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The Eight Zelda Success Principles

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I always tell people to follow their intuition… in business and in their personal lives. All the facts may be on the table, but if your gut tells you something else…you best listen to your gut. If you’re confused, don’t do anything. I follow the tenet, “If in doubt, don’t.” I follow the urging of my gut and intuition when I write these articles, too.

About five years ago, I walked into a store in Truckee, California. It’s a high-end store with beautiful lady’s clothing. A particular designer named Zelda stood out. Being an F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda (his wife) fan, I was curious how the designs came to be named Zelda. The real Zelda lived in the 1920’s. Most people don’t know that she was a dancer and an artist. I visited a museum in Alabama, which displays her paintings. One of her books even outsold F. Scott’s…which did not make him very happy. Their love story was a tumultuous one, but in the end, they are buried on top of each other in Maryland. I visited their grave site a couple of years ago.

I knew there must be a Zelda “story” when I saw the unique designs…and I was correct. Indeed, Zelda lives on. Renee Shaw was the founder of Zelda. It was a vintage-inspired design with a personal touch that women loved. Every piece had an angel strategically placed on the exquisite fabrics. Women considered the Zelda designs pieces of art. She remembers the special occasion where she wore Zelda. She even collects Zelda pieces and holds onto them forever.

Like most of America, retail has been hit hard. While many high-end boutiques and retail establishments have gone out of business, Zelda is weathering the financial storm. I wondered why and I also wondered what was the secret to their success. So I called them and paid a visit to the Zelda team in New York City. All of you, my readers, know that my area of professional expertise is in building high performance work teams. I was curious about the Zelda team. When I arrived at their offices on Seventh Avenue, I was met by Shaw Behzad. He is Zelda’s Design Director extraordinaire. His biography is amazing. He worked for Yves Saint Laurent in London. Later his designs catered to a star clientele from Diana Ross and Grace Jones to Peggy Lee. He studied at Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale in Paris. Shaw is known for his collections and received publicity in magazines like Elle, Marie Claire and New York. His designs have been showcased at Nordstrom’s, Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Macy’s. He was raised in Tehran, London and America, and for many years he split his time between Paris and New York City. Elle Magazine states, “His couture credentials are impeccable.”

I was also met by Daniel Kwok (COO) and Frankie Kwok (CEO), both business geniuses originally from Hong Kong. Finally, I met with Liz Lukawski, Zelda’s Vice President. She has been with the company for ten years. I asked her why she stayed and what she loved about Zelda. She loves the Zelda team and believes that the Zelda product and the Zelda customers are the strengths of Zelda. She feels that the customers experience a personal attachment to Zelda. She likens the Zelda creations to a fine wine that gets more valuable with age. She sounded excited when she told me about some of Zelda’s customers – Marie Osmond, Jane Seymour, Pat Benatar and Paula Abdul. Even Steve Tyler of Aerosmith wears Zelda. Liz is an Italian with lots of energy and says that Zelda feels like a family to her. She stays because she loves planting seeds and seeing them grow. She shares one of my beliefs that when you nurture something…rewards will follow.

What is the secret to Zelda’s success?

1. They know their audience…they know who their customer is.

2. They listen to their customer. They also try to accommodate their customer’s needs.

3. They are not afraid of change. As the market changes, so do they.

4. They didn’t give up when times got tough. They know that the difference between success and failure is trying one more time.

5. They are excited and enthusiastic about the Zelda brand, and people like me will fly 3,000 miles just to interview them because their enthusiasm is so contagious.

6. Each member of the Zelda team realizes that they represent Zelda. When they sell themselves, they are selling Zelda.

7. They are creative. The definition of creativity is to do old things new ways. They have taken an exquisite product and continued to masterfully expand and embellish it — all the while remembering the Zelda roots.

8. The Zelda team knows that there is something very unique and special about the Zelda line. They also understand Zelda’s slight edge. In today’s market place, there are many places where a woman can buy high-end clothing. Why would she buy Zelda? Because Zelda knows who Zelda is. She is a collectible treasure.

In a time of such uncertainty, it is good to know that there are still some companies which profoundly care about the customer. It has been my experience that when you do the right things in business, the money will follow. In other words, if we treat people right, they want to do business with us and profitability is a natural result. As a nation, for us to remain competitive we need to remember the power of relationships. Historically, we have all learned a lot about the three R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic), but we seldom talk about the fourth R, which is the most critical in business… relationships.

I predict that Zelda will be around for a long time because she has her priorities in order. Her success is all about the positive relationships she has formed throughout the decades.

Look at your own organization and ask yourself where you stand on the eight Zelda success principles.


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