Charming Charlie's owner talks about growing business to nationwide chain

February 21, 2013 8:14:06 AM PST
Many teens and women getting ready for a spring break trip may be heading to Charming Charlie's to get some shoes or accessories. It's one of the fastest-growing retailers in the country, and it started here in Houston on Harwin Street. So what's the secret to its success?

CEO Charlie Chanaratsopon was seven years old when he started his first business with video games.

"I would take the games and lease them out to my classmates for a dollar a day," he said. "I didn't realize you're not supposed to do that, but got in trouble with my teacher in my class."

But that didn't stop his entrepreneurial spirit.

"Being very proud being from Texas, I grew up in Houston. I went to Episcopal High School," Chanaratsopon said.

Eventually he went to business school at Columbia in New York. He says his parents have had a big influence shaping his path to success.

"They do silver jewelry manufacturing to department stores," Chanaratsopon said.

Watching mom and dad grow their business from the ground up, it was only fitting for Chanaratsopon to follow in their footsteps.

"The main thing was parlaying that into what we do today at Charming Charlie," Chanaratsopon said.

The doors to that first store opened in 2004 when Chanaratsopon was in his early 20s. Today, Charming Charlie has grown exponentially to 236 shops across 36 states.

Lessons learned along the way?

"Always cater to your core customer and never alienate them, because they have other choices," Chanaratsopon said.

From red to blue, yellow to coral, some say the secret to Charming Charlie's success is color.

"One of the customers came out and I'll never forget. She says, 'You know, it would be really easy if you merchandize your store by color. It would be easier for me to shop,'" Chanaratsopon said.

So they tried it in their next seven stores and then...

"236 stores later, we merchandize by color," Chanaratsopon said.

The numbers don't lie.

"We drive a lot of traffic to the stores. On average, we'll do 4,000 women per week, per store," Chanaratsopon said.

Another accomplishment to add to Chanaratsopon's resume -- father. Eight-year-old Taylor is also the inspiration behind Charlie Girl, another division of Charming Charlie, catering to girls ages 5 to 11.

"We have a great relationship. We've very close," Chanaratsopon said. "At her eighth birthday party, we had a Charlie Girl party, if you will. All the party favors, have accessories, jewelry -- it's a lot of fun," Chanaratsopon said.

So what is Chanaratsopon like when he's not wearing the suit and tie, running one of the fastest growing businesses in the country?

"I love what I do. When I say it, I can say it with so much invigoration. I love what I do, and it never really turns off," he said.
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