A Former Bank Analyst's Thing for Bling

A former bank analyst left the cubicle behind and built an empire founded on affordable jewelry
Chanaratsopon, 33, found the typical mall heavy on clothing and light on accessories. His store, Charming Charlie, stocks and sells more than 50,000 items Photograph by Jeff Wilson for Bloomberg Businessweek

After growing up in Houston, Charlie Chanaratsopon went on to Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, where he majored in finance and minored in economics. Upon graduation in 2001, he went to work at Sanwa Bank as an analyst. He endured nearly two years of grunt work before he returned home to join his family’s manufacturing company, Silver Express, where he persuaded his parents to construct an office building with a retail center attached. There, with $800,000 in startup costs paid through loans and a personal credit card, Chanaratsopon founded Charming Charlie, his own jewelry shop. “I enjoyed building retail centers, working with engineers and general contractors,” he says, “but the fashion retail business is so much more fun.”

Two years later in 2006, Chanaratsopon enrolled at Columbia Business School to learn how to take his concept—which relies on a massive inventory of affordable, diverse items grouped by color in upscale retail spaces—nationwide. Now, 180 stores later, Charming Charlie has expanded to 33 states. The company has 6,000 employees in the U.S. “The toughest part is finding partners to help you [continue to] grow your business,” Chanaratsopon says. In five years, he hopes to expand overseas. “I think we have the potential market opportunity of about 1,000 stores around the country and 20 other countries around the world,” he says. Chanaratsopon is setting his sights on the Middle East next, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. He says: “My goal is to be the fashion and jewelry and accessories leader across the globe.”
1. Listen Up – “Have a formalized system—whether focus groups, surveys, or roundtables—of listening to your customers to improve your product offerings, service, and value proposition for the customer.”
2. Share the Success – “Without great people, it will be very challenging to execute. You need to always motivate, trust, appreciate, and recognize your best talent.”

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