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Brooklyn Industries, a Family Business With Style!

Aug 17, 2007
A couple of months ago I was invited to a breakfast where Crains Magazine was honoring some exceptional small businesses located here in NYC.

Each company was represented by one of its owners, spread out across the front of the room - each prepared to tell us a little bit of "their story" - Brooklyn Industries was one of them and was well represented by its co-founder Lexy Funk.

As soon as she was introduced I realized I was sitting at the table next to her cheering section, including among others, her husband, co-founder, and fellow entrepreneur, Vahap Avsar.

I intended to speak with Lexy after the event but the line of business owners wanting to ask her advice and opinion was too long. I put my notes aside and didn't think about Brooklyn Industries again until this past weekend.

My wife had read about the shops on Smith St.in Brooklyn and since we had not been there for at least five years, and it was a beautiful day to stroll along the side streets in this vibrant ever changing community - we thought we'd make a day of it.

BTW, for those of you who don't live in NYC, Brooklyn is larger than you would imagine. Its 2.5 million people make it bigger than San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, and St. Louis combined. So when we go there we limit what we hope to see to a single area.

When we reached the corner of Atlantic Ave. & Smith Street I found myself standing in front of a Brooklyn Industries store - full cool of clothes and accessories some of which are now destined for nieces and nephews from Pennsylvania to California - and Lexy's comments at the Crains breakfast resonated with me.

Like many entrepreneurs she and her husband, starting the business in a tiny Brooklyn apartment with a single idea for turning their art into handbags, had expanded from the original concept of the business founded in the mid 90's to one that in 2001 required a radical makeover. For business owners this sort of thing is usually forced on them, by the economy, the bank, etc. Otherwise they keep on doing what they are doing until the money runs out.

In their case it was the economic slowdown in 2001 that cause them to take action. They got out of the things that we not working well enough to be part of the solution, and had become part of the problem. They got out of everything except the retail business.

"That was the turning point," said Lexy. "We were doing too many things." And she was right, for them retailing provided direct access and input from their customers, daily cash flow, and control of all elements of merchandising and display.

They know their customers, they know their markets, and they can make decisions based on the most granular feedback possible, the people who walk in the door of their stores. The store at Atlantic Ave. & Smith St. is only one of their five stores in Brooklyn, one in the SOHO neighborhood in Manhattan and a few more on the way. They are looking at revenues of 7.2 million dollars this year and more in the next few years as the new Manhattan stores gain traction.

Success in the 21st century requires more than having a good idea or even a good product competitively priced. It requires leadership. Not the kind of leadership you read about in books, even though that's important, it's the kind of leadership that causes everyone from the storeroom to the board room to embrace the mission of the organization.

When everyone knows they are being treated fairly and sense that their input in important to the company's success, they will train one another, support one another, and pitch in to help one another and the company without being asked.

Sustained success is also a function of strategic management. In fact more than anything else management has always determined which of the companies with good ideas, good products, good locations, and good leaders - survive and succeed. No matter how much your employees like you, sometimes unpopular decisions must be made. In the case of Brooklyn Industries, Lexy's background was as an artist, Vahap a former photographer. So while they had ideal credentials for creating trendy clothes and accessories, business management was a new animal to them.

While they devoured stacks of business management books and periodicals such as the Harvard Business Review, they have received their real management education from the support network they have built around them and from their customers.

It will be interesting to follow the progress of Brooklyn Industries over the next few years. When leadership is in place and management strategies are being continually tweaked and fine tuned the result is the creation and maintenance of an ever evolving strategic planning process.

Strategic planning for the months and years ahead does not need to be complicated. It does not require consultants and analysts. In fact most successful privately held and family owned businesses do strategic planning with only a little help from their friends.

They seek out people they respect in business, people they are not in direct competition with, and people whose opinions and experience are relevant to theirs. They then mutually commit to meeting together on a regular basis to discuss issues of critical importance to each of them.

The resulting advisory group of supporters whose experiences parallel those they are having or are likely to have created a dynamic team, available every day in every one and committed to one another.
About the Author
Wayne Messick is the publisher of www.iBizresources.com If you are a business owner wanting to leverage what you are already doing right visit the Peer Groups area of our web site. If you are a business advisor wanting to maximize your potential, here are the strategies we are using to generate 3/4 of our new business.
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