I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Davis, founder of Carlisle Company and Worth Collection last week. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of in-home clothing sales, it is a multi-million dollar industry which empowers women and truly changes their lives for the better.
As a young mother Caroline understood how difficult it was to raise children, find decent part-time work and make some extra spending money free and clear of her husband’s loving, but discerning eye. We’ve all been there—we want it, it’s expensive and we don’t want to go through the financial director for the A-OK. Her vision was to create a company for women who love beautiful clothing and are self-motivated, well connected and possess a knack for sales. Caroline has made history not only in the retail clothing industry, but in the dog-eat-dog world of fashion.
Here is Caroline’s story:
You started as a sales rep for Doncaster, and then became one of the founders of Carlisle and Worth Collection. What motivated you to get in the clothing business?
I was a stay-at-home Mom with a two-year-old and five-year-old in the 60’s and I wanted an Electrolux Vacuum — after all, my mother had one and my grandmother had one. They were expensive. One day I was reading the National Junior League magazine and saw an advertisement looking for sales reps for Doncaster Clothing. I started with them as a sales rep, moved into management and then was a founder of Carlisle, prior to co-founding The Worth Collection in 1991. I am proud to say the majority of the Worth managers are women.
In a recent interview, you said company culture is important to you since many of your managers are not housed under a corporate roof. Please describe Worth’s company culture.
Worth reaches out to women, empowers them and makes them the best they can be. We do that by training them on organizational skills, how to sell and how to merchandise. They become true leaders in their communities. When I started selling clothing, women did not go to the top business schools and management jobs were not readily available. Selling Worth clothing allows you to manage your own business and build a career with significant financial gain.
Worth has been built and is successful primarily because of women. What are some of the qualities women bring to the company that may often get over looked by traditional employers?
Women are incredible networkers. We can sit at a table with eight women we do not know and after an hour know much about their lives, their families and their aspirations. Women bring a sense of empathy and compassion to the workplace. In order to be successful, Worth sales reps must be organized and goal-oriented. The right woman selling Worth Clothing can do quite well financially.
Have there been difficult periods in your business and if so, how did you handle them?
Worth, just like many other companies in the luxury market, was hurt by the recession of 2008. One positive thing Worth did was to invest heavily in technology, helping to position our company to compete in the virtual world. We focused on online training, inventory management and payment systems. Even though Worth went through a difficult time, we have rebounded nicely.
What makes Worth Clothing so special?
First and foremost, each Worth Sales Associate has a real relationship with her customer. Worth is a relationship business. Relationships are at the heart of what we do. Secondly, Worth clothes are crafted with fabrics from the finest mills in Europe. The attention to detail on every piece of clothing is exceptional.
Has the proliferation of the Gilt Group and other discount high-end sellers hurt your business?
No, our sales are built on relationships and trust, not impulse buying.
What advice would you give to women thinking of starting their own business?
Build a strategic plan with at least 18 months of working capital in the bank. Understand the market you are in and where you want to go. Choose your partners well. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Finally, retain the best counsel with regard to lawyers, accountants and advisors.
You recently moved here from NYC; what do you like about Nashville?
My family is here and that is wonderful. I find Nashville simply charming and an easy place to live. Since I am quasi-retired, I look forward to discovering more about the city.
When it comes to shopping, what is the most common mistake women make?
Mainly, impulse buying without thinking of what you need or can use. Also, women have a hang up about their arms and they need to be deliberate with the clothes they select. (And, we all know the arms are the first to go!)
What book is on your bedside table?
The Nine, Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffery Toobin and Must You Go? My life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser.
Thank you for a wonderful interview!
If you would like to attend a WORTH or W by WORTH Trunk Show, the Spring 2011 shows are going on right now! Please see the names and locations below so that you can get more information. We have contact information on a few of the agencies below. We will update as we find out all email information. For now, you can go to: www.worthny.com for specific information.
Nashville WORTH Collection: Jane Corcoran and Lucy Haynes
Nashville W: Judy Wilcox and Michelle Austin
Brentwood WORTH Collection: Denise Pastina
Brentwood W: Jamie Villers and Margaret Starling
Franklin WORTH Collection: Kathy Meadows and Beth Ann Glassford