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January 01, 2013

Company Focus

Chloe + Isabel: Building a Brand through Social Media

by Jennifer Workman Pitcock

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.

Company Profile

  • Founded: 2011
  • Headquarters: New York City
  • Executive: Founder and CEO Chantel Waterbury
  • Products: Boutique fashion jewelry

Chantel WaterburyChantel Waterbury

Budding Entrepreneurs, Fashionistas, Socialistas and Tastemakers. These are the women who inspired Chantel Waterbury to exit the corporate world and start her own direct sales jewelry company, Chloe + Isabel. Her vision is to empower a new generation of female entrepreneurs, providing valuable training on fashion merchandising, social media marketing, and building and running a business. Waterbury wants to see all women use their creativity to make an income that reflects what they are worth, whether they see themselves as a future Martha Stewart, or just know what styles work together. To facilitate this vision, the Chloe + Isabel merchandiser opportunity has been developed around a model of selling that focuses on social networks and online influence.

The Chloe + Isabel merchandiser opportunity has been developed around a model of selling that focuses on social networks and online influence.

Appealing to Younger Women

Waterbury developed C + I for the modern woman. Of course, there is no age limit on who can join, but she created her company with younger women, age 18–29, in mind. This age group appealed most to Waterbury because direct sales was her own ticket to college. Waterbury spent the summer before her freshman year selling high-quality kitchen knives. She sold nearly $30,000 in just three months, becoming one of the company’s top sales reps.

The desire to help young women—who in the wake of the 2008 recession were facing the highest unemployment rate since World War II—factored into her decision to start her own direct sales company.

“I didn’t set out to be one more option for women who already do this. I set out to be an option for a merchandiser who would have never even considered this industry—the people who were not being served at all,” Waterbury says.

A model showcases the latest Chloe + Isabel jewelry.A model showcases the latest Chloe + Isabel jewelry. One of Chloe + Isabel’s jewelry collections.One of Chloe + Isabel’s jewelry collections. The company logo represented in a necklace.The company logo represented in a necklace.

Built on Experience

When buyers came in to guest lecture in her college retail management class, Waterbury discovered her career path. Buying appealed to Waterbury because it united her love of numbers and her creativity. After graduation, Waterbury went straight into corporate buying, working for Target’s parent company, Target Corp. She quickly became the youngest buyer for their Mervyn’s jewelry division.

Soon she was winning awards such as the Merchandising Hero of the Year. Waterbury attributes her success to her entrepreneurial style. She treated her jewelry division like a business of its own operating within a huge corporation.

She went on to work for several other companies including Macy’s West, GAP, and LMVH’s DFS Galleria, where she gained further experience in jewelry development, merchandising and design. She continued to win awards such as Buyer of the Year. Her final corporate job was at Miriam Haskell, where she gained product development and sourcing experience.

By the time she was ready to create her own company, Waterbury had spent 15 years learning the jewelry business inside and out. “I was very patient,” she says. “I knew that this was the last thing I was going to do in my life, and I wanted to do it right.”

Creating the Right Platform

“I wanted our technology to be our greatest differentiator. If everyone has the same tools, it just comes down to what products do you like the most.”
—Chantel Waterbury, Founder and CEO

To reach her demographic of young female direct sellers, Waterbury knew she must target technological channels used to sell. She needed software that would provide digitally savvy young women with a virtual storefront and the opportunity to harness their social influence to earn income.

After looking at several software options, Waterbury was uninspired. She says, “I wanted our technology to be our greatest differentiator. If everyone has the same tools, it just comes down to what products do you like the most.”

So she began raising investment capital to create her own software platform. In August 2011 she received $3.25 million in a seed round led by First Round Capital and Floodgate Fund. Later that year she raised another $8.5 million.

She’s used investment capital to hire engineers and create selling approaches that appeal to Generation Y. A lot of selling occurs online, facilitated by the tools C + I provides. For example, each merchandiser receives her own online boutique and can fully personalize it using her social media images from Instagram. They can share individual products as well as post photographs of themselves wearing C + I jewelry next to the product shot to display their own personal styling.

“Our online sales are happening through her personal boutique, not on our website,” Waterbury says. “In the e-boutiques, you get to see her curating. You see her favorite pieces and how she styles. Is she a Chloe—a trendsetter known for her fashion—or an Isabel, classic and timeless who loves the quality of a piece of jewelry?

“We’re creating a social media hemisphere for her to operate in,” Waterbury says. For example, a merchandiser can personalize the naming of her collections, and also choose which products appear in them. The e-boutiques have the ability to link to merchandisers’ personal Facebook pages and Pinterest boards, in addition to linking to the company’s corporate pages. Conversely, if a friend sees something she likes on Pinterest, for example, clicking through the image takes her to the e-boutique, where she can purchase the product she admired.

The tools also provide merchandisers with useful information, says C + I Chief of Product Shan-Lyn Ma. “She can see how many people clicked on each picture. Ultimately, how much sales did she drive for herself with each thing that she shared on each social network? She can start to really understand how to create an income stream.”

Focus on Branding

Waterbury’s love of jewelry comes through in C + I products. Her unusual designs and intricate details give C + I jewelry a unique look and appeal.

“We design every single piece of jewelry,” Waterbury says. “We produce everything ourselves. First and foremost we’re a brand. My whole life has been dedicated to building, supporting or executing a brand.”

Waterbury makes sure her merchandisers understand the importance of branding. She believes careful control of the brand will give C + I long-term viability. When creating a pop-up shop, the C + I brand must be integrated. Merchandisers learn how to display the jewelry, how to incorporate the tree fixtures and the blue and yellow birds that represent the company—in short, how to include the brand elements that need to be visible in every display of C + I jewelry.

Each merchandiser has the creativity to incorporate these brand elements in her own way—they design their pop-up shops themselves. While one may use placemats to incorporate the colors, another may use picture frames. Waterbury is constantly amazed by the merchandisers’ creativity. “When I look at pictures of their pop-up shops I couldn’t be more proud,” she says. “They do a better job than we do.”

So far C + I has received more than 20,000 applications from women wanting to become merchandisers. In the beta phase, they’ve interviewed each applicant. Waterbury sees the merchandisers as an extension of the brand. As C + I transitions out of the beta phase, the number of merchandisers is rapidly increasing.

In the beta phase, the company carefully controlled the number of merchandisers. Executives worked closely with each merchandiser to make sure C + I was building technology in the right order. “What we’re doing has never been done before,” Waterbury says. “So I have no one to look to for best practices. There’s nothing out there that looks like us.”

Waterbury plans to keep an application process in place even as the company grows. She wants to keep the merchandiser turnover rate at C + I as low as possible. “When you connect the experience to the right person and everything’s a fit, that’s when you have something really special,” she says.

Developing Merchandisers

A Chloe + Isabel merchandise display at the offices in New York.A Chloe + Isabel merchandise display at the offices in New York.

With prices ranging from under $30 to around $200, C + I jewelry is affordable. And for the merchandisers making the sales, the way the company works is easy to understand. Merchandisers make a straight 30 percent of all retail sales. Merchandisers can also earn income by building a team. C + I’s merchandisers who choose to develop teams earn a percentage of the sales of their immediate downlines.

Each C + I merchandiser fits into one of four types: Fashionista, Socialista, Entrepreneur or Tastemaker. And because these types think differently, C + I doesn’t train them the same way.

“They want to run their businesses differently, so we’re curating their training experience,” Waterbury says. C + I gathers information up front to discover exactly what each merchandiser wants from the company. Developing clear expectations on both sides, says Waterbury, keeps the frustration levels low.

In its beta stage, C + I utilized in-person training of merchandisers. Training evolved into webinars and finally to the videos the company currently uses. But personal contact with each merchandiser is still present. It’s made easier by the fact that their preferred method of communication is online.

“I have direct dialogue with all of my merchandisers because it takes me two seconds to ‘like’ their comments or say ‘Wow! That was an amazing pop-up shop that you had!’ We’re connected through our social networks,” Waterbury says. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram make sharing encouragement and photos easy from her New York office, no matter how far away the merchandisers actually live.

A Mission to Educate

Before selling knives to put herself through college, Waterbury earned a private-school education by winning scholarships for her grades. She sees C + I as a way to give others the same opportunity she was afforded by the people she considers “angels along the way.” They kept her on the right path and pushed her to pursue her dreams.

“I absolutely love working with people that are at the stage of life where the world is their oyster,” she says. “They can truly do whatever they want.”

The Chloe + Isabel corporate team gathers together for some outdoor fun.The Chloe + Isabel corporate team gathers together for some outdoor fun.

“They’re learning how to run a business. They’re learning to be social media mavens.”
—Chantel Waterbury

And that’s part of what Waterbury hopes to accomplish with C + I. The company’s motto is “Be creative, be confident, be you.”

“At C + I, the mission of building résumés is just as important as building bank accounts,” Waterbury says. “That’s why they’re merchandisers—they’re so much more than stylists or sales persons. They’re learning how to run a business. They’re learning to be social media mavens.”

While some may continue to sell C + I for years, for others it’s a step on their career path. Waterbury is fine—even happy—about that. She was thrilled when one of her merchandisers recently capitalized on her experience as a C + I merchandiser to land a job at the corporate buying offices of a leading retailer.

C + I’s vision of creating a meaningful opportunity for young women is part of what drew Chief of Product Shan-Lyn Ma to the company. She likes the fact that C + I goes beyond teaching sales. It creates mini-entrepreneurs. “We talk a lot about our mission of making sure women can support themselves, educate themselves, and learn things that will set them up in the future for careers. Focusing on how we can provide even more to our merchandisers underlies everything that we do,” she says.

“We talk a lot about our mission of making sure women can support themselves, educate themselves, and learn things that will set them up in the future for careers.”
—Shan-Lyn Ma, Chief of Product

Building the Future

In November 2012, C + I celebrated their 2.0 launch. A redesigned website better showcases the merchandisers’ boutiques and the jewelry itself. New and improved software creates a more highly curated boutique for each merchandiser, as well as integrates the boutique more fully with her social networks. Waterbury says, “Our new platform creates a better experience that will undoubtedly improve their potential sales and income.”

Waterbury expects C + I to continually evolve. When a company is based primarily online, it’s essential to keep up with rapid growth in technology. “I built a company and a brand and a platform for the woman of the future,” she says. “That’s what is so great about building it yourself. You have complete flexibility to change at a moment’s notice.”

Features of the Chloe + Isabel Merchandiser Platform

Features of the Chloe + Isabel Merchandiser Platform

  • Highly personalized online boutique:
    Each merchandiser has her own virtual storefront with a unique URL where she can create custom collections of Chloe + Isabel jewelry.

  • Instagram integration:
    Merchandisers can market and editorialize their curated jewelry collections by pulling in imagery from their personal Instagram accounts.

  • Comprehensive analytics dashboard:
    Merchandisers can access data comparing the performance of her personal business with that of the overall company, giving her insights on how to increase sales based on performance of the larger community, and incentivizing her toward important business goals with bonuses and promotions.

  • Streamlined shopping platform:
    The new platform streamlines the order and purchase process for the merchandiser, allowing average Millennials—who make up the majority of Chloe + Isabel’s merchandisers—the ability to shop for their customers as easily as they would shop for themselves, as well as provide better customer service.

  • Social insights:
    Merchandisers gain insight into the effectiveness of sharing with their social networks.