From the start, Shaffer eschewed seeking loans, investors or even a line of credit. She expanded the business entirely from its own revenue. “I wasn’t willing to take a chance of putting anything in jeopardy,” she said. “This is such a secure way to grow if you are lucky enough to have a business that can do this.”As minimalism replaced baroque in jewelry trends in the 1990s, Shaffer shifted her focus to bags. “They became a bigger canvas for what I was doing with jewelry,” she said.And despite the ornate, whimsical nature of her creations, she was determined to be as business oriented as any of the high-tech firms that tend to show up in the Inc. 500.”I embraced the idea that I could be not just a designer, but a real savvy businessperson,” Shaffer said. “Part of me knows how to separate real well. If something doesn’t sell, it’s OK. I don’t take it personally.”
Her handbag sales really started to take off after 2001. This partly mirrored the growth of the bag industry generally, as companies such as Kate Spade and Coach put $500 purses on the radar screen of fashion-conscious young women.”People used to look at your shoes to judge who you were, but now they look at your handbag,” said Marshal Cohen, an industry analyst with the NPD Group. “The handbag has become a signature item, a collectible.”Shaffer was designated Accessory Designer of the Year at the prestigious Dallas Fashion Awards in 2004, which boosted her profile among retailers.But expansion brought with it some bumps. The company was swamped with orders, its staff grew from 10 to nearly 30, but employees were still stressed out. Shaffer realized in 2004 that the only time she was able to brainstorm about new designs was lying in bed, sleepless, in the middle of the night.
“The ‘aha!’ moment came when I was sitting here trying to work on my new designs but my office was like a revolving door,” she said. “At the end of the day, I realized: ‘My God, I’m not getting to the lifeblood of the business.’ “Shaffer made changes such as delegating more of the administrative work, hiring an in-house controller and bringing a product manager with her on buying trips. Meanwhile, her husband, who had been working part time as owner of a hair salon, quit work entirely to take care of their 8-year-old son.”It was very hard for me to give up control,” Shaffer said. “I had to hit the ceiling and almost crash. But for me, letting go to people who are really competent changed the whole paradigm. They don’t even invite me to the darn meetings anymore! I learned how good delegation can feel. And I enjoy it again.”