Considering they were raised in Greenwich, Conn., and summered on Martha’s Vineyard, it’s not surprising that Shep and Ian Murray viewed advertising and PR careers as less fulfilling than, say, sewing patterns of golf clubs, whales, and other Waspy images onto their neckties. So in 1998, Shep, now 40, and Ian, 36, decided to take an $8,000 credit-card cash advance and time off from their Manhattan careers to design a full line of ties. Then they went to the Vineyard. “We started selling ties like guys selling T-shirts at a concert,” remembers Shep. After the first 800 sold out in a week, the brothers Murray promptly quit their jobs, and Vineyard Vines was born.
There was one problem. “We didn’t know anything about fashion or the business,” says Ian. As they searched for a manufacturer to create another bulk order, they received some important advice from former Bergdorf Goodman Chief Executive Officer Ira Neimark, an early adviser. He told them to stick with one product while they grew. After their second line of ties became a hit, the Murrays started making women’s tote bags in 2001. In 2005 they began selling clothing online and in boutiques. By 2007, Vineyard Vines had revenue of $37 million.
This year the Stamford (Conn.) company aims to increase sales to $100 million. Vineyard Vines was recently named the “official style” of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. The staff will also be selling clothes and accessories at college campuses in the company car, Whale Force One, handing out cozies and Frisbees along the way. “Our success,” says Ian, “is all about that lifestyle and attitude we want to exude.”
THE MURRAYS’ BEST ADVICE
1. Stay Pink:
We always strive to remain true to our roots and loyal to our customers. Our team, our fans, and our customers make up the Vineyard Vines’ DNA, and we always try to include them and their interests as we make decisions. If they wouldn’t wear it, it’s unlikely anyone else will.
2. Smile, Dammit:
Great products and great customer service are the keys to our success. The team members who answer the phones, ship packages, and work with customers in stores are the people who have a meaningful and long-lasting effect on the customer experience.