love to have the top five spot world wide for handbag and accessories sales. I vision us becoming the next ” Coach ” in that we have a fully developed multi channel brand. My drive to build a great company is personal, I just want to build a great company and have fun.
What key lessons will you be able to apply from your previous experiences (i.e. CompUSA & lucy activewear)?
Keep the SGA low at all cost and be ruthless with protecting the balance sheet. Only have super stars on the team and not accept average performances. Over invest in customer research and invest in the e-commence platform to expand the brand reach. Keep my ego under control and be open to new ideas and most important stay hungry and humble. Last point: think big and positive at all times and make sure all decisions benefit the customers and build a culture that embraces change and innovation.
I understand the original owner was moved when he saw your recent store remodel. Can you tell us about that?
I think he was moved that I respected the history in my decision-making and brand development. The founders loved the company and they want to see that it will grow and embraced many of the values they’d had when they were running company. I did a poor job working with the founder of lucy, I will not make that same mistake twice.
What excites you most about your role and the opportunity ahead of you?
I vision Ellington as a $100M + brand. It’s never about the money or the ” exit ” strategy, though. I just grow brands based on love and respect. I want to show I can do this even in a poor economy and create jobs for many great Americans. Creating opportunities for others is what fuels my passion.
What role will search engine and social media marketing play in your overall marketing efforts?
This is not a option in today’s world. Its keep up or get out of the way. This effort and investment is the most important spend from a brand perspective of any of my other choices. I love the speed and creativity of the media. Most people in the fashion industry just do not ‘get it’ and that’s good for Ellington.
Any parting thoughts about Ellington or entrepreneurship?
Do not under estimate us – Ellington is going to rock the handbag world!