If At First You Do Succeed
Success by design: An interview with One Kings Lane co-founder Susan Feldman and founder of the new website, In The Groove
Looking for that perfect piece of Majolica to complete your collection? Need to find that one- of-a-kind rug that will make the room? Dreaming of that JANUS et Cie chaise but can't get into the showroom?
Over the past 10 years, you had to look no further than your laptop to find it on One Kings Lane, the elegantly curated home decor site that literally puts designer showroom finds, tag sales, and tastemaker picks at your fingertips.
Susan Feldman, 62, was the force, with partner Ali Pincus, behind One Kings Lane which met instant success at its 2009 launch. In 2016, the pair sold OKL to Bed, Bath and Beyond, which continues to expand on the brand’s cache.
Her latest venture is In The Groove, a new online lifestyle destination for age-defying women, launching in late August.
We sat down for breakfast with Susan, because not only is she incredibly astute and creative, she’s fun to hang out with.
Did you expect OKL to be a success right off the bat?
No! Actually we had no idea if OKL would be a success so everything we did was done so that if it didn’t work we could walk away. The first day we did about $1600 in sales. The second day we did $35,000. By the sixth month we were doing about $1million in sales. Sales were growing exponentially every month. We gained traction really quickly. It was one of those lightning-in-a bottle situations.
We actually disrupted the home décor industry. We were innovative. We offered access to our customer to product she hadn’t had access to before OKL. We democratized design.
Wow! How did you finance it originally?
We did bootstrap it for the first year. When we started OKL in November 2009, it was the height of the recession. So we didn’t even bother to try to raise capital because the venture capitalists were literally hiding under their desks. After about a year we brought in outside investors. The news of success spread quickly in the investment community and investors were attracted to OKL for a number of reasons but they really loved that we had clear vision for the business.
Where were you before OKL?
I grew up in a retail family. In high school and college I worked at Macy’s. After graduating from Stanford I moved to Los Angeles and went into an executive training program for a department store in Los Angeles. After 4 years in this program I decided to go to UCLA and get my MBA. In addition to a great education this was a way for me to learn about industries other than retail that I might be interested in. I had a number of offers at considered major consumer product companies in marketing like General Mills and Pepsi but I ended up back in retail.
After visiting a friend of mine who was in Human Resources for Macy’s New York I knew that my passion was merchandising. After graduating from UCLA I moved to NYC and went to work at Macy’s as a buyer. Opportunity knocked and I left Macy’s to run sales for a major swimwear company. For the next 20 years I managed sales and marketing teams for major apparel companies like Warnaco, Liz Claiborne, and Jones New York. I also got involved with Ralph Lauren licensing team and launched Ralph Lauren swimwear and Lauren sleepwear.
How did you end up in Los Angeles?
My husband had a work opportunity in LA. In 2005 we moved to LA and didn’t look back. I was able to leverage my sales management experience and I started consulting for C&C California which was a division of Liz Claiborne.
In 2007, I started to learn about flash sale sites. I became very intrigued by this new model. While working with C&C we participated in a flash sale site called HauteLook. In 24 hours we sold around 1,600 T-shirts. I thought, “Whoa!” It was also fascinating because this was the first new channel of distribution that I’d seen in a long time. This seemed so powerful and dynamic. I became obsessed with it.
At the same time we had bought a house in West Hollywood and I had become a little bit of a lunatic about everything having to do with my house. I realized I had basically lived in an apartment since I left my parents' home to go to college so being in a home was a new experience with lots of opportunities for decorating. It became my passion.
I loved shopping at all the home stores in L.A. but I was frustrated that I was not able to find online unique and interesting things for my home. It just didn’t exist. So I thought, “Why can’t I take this flash sale model and do all home decor?”
I thought about it and I thought about it for over a year. Finally, in fall of 2008, my husband said to me, “OK, either go do it or stop talking about it.”
How did your partnership come about?
My husband met Lisa Stone, co-founder of blogher.com and he told her about my idea and asked her if she would be willing to talk to me and she said yes. The first thing she said when I called her was, “What can I do to help you?” I was blown away by her generosity. I told her I was looking for a partner who might have some digital marketing background.
The next day she introduced me to Ali Pincus. Ali lived in San Francisco. We didn’t even meet until three weeks into this conversation. We only knew each other six weeks when we decided to go for it. Sometimes you just listen to your gut and take a big leap of faith.
What was it like having a 20-year age difference between the two of you?
It was great on so many levels. We had very different skill sets that complemented each other. We were never tripping over each other to do things as the business grew so quickly. We worked liked crazy , learned so much, and had a blast.
Any other factors you attribute to OKL’s success?
With Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, the home was becoming another form of self- expression. The recession contributed to that, too, because people weren’t moving, or they weren’t going out as much so they were entertaining at home. Stay-cations. All these things came together in a perfect storm.
What made you decide to sell?
You reach a point where you see so many opportunities to get to that next stage but it takes so many resources. Bed, Bath & Beyond understood the opportunity and had the resources. The perfect example of this is that our vision was to open stores where the customer could come and touch and feel the One Kings Lane brand come to life. Bed, Bath and Beyond has helped One Kings Lane do just this.
There is now a store in Southhampton and they will be opening another store in SOHO in the fall.
Was it hard to let go?
Of course it was hard…but exciting. It’s like sending your kid off to college. Suddenly you don’t have a say. You have to let go and be excited for the next stage. Nothing would make me happier than to see OKL stores everywhere.
Tell us about your upcoming website, In the Groove.
In the Groove is a lifestyle destination taking a fresh and unabashed approach to aging. It is founded with a sense of humor, community, and self-awareness. We are on a mission to free women from rules, age limits, and expectations. And to become a place for age-defying women for everything from those fabulous shoes to that app that will change your life. In The Groove is ushering in the modern age. It is not what you expect.
Three tips you’ve learned from your OKL Journey?
1. Stay very focused. It’s so easy when you have an idea to get distracted and try to do too much. Stay focused on your big idea.
2. Keep it super simple. We live in a crazy world where everyone is bombarded with tons of information. It is really important to keep things simple so people get it at a glance.
3. Listen to your intuition. I really do believe in listening to your gut. Be honest with yourself and you’ll have your answer.
We wish Susan all the best in getting into her groove.