Fashion Retail Empire

Charlie Chanaratsopon

Charlie Chanaratsopon was not trying to start a fashion retail empire when he founded Charming Charlie in 2004. The first-generation Thai-American was working on developing and investing in shopping centers in and around Houston and started the fashion accessories retailer, which now has over 350 stores, as a way to keep retail space filled.

It nearly folded in its first few months, but Chanaratsopon decided to keep it open an extra few weeks, and in that time its popularity with suburban moms exploded. The discount retailer expanded furiously amid the Great Recession, as Charlie Chanaratsopon and Hancock Park Associates, a private equity firm that came on board in 2007, convinced worried landlords to give them favorable lease terms. — Scott Klocksin

Originally Posted: https://www.bisnow.com/index.php/list/richest-in-real-estate-2017/charlie-chanaratsopon-79039

Rosy Conversation with Charlie Chanaratsopon

Charlie Chanaratsopon

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Charlie Chanaratsopon, Founder of Charming Charlie.  Opened in 2004, Charming Charlie is a women’s fashion and accessories brand with over 270 stores across the United States.  In 2015, he was named by Forbes as one of “America’s 40 Most Successful Young Entrepreneurs.” Charlie is a first generation Thai-American who graduated with an MBA from Columbia Business School.  He generously spoke with me about the emergence of the Charming Charlie brand as well as the ever-changing landscape of the retail and consumer market. Charming Charlie is most notable for its unique strategy in organizing merchandise by color.  My experience speaking with him was a pleasure and I am very pleased to share my interview.

Bianca: What prompted your realization that accessories would be your business? Did you have a sense of assuredness in your vision to supply the market in the way that Charming Charlie does now? Was this because of a lack that you saw in the industry for affordable fashion accessories?

Charlie: At the core, I’m an entrepreneur, and love buying and selling “things” since I was a kid. I’m from Houston, Texas, and grew up in an entrepreneurial family. As for Charming Charlie, I knew that I didn’t want to focus the brand on apparel, as it is a highly competitive and generally difficult category to compete. I was thinking about what product mix to curate for the brand, and after studying other retail concepts, I realized that there was an opportunity in accessories. Charming Charlie could be the one stop for women’s accessories.

Bianca: I love the namesake aspect of Charming Charlie – a reference to you! How did it come about? Likely because of your charming personality?

Charlie ChanaratsoponThis is a good story!  I never imagined we were going to have stores all over the country, and just wanted to quickly come up with a name and get started. So, I hired a marketing firm and explained that we were going to be selling this type of product and that I needed a name. I recall the first few names that were suggested, and I only remember the awful sounding ones like “Accessory Buffet, ” “Accessories City,” or “Funky Monkey.” I asked if we could explore other names and one of the marketers sitting in our meeting looks at me and says, “What about Charming Charlie?”  That was really catchy and easy to remember, and that was it!

Bianca: The color coordination concept is fabulous; some artists would say that a color becomes a color when it’s next to other colors (the way in which colors affect other colors). Did you consider from the company’s inception that color organization would be an essential part of your brand’s identity?  I remember being struck by how great that was when I shopped in the store.

Charlie: When we had three or four stores, I asked myself, “How do we maintain differentiation/innovation, and give the customer what they want?”  I was standing in a store on a Saturday and speaking to customers. One of our customers told me, “You should present the product by color, it’s how I shop.” We first tried the color coordination in one store. We received great feedback. We then took the three front tables and color coordinated them; the customers loved it. Since then, color is such an important pillar of the brand, and all stores changed to be merchandised by color.

Bianca: Trends, fashion, and timeless style are all integrated into the brand so well, does the design team gain inspiration from a combination of current trends in the market and occasion-oriented wear (i.e. cocktail party, everyday wear, etc.)? There really is something for everyone and it’s a good mix of timeless and trendy!

Charlie: Merchants/buyers need to constantly stay on top of trends and fashion, but most importantly know the brand’s core customer.

Merchants stay on top of trends by following influencers/brands on social media, going through magazines, working with our product partners, attending fashion shows, gaining inspiration from luxury brands, and shopping at other retailers. These activities help merchants quickly bring relevant to trend beautiful product to customers.

Bianca: What points in the history of Charming Charlie do you consider most notable? It has scaled remarkably; I read on the company website that there are ~260 stores?

Charlie Chanaratsopon: There are all sorts of milestones, but something that was very special for us was when we first expanded outside of Texas, opening in other states in the US and seeing women smile and their positive reaction as they entered the store; whether it was a woman in Georgia or a woman in New Jersey, seeing that Charming Charlie was not just a local phenomenon. It was really rewarding and exciting to see the brand resonating across the country.

Originally Posted: https://rosybvm.com/2019/04/26/rosy-conversation-with-charlie-chanaratsopon/

Charming Charlie expands to Middle East

Houston-based accessories retailer Charming Charlie has partnered with a Dubai fashion conglomerate to open its first location outside of North America.

Charming Charlie will open two stores at City Centre Mirdif and Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai this year. The stores will be operated by the international licensing partner Apparel Group.

The new storefronts are part of the business’ plan to aggressively expand both domestically and internationally in 2015.

The company, that started out as a single-floor retail space below the family business in 2004, said in November that it expects to open 55 new stores in 2015.

charlie-chanarotsopon

That month, the company opened its first stores outside of the U.S. in Ontario, Canada. Two additional stores in British Columbia, Canada, are also scheduled to open

Charming Charlie operates 350 stores in the U.S., Canada and now the Middle East. In 2013, Forbes estimated that the company was valued at $1 billion.

In 2012, founder and CEO Charlie Chanaratsopon told the Houston Business Journal that he was confident the company could operate as many as 1,000 stores.

Originally Posted: https://www.bizjournals.com/houston/morning_call/2015/07/charming-charlie-expands-to-middle-east.html

Charming Charlie moves onto the world’s stage with two Dubai stores

A Houston-based women’s jewelry and accessories retailer is spreading its footprint beyond the U.S., with two international locations open and planning underway for two others.

Within the past few weeks, two Charming Charlie stores have opened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates — 8,000 miles away from headquarters.

charming-charlie-nyc

One store is at City Centre Mirdif and the second is at Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. The stores are Charming Charlie’s first locations outside of North America.

The move has been in the works for about three years said Charlie Chanaratsopon, founder and CEO of the women’s jewelry and accessories retailer founded in 2004.

“What we wanted to do, first and foremost, was to have a market that would help build the brand,” Charlie Chanaratsopon said.

Charming Charlie teamed up with Apparel Group, an operating firm that oversees daily operations at the Middle East locations as it does with 1,000 other stores of different brands.

Accessory offerings differ a little for the Dubai store and have been tailored for locals, though the shopping experience is the same there as in any of the more than 350 Charming Charlie locations across the U.S. and Canada.

What made Dubai attractive was that it is a large market that can support continued growth, Chanaratsopon said. Business has been “gangbusters” since opening day, he added.

Charlie Chanaratsopon

Charming Charlie has been on a growth spurt, opening about 150 of its stores within the past three years and averaging about 55 new locations per year.

A new store opened in June along Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Additional international locations are in the works. Charlie Chanaratsopon said a location in the Philippines could open this fall and a Mexico location in spring.

Originally Posted: https://blog.chron.com/primeproperty/2015/07/charming-charlie-moves-onto-worlds-stage-with-two-dubai-stores/

Forbes’ ‘Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40’ list

Chanaratsopon, founder of the Charming Charlie accessories chain, is the only Houston exec on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40.

Charlie Chanaratsopon, 38, ranks No. 27 on the list, based on his net worth of $450 million. The self-made millionaire founded Houston-based Charming Charlie in 2004 as a side business while developing shopping malls. The company now has 350 stores across the U.S. and reports $550 million in sales, according to Forbes.

Charming Charlie opened its first international stores in Canada in 2014 and expanded to the Middle East last year. In 2013, Forbes estimated that the company was valued at $1 billion.

In 2012, Chanaratsopon told the Houston Business Journal that he was confident the company could operate as many as 1,000 stores.

Charlie Chanaratsopon
Charlie Chanaratsopon

Earlier this year, Charlie Chanaratsopon also sat down with HBJ and FishFlops founder Madison Nicole Robinson to discuss entrepreneurism.

Forbes’ “Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40” list is dominated by the expected roster of tech execs and celebrities. For instance, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 32, tops the list with a net worth of $50 billion. However, there is one oil and gas exec on the list.

Austin-based Parsley Energy Inc. CEO Bryan Sheffield ranks No. 14 with a net worth of $1.44 billion. He’s the son of Irving, Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield and the grandson of West Texas oil legend Joe Parsley.

The younger Sheffield, 38, made Forbes’ “The World’s Billionaires” list for the first time this year. Read an Austin Business Journal feature profile on Sheffield here.

Originally Posted: https://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2016/12/12/houston-retail-exec-makes-forbes-richest.html

Charming Charlie grows by listening to customers

Armed with the knowledge of a financial analyst, Charles Chanaratsopon knows what makes a successful business and how to manage that success. In 2004, he took that knowledge and applied it to an advantageous investment market and founded Charming Charlie, a women’s boutique and accessories store.

“I saw an opportunity, not only in an operating store but also in the realty business,” says Chanaratsopon, founder and CEO. “The capital or investment market was very frothy. So you could quickly develop shopping centers on leverage and build quickly.”

Deciding to break into the market for women’s accessories, Charlie Chanaratsopon saw an opportunity for big growth with little competition, and his plan has worked. Since 2008, Charming Charlie has been opening new stores at a furious pace, and today, it is one of the fastest-growing private companies in the country.

“The operating business had a lot of demand,” Chanaratsopon says. “A lot of customers were coming in and buying product from us. We had lines outside every day before the stores opened. People just loved the product. I wanted to figure out a way to grow even faster.”

Charlie Chanaratsopon

For the last six years, that’s exactly what he has gone out and accomplished. He knew that with the right mix of employees, strategy and innovation, Charming Charlie could be big.

“From the very beginning, when we had three stores, I always thought we had the potential to be all over the country,” he says. “People always talked about how I had big aspirations and thought I was crazy, when at three stores, I thought we could be all over the country. Now we are all over the country, and I think we could be all over the globe.”

Listen to the consumer

Chanaratsopon saw an opening in the market for women’s accessories, due to a lack of stores that strictly focused on accessory needs instead of clothing. Only large department stores offered those products to women.

“Once we saw what the market looked like, we knew we had an opportunity to create a specialty store around it,” Chanaratsopon says. “We saw it as an opportunity that we could exploit, so we did.”

As Charming Charlie took off in the Houston area, Chanaratsopon knew he could grow the business quickly if he continued to offer what customers were looking for and wanted to see in the store.

“That thesis worked out and held very well for the first two or three years,” Charlie Chanaratsopon says. “As we opened stores, stores were very busy and business picked up. We went out and built another center and then another center and went out and did it again and again. As we focused on listening to the customer and building our team out, that was basically the steps for our success.

“The key thing is, you need to listen to your customers before you break into a market,” he says. “You can’t really go until you do a market feasibility or market study about what they need. Does it make sense for Charming Charlie to come; do they like the concept? We always explore to see what opportunities are out there before we do a big push. We test the different markets to see if the concept will work. Our concept is very portable, so we are able to now move quickly through the different markets.”

It’s all about making sure there is a net demand for what you sell, before you go out and start something.

“I think that is just moral hazard,” he says. “Whatever you plan, plan on not meeting it. Have a worst-case, base-case and an upside-case plan, because most of the time, it’s very unpredictable in the beginning. You have to mitigate the downside and make sure that you have contingency plans if things don’t go well in the beginning, because capital will be a constraint.

“In our first year or two as we solidified our playbook, we had a lot of key takeaways in ‘learnings’ and mistakes. So before we could go out and do a cookie-cutter approach, it took us a few years to make sure we had the right recipe for success.”

Everything starts and ends with the customer.

“My best advice is to go out and learn the customers, and make sure there is a need before you go out and build anything,” he says. “You survey your current customers and your non-customers, and you ask them questions about what you can do better to improve. At the end of the day, our boss is the ultimate shopper. We just listen — that’s what we do. I don’t mean to make it sound so simple, but it is. We listen to what they need, and we do it, often. We spend a lot of money listening to their needs, and we try to give them what they want.

“We are not a tech company or a research group. We sell on experience and what we do is listen to our customer and make sure we deliver the best that we can, and that’s our mantra.”

Originally Posted: http://www.sbnonline.com/article/charming-charlie-grows-by-listening-to-customers/

Inside the home of Charming Charlie’s owner

Charlie Chanaratsopon, the force behind the Houston-based accessories chain Charming Charlie, lives in a modern castle in the sky that mixes business and pleasure

From his high-rise condo, Charlie Chanaratsopon can see the world.

At least, it seems that way.

His 19th-floor apartment at 2727 Kirby has panoramic view of the city stretching from downtown to the Galleria then rounding out with the Upper Kirby area, including West Ave and the Med Center in the distance.

Charlie Chanaratsopon nice home

The view is spectacular at night, as city lights intensify the bustle of cars below. Two balconies with grass like floors on each side of the condo are perfect perches to watch the sun rise and set.

On many mornings, Chanaratsopon, the CEO of the fast-growing, Houston-based accessories chain Charming Charlie, wraps up in his favorite oversize gray robe and sits at an 18-foot dining table with his laptop and a cup of green tea. Then he starts sorting through emails, and progresses quickly to other business.

Given that Chanaratsopon started Charming Charlie in 2004 with just one shop on Harwin Drive and has expanded to more than 200 stores nationwide, his home befits his busy lifestyle and need for functionality.

The 5,000-square-foot apartment, which took six months to design, is pristine, yet warm. There’s a sleek, coziness to every room, and each piece of modern furniture has its place. And everything from the lighting and blinds to music and TVs can be operated at the touch of his iPad and iPhone.

Charlie Chanaratsopon house

“I love technology. I work from everywhere, so my house is wired like my office. I can conduct my business just as effectively from my home as I do from my office,” he said.

In creating his living space, Chanaratsopon turned to longtime friend and interior designer Mauricio Nava, who handled the décor of the Charming Charlie headquarters off Harwin. The two men were roommates in 2007, and play tennis and ping-pong together.

“Charlie knows what he likes and doesn’t like. He wanted it to be modern, but functional and practical. He was adamant about that,” Nava said.

The dining table, which is made from a single tree of Munggur, an Indonesian hard wood, and special ordered from Cantoni, has a complicated history.

Because of building stipulations the table could not be hoisted into the condo by crane, so it was cut in half by a carpenter at Cantoni, then transported and installed by a dozen workers who meticulously re-assembled the table with steel beams to support its weight in the middle. Installation took two days, and more time still to slip a 22 feet by 12 feet rug underneath.

Situated in front of a north-facing glass wall, the table seats about 14-20 people in Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chairs, and offers an unobstructed view of the city. Chanaratsopon entertains dinner guests here, and also conducts corporate meetings, which are often held in the apartment.

Nearby, a 5-foot-tall wood horse from Houston’s Kuhl-Linscomb adds a hint of whimsy — and symbolism. Chanaratsopon, 34, was born during the year of the horse in Chinese astrology.

“I’m not the creative person,” Chanaratsopon said of decorating. “I’ll tell you what I like, but I like to approve all of the major pieces. And it has to be functional.”

Chanaratsopon’s approach to his business is also focused on function. He has quickly grown the Charming Charlie brand, staking out major real estate in prime locations around the country. He’s recently started opening stores flanked by higher-profile retailers, such as Anthropologie and J. Crew. In 2012, he launched a revised brand identity effort, shooting a hip ad campaign with celebrity photographer Terry Richardson, whose other new projects include a documentary with Lady Gaga.

Charlie Chanaratsopon

“I think about life in price value. We’ve grown super-fast in the last four to five years. If you want to succeed you have to have a brand bigger than the business. Before, the business was bigger than the brand. I see Charming Charlie stores all over the world.”

A proud Houston native and graduate of Columbia University’s business school in New York, Charlie Chanaratsopon is constantly traveling to stores, directing an empire with 5,000 employees. Ultimately, he said he would like to have 800 stores nationally and go global, à la Spanish retailer Zara.

“We will set the trend of how people accessorize in the United States, and it’s not coming from New York. It’s coming from right here in Houston.”

Chanaratsopon’s allegiance to Houston is reflected in his home. He picked the high-rise location because of its close proximity to pedestrian-friendly areas, such as West Ave, and for the city vistas. Penthouse aside, the condo is one of the largest in the building, and has its own private elevator access.

The living area includes a pool table and a large, two-sided, earth-hued leather sectional with pull-out console tables and bench seating; one side faces an adjacent bar area while the other has a Kirby street view. The plush, nubby rug is from High Fashion Home. And a 70-inch TV is hidden by a retractable customized artwork to complement photographs by Peter Leik, an Australian landscape photographer, which are displayed throughout the abode.

A wall separates the bar and kitchen area to provide a more private setting for entertaining.

“The entire apartment is designed to host 100 people comfortably without being so tight they knock things over,” Nava said. “Typically, you want the kitchen to be the heartbeat of the home, but, in this case, we wanted the bar to cater to entertaining and meetings. Charlie is very practical and value conscious. He always wants to know the value of something and how to get the most out the space. He’s not frivolous.”

In the master bedroom, the entire south-facing wall is glass with a view toward the Med Center. Other details include a metal Restoration Hardware desk resembling an airplane wing and a 55-inch TV suspended from the ceiling that can be rotated toward the adjacent balcony or desk without blocking the cityscape.

Appropriately for a tastemaker such as Chanaratsopon, the apartment has ample closet space, with one in each of the three bedrooms ranging from 300 to 450 square feet. His own wardrobe is elegantly practical with Cartier watches and classic pieces from J. Crew.

But the modern master bath, with its brown marble accents, is most impressive. The massive shower can hold eight people comfortably, and there’s also a TV concealed by a bathroom mirror and a towel warmer.

One of two guest bedrooms belongs to Chanaratsopon’s 8-year-old daughter Taylor, who lives in Los Angeles with her mother and who inspired the Charlie Girl accessories line that is currently sold in Charming Charlie stores. (He also has a house in the Bel Air area of L.A, and visits often.)

Jet-setting Charlie Chanaratsopon is intense about business, according to girlfriend Madelyn Fitzpatrick. But he also finds time to decompress at home with an early-morning swim in the building’s infinity pool, or by watching HBO’s “Game of Thrones” or “anything having to do with conquering,” he said.

He also unwinds by taking in the enviable Houston view from his balconies, kitted out with functional-but-fun lounge seating that glows at night.

Ostensibly, as Chanaratsopon can see the world from his perch, so too can the world see him.

Said Nava, “You know its Charlie’s unit the way the furniture lights up.”

Originally Posted: https://www.chron.com/news/article/Inside-the-home-of-Charming-Charlie-s-owner-4200027.php