Kathy Ireland’s core customer—the working mom looking for solutions—has had a tough time the past year or two, but she believes things are looking up.
“I’m feeling better about the direction things are going,” said Ireland, the former model turned home mogul, in an interview during the recent High Point Market. Her customers, she said, “definitely have been hit by things, but I’m feeling people are encouraged about business this year.”
For Ireland, the business has become a rather large endeavor, with more than 30 licenses, the vast majority of them in home. At market, she was shuttling back and forth between showrooms, from her furniture program with Vaughan to her lighting at Pacific Coast Lighting with many stops in between.
The strength of her brand name has helped the company through the tough economic climate. “When all the elements are there, a well-branded product will outperform a generic product every time.”
Ireland’s focus on her core customer is the backbone of her business. “I have the toughest boss in the world. I listen to my customer and she gave me my marching orders. We’ve worked hard to earn her trust.”
The segue from model to business, not always an easy transition, was a natural for Ireland. “I entered modeling as a business proposition, I just never intended for it to last that long.”
But last it did. Starting in 1984, she was featured in the legendary Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Issue 13 consecutive years and was on the cover three times. Her 1989 cover, for the magazine’s 25 anniversary, is the best selling issue of all time for the series.
“I’m grateful for that background but being a model has its pros and cons.” Certainly, she said, “there are preconceived notions of me but there might also be some curiosity that has helped.”
Ireland, who attends more shows and works more showrooms than most of her counterparts in the marketplace, said she always knew she was going to end up in design and business, even as a kid.
“When I was 11, I had a paper route and I was going to take the money I earned to remodel my room. I even called a contractor. That’s why I’m so appreciative to be in this industry now.” .—Warren Shoulberg