at that point, under prolonged assault
from cheap Asian imports. Rafaelian’s
private-label sales kept it afloat. “Within
months, I’m getting $100,000 orders on
the fax machine that can keep the family business going,” she says. In 2002,
Ralph Rafaelian handed ownership
of Cinerama to Carolyn and Rebecca.
Meanwhile, Rafaelian was bulking up
Alex and Ani’s offerings with jewelry that
cost less (a ring now goes for $88) but
still looked at home in Nordstrom.
Vogue, Allure, and other usual suspects
swarmed, and soon the line had its own
New York City showroom. Eager to
establish Alex and Ani as a pure expression of her aesthetic, Rafaelian spun it
out as an independent company in 2004.
That same year, Saks awarded the brand
a two-page spread in its holiday catalog.
In 2009, Rafaelian opened her first retail
store, in Newport, Rhode Island.
By the time Disney and other brands
came calling, Rafaelian found herself
atop a $2 million, multichannel business,
wholly unsupported by systems or expe-
rienced staff. “I said, ‘Thank you, God,
for all the opportunities,’” recalls Rafae-
lian, who is Armenian Apostolic but
down with all religions. “Now, I need
someone to help me navigate.”
God, or serendipity, intervened.
Following a University of Rhode Island
homecoming game in October 2009,
members of Rafaelian’s old sorority and
Feroce’s old fraternity converged on the
same restaurant for cocktails. Rafaelian
chatted with Feroce, who at the time
was running a retail eyewear business
and developing software for managing
optical companies. Intrigued by the
numbers Rafaelian trotted out, Feroce
visited Cinerama and the Newport
store. By spring of 2010, he was CEO.
A U.S. Army major with 24 years in
the military—including a stint as an
operations officer at U.S. Central Command—Feroce marched into Alex and
Ani like Patton intent on cleaning up
Woodstock. Most of Rafaelian’s 23
employees were friends of friends
whom she had hired without so much
as glancing at a resumé. Within a year,
How Alex and Ani
obstacles to growth and
found ways to pick up
TO REV THE ENGINE:
iFeroce directed managers to create
systems for the swift rollout of new Alex
and Ani stores.
TO DISABLE THE BRAKES:
iFounder Carolyn Rafaelian stopped
doing private-label work. This business
had funded the start-up and made
Rafaelian feel safe. But CEO Giovanni
Feroce felt it was a distraction and
i The company deepened relationships
with retailers through co-marketing
campaigns and by conducting customer
service training at clients’ stores.
iIt introduced leadership training
for clients’ staffs through Alex and
iNext, the company established a
no-discount policy, which meant terminating two dozen accounts. Because
people bought Alex and Ani products for
their deep personal meaning, Feroce
reasoned, discounts hurt the brand.
iFinally, Alex and Ani chose retailers
on their potential to help or hinder
growth. In 2011, the company turned
down Bloomingdale’s, concerned that
such a large and demanding account
might overwhelm it. Today, more than
30 Bloomingdale’s locations host Alex
and Ani stores-in-stores.
21 had left—just two involuntarily.
On the way out the door, some called
Feroce a bully. Nevertheless, Rafaelian
says the exodus was largely devoid of
drama, as employees found themselves
increasingly out of their depth. “The
woman who was handling Disney came
to us with some contracts, and we
changed some of the language on them,”
says Rafaelian, by way of example. “She
said, ‘I can’t go back to Disney and tell
them we’re making changes.’ Giovanni
asked her, ‘Why not?’ She said, ‘Because
they’re Disney.’ He said, ‘We’re Alex and
Ani.’ She didn’t believe we had the
strength to do that. That’s when she left.”
The new staff is a mix of big-brand
veterans from such companies as Ann
Taylor and American Eagle and young
people, many of them native Rhode
Islanders in love with fashion but not
eager to relocate to New York.
It goes without saying that they work
hard. Feroce speaks with contempt
about people who leave at 4: 59 p.m.
Alex and Ani employees are expected to
produce those sitreps and to acknowl-
edge, then act swiftly on, instructions.
The discipline is both effective and less
stressful than it sounds. Whenever
Feroce walks into an office, its occupant
knows instantly the purpose of his visit
and efficiently dispatches with the busi-
ness at hand. The two then spend a few
moments chatting and joking.