Chloe Dao | Crain's Houston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Chloe Dao

Background:  

Dao Chloe Dao boutique, formerly Lot 8, was founded in 2000 by fashion designer Chloe Dao, winner of season 2 of the reality TV series "Project Runway." The store, located in Houston’s Rice Village shopping district, carries Dao’s bold, eclectic designs as well as those of up-and-coming local designers. Born in Laos to Vietnamese parents, Dao immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1979. She discovered her love for fashion at age 10 while watching CNN’s “Style with Elsa Klensch.” After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1994 with an associate degree in pattern-making, she worked for several designers and shops in New York before returning to Houston to open her own boutique, Lot 8. She is currently donating 20 percent of her sales to local charities after the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey.

The Mistake:

Getting away from my core business. After I won "Project Runway," I was a whirlwind of activity that took me away from my main business. I was doing the celebrity version of myself, the appearances, going on QVC, signing autographs.

I had people taking care of everything, so I didn’t know what my daily sales numbers were and what my payroll was. I was doing the other part of the job and not the most important part of my job, which was to take care of my store.

Then the recession hit in 2008. Then we didn’t have QVC anymore. Our sales dropped by about half. My team tried to handle it and protect me. But I came to realize how unhealthy my business had become.

If you don’t have to grow, small is always beautiful.

The Lesson:

Watch your core. I was given so many opportunities, but I had to remember my core business was my boutique. It brought in most of the cash flow. So I went back to doing what I did before – being the designer, the account manager and the office manager.

I also needed to make some changes, get a do-over. So I did the Rice University business consultation [with students from the school’s MBA program]. I had dinner with Janet Gurwitch [co-founder of Laura Mercier Cosmetics] and she recommended changing the name of the brand. She said, "You have to be Chloe Dao."

I had a ginormous store, so I shrank it to 2,000 square feet. I had a lot of employees, so I let some go. Two were loyal friends who understood we didn’t have the QVC business anymore and were able to find other jobs. I also changed my hours, opening at 11 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., when I made no money. I used to close on Sunday, but they said I had to be open every day.

It’s really nice now. Even with the changes, over the past few years, we’ve increased our sales again. We’re not back to the peak, but we’re on our way. I’m hoping to get there, but honestly, I like being small. I don’t have to deal with all the employees, and I get to be creative really fast. And I like that I’m in control of my business again.

I like to quote Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And more headaches! So grow if you want to, but if you don’t have to grow, small is always beautiful.

Follow Chloe Dao on Twitter at @ChloeDao.

Photo courtesy of Chloe Dao

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