In the Pink
Houston's Elaine Turner takes on New York with a glam Texas touch at her new upscale Manhattan store
Having built a thriving accessories empire headquartered in Houston, with stores in major Texas cities and Nashville as well as a booming online business, Turner has set her sights on the Big Apple. Specifically, Manhattan's Upper East Side, the mecca for just about every top name designer and home to some of the world's most affluent shoppers.
"Once the opportunity came up, we jumped at it."
Just after Thanksgiving last year, she opened a big new Elaine Turner store on Madison Avenue, just a stone's throw from Jonathan Adler and Alexis Bittar (and just a few blocks from the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, which, on the February day I visited was crawling with photographers waiting for celebrities to pay their respects to friends and family of the recently deceased actor Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Turner's signature pink awning that stretches out to the street certainly brightens up the neighborhood and announces loud and clear that she has arrived.
"It's something that's been on my radar for at least five years," Turner explained in a phone interview from her Houston headquarters. "Being able to have a presence in New York brings the brand more national exposure. Once the opportunity came up, we jumped at it."
By New York standards, the new Elaine Turner store is big. The 1,500-square-foot space, which formerly housed an art gallery on the first floor of a co-op apartment building, is airy and spacious, with a marble entry, white oak floor, frosted glass walls and a distinctive spiky Lumiere chandelier created by Jean de Merry that Turner fell in love with when she first saw it in the Bergdorf Goodman cafe. Two signature pink sofas dominate the shoe salon to the left upon entering, while to the right, the latest handbags are showcased on a long pink wall.
Towards the back of the store, a television screen encased in gold highlights Turner, her staff and a wide array of accessories in a video. A custom-designed area showcases her new jewelry collection and a wardrobe room features apparel, including the Claridge + King collection from Houstonian Laurann Claridge, and home furnishings curated by Turner.
"One thing that is super important is preserving the Texas spirit of hospitality. That's been a welcome relief for customers. They say, 'You are friendly.' "
Sometimes customers come in ask, "Where are your from?" says boutique manager Stacy Austin, because the surroundings are much cheerier than what they are used to. But that's OK with Turner.
"One thing that is super important is preserving the Texas spirit of hospitality. We are here to serve you," Turner says. "That's been a welcome relief for customers. They say, 'You are friendly.'"
It took Turner and her husband, Jim, the company's CEO, more than two years to find the right location, get the necessary permits and build the location out. "We had to get approval from the co-op board," Elaine Turner said. "It's almost like moving into an apartment."
Since the boutique opened three months ago, New York has suffered through one of the worst winters in memory. "We've had to close the store for three days; we've never had do that at any of the other stores," Turner says.
But there's a silver lining in all that snow and cold weather. "(Sales of) our flat boots have done really well," says public relations manager Kori Mallett.
Business has been good, Turner says, and, more importantly, employees are building relationships with customers, which is a hallmark of the Turner brand since it depends on good word-of-mouth for long-term success. As at her other stores, she plans a host of charity fundraisers to give back to the surrounding community. There have been a number of events at the store in support of preventing heart disease and Alzheimer's and the March 12 grand opening party will benefit the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club.
"Elaine has a strong point of view. She's not trying to be too many things to too many people. It's nice to come into a store that's strictly accessories," says retail consultant Melanie Hoffman who has been advising Turner on the New York opening.
Opening a store on the affluent upper East Side has been "interesting and educational at the same time," says Turner, who always tells her employees at all stores to "have fun and not take yourself too seriously." The area is a retailer's dream: It has an abundance of women between the ages 35 to 45 who shop and travel a lot and are knowledgeable about fashion. Typically married with children, they shop in late afternoon after the kids are onto after-school activities, Turner says, and are looking for shoes and handbags that can take them to multiple events, from a charity lunch to a soccer game.
And they don't mind spending money.
"The New York customer doesn't have sticker shock. They tend to go for timeless, classic pieces," Turner says.
In fact, they often question the price of items in the store, where handbags average between $325-$400 and everything is less than $600, as too low.
To capitalize on the more affluent customer, Turner is planning to launch a Madison Avenue capsule collection of more expensive items made of luxurious python or crocodile. She came up with the idea after one New York customer looked at an embossed crocodile handbag and told her, "I would buy it if it were real."