Stella & Dot founder saw a way to dress up direct sales
The gig: Jessica Herrin is founder and chief executive of Stella & Dot, a fast-growing company that sells fashion jewelry, handbags and other accessories online and via direct sales.
Stella & Dot salespeople, called stylists, pay a minimum of $199 for a starter kit and sell the company’s merchandise at in-home trunk show parties; they also earn money from purchases made on the brand’s website and mobile app. The San Bruno, Calif., company has 370 employees and more than 18,000 active stylists in five countries. Revenue last year was $220 million.
Personal: Herrin lives in Hillsborough, Calif., with her husband, Chad, and their two daughters, 10-year-old Charlie and 7-year-old Tatum.
Education: She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University but dropped out of Stanford’s MBA program after a year to co-create a gift registry and wedding content website called Della & James. The company would go on to become WeddingChannel.com, which was later sold to wedding and family planning website TheKnot.com.
First job: Herrin, 41, grew up in Glendale and got a job serving ice cream at a local Baskin-Robbins when she was 15. As a teenager, she also worked at Haagen-Dazs, Baby Gap, Newport Surf, Chuy’s and Islands to help pay for college.
Career change: After graduating from Stanford, Herrin was set to become an investment banker at J.P. Morgan and had an apartment lined up in Manhattan. But on a whim she took a job interview at a software start-up in Austin, Texas, and decided to pursue what she called “a less certain path.”
Got the idea: In 2001, Herrin happened upon a Mary Kay direct-sales convention while she was on a business trip in Dallas.
She says she noticed how excited the women were to be selling cosmetics and running their own businesses, but she felt direct sales entrepreneurship needed a tech-infused, youthful upgrade that Mary Kay and other brands lacked.
“I didn’t resonate with that sales model. I thought of it as something for my grandmother,” she said. “It didn’t seem very modern. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it didn’t appeal to me or, I thought, any of the women of my generation.”
Double duty: Soon after, Herrin, who was working in the global e-commerce group at Dell, began dabbling with the idea of starting her own direct-sales company. Jewelry seemed easy to sell straight to consumers, and she recognized a hole in the market for mid-priced accessories.
She went to jewelry-making classes and bead shows, and spent her nights and weekends designing necklaces, earrings and bracelets from her Austin living room. She bootstrapped the start-up, which she called Luxe Jewels, and quit Dell in 2004 to work on the business full time.
Working mother: Although she did her first trunk shows when she was pregnant with her first daughter, Herrin decided to wait until the time was right for her family before going all-in with Luxe Jewels.
“I didn’t try to go for hyper-growth in the business in the early years,” she said. “I paced it around the birth of my newborn and then my second child, and only after I was done nursing my second baby and I could travel did I ratchet it up.”
How it works: A customer signs up to host a trunk show in her home and invites her friends over. A Stella & Dot stylist brings over sample products for the women to try on and takes merchandise orders, earning a roughly 30% commission. The host of the party receives free product credit and other perks.
Herrin said stylists typically earn $250 to $300 per trunk show. Most stylists are women who sell Stella & Dot products part time and make an average of $2,400 a year.
Stella & Dot designs and manufactures all of its products. Half of the jewelry is priced at less than $50.
First big purchase: After Herrin left WeddingChannel.com, she and her husband took three months to see the world, traveling to such places as Thailand, Croatia and Egypt. She also paid off her student loans.
What’s in a name: Herrin and Chief Creative Officer Blythe Harris decided to change the name of the company from Luxe Jewels to Stella & Dot in honor of their grandmothers.
“We wanted a name that really spoke to the spirit of the business, which is — it’s a company inspired by and created for strong women,” she said.
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