Cathie Anderson

Folsom accessory designer reorganizes after sales slip

Video: Folsom accessory designer shows ways to tie a wrap belt

Ada Komorniczak has seen rapid growth of her versatile line of leather belts.
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Ada Komorniczak has seen rapid growth of her versatile line of leather belts.

Folsom accessory designer Ada Komorniczak had seen rapid growth of her line of versatile leather belts during the recession, so she was a bit shocked to find that, at the end of 2013 as the economy picked up, her sales were slipping.

She and her business partner, husband Gastón Deferrari, were searching for answers at the beginning of 2014 when she wandered into a sales seminar that one of her vendors was having. Speaking that day was thought leader Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” and his words struck Komorniczak like a lightning bolt.

“He was saying, ‘Good is the enemy of great,’ ” Komorniczak said. “What does that mean exactly? Well, good is the enemy of great because you don’t want to just be good at something. You want to be great at it, and when you start to do too many things, you can’t be great at everything. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I think I know what our problem is.’ 

Komorniczak and Deferrari had started ADA Collection in 2004, selling handbags made with soft Argentine leather in a variety of colors, but when the downturn hit, consumers weren’t buying the purses priced at $300 to $500. So Kormorniczak, ADA’s designer, pivoted into belts.

Women weren’t buying as many clothes, she reasoned, so they would want accessories that would allow them to change the look of pieces they already had in their closets. The gambit worked – spectacularly. In 2013, ADA Collection landed at No. 588 on Inc.’s list of the nation’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies. ADA’s belts have been featured in fashion magazines and have been worn by trendsetters such as Pippa Middleton.

That’s when the couple decided that, if women wanted to accessorize, they should offer jewelry as well. They added baubles that integrated leather. Then they added floaty shirts, tunics and dresses that women could cinch at the waists. Retailers, who had experienced success with ADA’s belts, ordered up their new products as well.

“We had all of these wonderful products, and our sales were just slipping incredibly,” Komorniczak said. “We were like, ‘What is going on? How do we have such an amazing customer base? How do we have all these wonderful products and yet our sales are slipping? What are we doing wrong?’ 

After buying a copy of Collins’ “Good to Great,” Komorniczak and Deferrari read and reread the case studies and analysis. One day, Deferrari told his wife: “We have to cut jewelry out, and we have to cut handbags out and we have to cut clothing out.”

Komorniczak knew it was what they needed to do, she said, but still, it was one of the most painful and difficult decisions she ever made. And at the time, she said, they had no idea whether belts would make up the revenue they would lose from the other sales.

As they cut out one product after the other, Komorniczak said, it freed her up to refocus on sales and customer service. She and her husband then realized how little they had been monitoring this aspect of their business, largely leaving it to their sales team. Komorniczak began supervising it more closely and realized in the summer of last year that retailers were no longer receiving the white-glove treatment she had vowed to provide them.

“We don’t just sell the product to retailers,” she said. “We follow up and make sure that everything was received well and that they are happy with the responses from their customers. That follow-up call is really important, and unfortunately 90 percent of companies in the U.S. don’t do that. Our team expanded so much. We were adding so many product lines, and those procedures started slipping through the cracks.”

In summer of 2014, she and all her employees in Folsom called every boutique owner and apologized for failing to follow through. Komorniczak said she and Deferrari decided that, in the future, he should focus on production and sourcing while she personally should supervise design and sales. While some remnants of their handbag and jewelry inventory can still be found on the company’s website, they are now sticking to belts.

As part of that, Komorniczak rededicated her efforts to helping fashionistas who operate the boutiques to increase sales, not just of her belts but all their inventory. As she visits boutiques, she picks up merchandising techniques that have worked for them, and she shares those with other vendors. She also provides detailed handouts that boutique owners can use to educate their employees on how belts can be used to tailor clothing and create different looks.

The reorganization, she said, has resulted in record sales for ADA.

Ada Komorniczak has seen rapid growth of her versatile line of leather belts.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee