A Cut Above
Doing the Homework
As Lee Helman, managing director of New York-based investment bank Financo, observes, “Starting a business from $10,000 takes a tremendous amount of determination, cleverness and resolve. Most businesses don’t make it to the $10 million level, not to mention beyond the $20 million-plus level to which Terri’s already taken her companies,” he says.
“She learned from Professional Cutlery Direct,” Helman adds. “Now with Uno Alla Volta, she’s smart from the first time. You can tell she’s done her homework. She’s very thorough.”
Though the promise of an acquisition might expand the companies’ product offerings and add sales, it could cut the other way by virtue of lost focus, Helman says. He believes that the brightest opportunity lies in product expansions within Uno Alla Volta and potential spin-off books. “That could really take them into the stratosphere.”
Another element of the organization’s evolution is the level of top talent it’s accrued. In June, Jean Giesmann, the former creative services executive at BlueSky Brands and 1-800-Flowers.com, was brought in as executive creative director. Her hiring follows the November 2007 hiring of catalog veteran Chris Topping, who was brought in as general manager following stints at Petals, J. Crew and Wine Enthusiast.
“I was drawn here by the strategic vision of Terri and Jay to build a business around a portfolio of unique brands,” Topping says. “They already had a solid operating platform with a high level of information availability and analytics. Also, I’ve never seen inventory turns at the levels Uno Alla Volta and Cooking Enthusiast achieve.”
Also part and parcel to the companies’ growth is dealing with more than 400 artisans, many of whom are small and remotely located. “My merchandising team and I look for unique, handcrafted products world-wide,” Alpert says. “Recently I was in Paris and found wonderful lamps. The lamps have actual elements of nature: flowers, seashells and plant life of all kinds encapsulated in massive crystal. These are used as the bases of lamps.”