An Analytical Mindset
Background: Before starting Crow’s Nest Trading Co. with her husband Doug, Cary Tennis was vice president of sales at a now-defunct home furnishings catalog.
Why started a catalog: Lifestyle. “My husband is a hunting and fishing enthusiast, and he’s gotten me involved in a lot of that,” says Tennis. “We fit our own customer demographics. We felt there was a void in the market that we could reach. Plus, we were at a point in our lives, that mid-life thing, when we were either going to keep going to that same high-rise office building every day working for someone else, or we were going to do our own thing.”
How it got started: “We found a small community near where we wanted to be [in North Carolina]. We identified the accountants, bankers, attorneys, people essential to organizing and starting a company.”
Greatest initial challenge: “Without question, financing. We organized a local group of private investors. We had to learn very quickly how to sell ourselves.”
How many investors they pitched the idea to: Thirty to 35. “You start to black out things that you don’t want to remember,” she says with a laugh. “We were introduced to some powerful people [in Wilson, N.C.]. That made it easier, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time.”
What sets the catalog apart: Merchandise. “A lot of what we sell isn’t available anywhere else.”
Growth strategy: “We’ll continue to grow the company 35 to 50 percent each year for the next 10 years, minimum. We’ve been on a fast track and expect to stay on it. We’ll enhance our Internet and e-mail marketing efforts, and possibly spin off another title.”
Greatest current challenge: Staffing. “We must get people into position now to help us grow the company and meet our business plan for the next five years.”
Key points to her success:
* ”We’re going for the ‘working smart’ part now rather than quite as much of the ‘working hard.’”
* Terrific service providers (e.g., printers, creative, prepress, list professionals, consultants).
* Analytical mindset. “We analyze daily what our customers are telling us; study their buying habits; find out where we’re hitting and missing, what kind of merchandising changes to make.”
Mentor: A gentleman she once worked for. “He taught me that nothing short of perfection was good enough. He’d tell me where I could improve and how to maintain that edge of excellence. That’s something that has stuck with me. I’m never happy until things are perfect. He also taught me to be analytical, and that’s something that’s carried through for me in the catalog business.”
What she loves about cataloging: The sheer volume. “There’s a huge risk, for example, every time we order from a printer x million catalogs, buy postage or order products. But there’s a rush in realizing that we can succeed at it.”
Her definition of success: “The fruits of our labors are beginning to ripen. We’re working harder than ever, and we’re able to have quality personal time with our friends and family. That makes us feel that we’re reaching that success mark.”