Tears of Entrepreneurial Joy
By Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, 3/12/2007 12:00:00 AM
I first attended one of the Anna's Linens annual vendor parties seven years ago, when the retailer celebrated its entry into the New Orleans market.
Anna's had jumped the confines of its California base only a year earlier with a handful of store openings in Houston. At the time, planting four or five new stores a year was big deal for Anna's — which then had about 50 units. The vendor party in a small room off the main dining area at Emil's consisted of five tables, max.
Two weeks ago, Anna's filled the grand ballroom at the Orange County Hyatt in California with more than 500 people — store managers, district managers, buying team, operations, and vendors. The following day, it held its first vendor trade show so managers could weigh in on what they thought would work best in their stores. To say the mood bordered on giddy would be an understatement.
Anna's will operate nearly 300 stores by the close of this year. Clearly, it is gaining critical mass, but it retains a distinct culture with four stand-out elements:
Service: The company mantra is "sales and service," with comparable weight given to both. That goes a long way toward explaining how Anna's derives nearly a third of its sales from window, a notoriously complicated product category for consumers.
Stability: As one of Anna's Vendor of the Year winners pointed out at the Hyatt event, buyer turnover at Anna's is uncommonly low. Buyers understand their customers, know their stores, know their product areas, and know their suppliers' capabilities.
Symbiosis: "Partnership" is a much-abused concept in the retail industry, but at Anna's it has some real meaning. For years, founder Alan Gladstone pledged he would remember everyone who stuck with the company during the dark days of bankruptcy in the '90s. Today's policy: all things being equal, the legacy supplier gets the order. Longstanding relationships are considered a good thing.
Sentiment: It is rare to attend a corporate gathering where passion for the business runs so high that senior executives shed tears. At Anna's, it is simply a fact of life.
Suppliers also note that Anna's buyers are merchants first, genuinely enthusiastic about product. Said one: "They're fun to do business with — and when was the last time you heard anybody said that?"
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