Mary Ella Gabler
Warren Shoulberg -- Home Textiles Today, 3/4/2012 2:00:00 AM
For an industry whose products are overwhelmingly bought by women, the home textiles industry remains one largely run by men. The one exception is the higher-end bedding category, where several women do indeed run the show. And in this area, one woman has been doing it longer than most: Mary Ella Gabler.
Stockbroker turned designer turned entrepreneur, the 70-year-old Gabler has been the face of Dallas-based Peacock Alley since she created it in 1973. And even if her two sons now take care of most of the business, she is still very much the person identified with the brand.
For this latest in our series of Living - & Working - Legends interviews, HTT sat down with her at the recent New York International Gift Fair, where Peacock Alley's booth was dominated by a vintage motor boat.
HTT: How did you get started in the home textiles business?
Mary Ella Gabler: I started making some decorative pillows and giving them away to friends after I moved to Dallas in 1966. I had young children, so I wanted to do something at home. In 1973, I created a boudoir pillow and then got in touch with Neiman Marcus. I showed it to them and they asked me to do something for their next Fortnight promotion.
My first order did well and so I saw the need to do a bedding line for Neiman's, too. That's when I established the Peacock Alley name. I named it for the restaurant at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, where I had lunch when I lived there.
HTT: If you hadn't gone into this field, what would you have done?
MEG: When I lived in New York in the 1960s - I was born in Pennsylvania - I was one of the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. But I always thought I needed to do something more entrepreneurial, though I wasn't trained in design. I had one semester of home economics at school. But I have no regrets about giving up my stock market career.
HTT: When did you know you were going to be successful in this business?
MEG: I always felt I was going to be successful. If you're working in a dedicated way, you know it will work.
HTT: What single accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
MEG: The first thing I think of is that we have a respected brand that the marketplace knows, and that gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I am very proud of what we've accomplished.
HTT: If you had to do something over, what would it be and how would you do it differently?
MEG: I don't think there's anything I would do differently. Now, I've made my share of mistakes and learned some things the hard way. I might have managed my company differently from time to time, but focusing on specialty stores was the right way for us to go.
HTT: What's the single-biggest change you've seen in the industry?
MEG: The biggest change I think has been the focus on the consumer versus the way it used to be. Relating to the consumer through the Internet has been a dramatic change. It used to be the retailer before, and while we've always tried to support retailers, the consumer is the focus in the market now.
HTT: If you could do one thing to improve the industry's overall business, what would it be?
MEG: I would say to find a better tool for educating the consumer on the quality that goes into these products versus just the price. This industry makes some wonderful products, but the consumer never hears about them.
HTT: What's your exit strategy?
MEG: I'm always going to be in place here. My sons - Jason, ceo, and Josh, vp of marketing - have taken over the majority of the business, so I can do product development and design. But I love what I do and I love working with them. I'm not going anywhere.
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