November’s A chat with Ashton Harrison, founder, president/CEO, Shades of Light
© Profile of Success, Catalog Success, November 2006
Catalog Success: How did the company/catalog get started?
Ashton Harrison: We opened a retail store in 1986, launched the catalog in 1995, and started the Web site in 1999. Before that I worked for a furniture company. They had 40 stores when I left. I was with them from the time they had seven stores up to 40 stores.
CS: So you struck out on your own to start a retail store.
AH: Yes, that’s right.
CS: What led you to start a catalog?
AH: We had a lot of customers who came to our store from out of town. And they’d ask why we didn’t have a store in their communities. We thought that starting a catalog would prevent us from having to go everywhere.
CS: How did that first catalog mailing go?
AH: It was probably our least successful mailing, because we really didn’t know what we were doing. And at that point, that’s when I called my friend Philip Klaus — I was his ski instructor when I was younger, and I taught his kids to ski — so I knew him. I called him and said, “I know you have a catalog. Can you help me?” Philip had owned the company, Children’s Wear Digest, then he had sold it to The Right Start, then he bought it back. He’s an incredible success. Now his son runs the company.
CS: What was your biggest challenge in the first few years?
AH: Funding, for which we increased working capital line at bank and through the use of personal funds. Finding the right mailing lists, which we hired LENSER then Steve Lett to help us with. And just learning the business, which we did with Phillip Klaus’ help.