Brand Building - Island Style

The Vineyard Vines brothers, Shep and Ian.

The Vineyard Vines brothers, Shep and Ian.

This past week I was on Martha's Vineyard, a place well known in New England for its beautiful beaches, incredible farmland, and classic coastal towns.  But to the rest of the country, I think Martha's Vineyard is becoming known for being the birthplace of Vineyard Vines, a clothing company that has been expanding like crazy these past few years.  Much like Nantucket Nectars, Vineyard Vines was started by two guys, Shep and Ian (also brothers), who drew inspiration from an island they loved to start selling a product.  For the Nantucket Nectars guys, that product was homemade juice that they sold boat-to-boat in Nantucket Harbor.  For the Vineyard Vines brothers, it was preppy colorful ties.  If you do a little digging into how both these companies started, you get the sense that it all began with two guys who just wanted to live by the water and sell enough product to cover their mooring fees.  It seems that neither could have ever imagined how big their sales would get.  

But in both cases, sales got really, really big.  On July 3rd, I walked into the newly expanded Vineyard Vines store in Edgartown and saw Ian, one of the founding brothers, shaking hands and taking pictures with his devoted customers.  The staff was fully decked out in their preppy glory, a Hinkley-inspired boat couch gleamed in the front room, and sales were booming.  I later read that it was on July 3rd, 1998, exactly sixteen years earlier, that Ian and his brother sold their first batch of ties.  They sold those ties door-to-door on commission, which means they paid for the product upfront and gave them to stores for free, receiving a split only when the ties sold.  

And that made me really, really happy.  Because that's how I sell to bookstores.  I go in person and introduce myself and my books and then provide inventory to the stores.  I make many follow-up phones calls and many long drives to restock supplies when the books sell out (which they have been very fast!).  It's a lot of unglamorous legwork, but I'm learning that it's what I need to do to grow my young company.  Yes, company.  Star Sisters will always be first and foremost about writing, because that's what I love and what really fulfills me. But I also want it to be bigger than just a single book.  I want to produce an entire series that moms and kids love, that they think of whenever they need something new to read, or the perfect birthday present, or a fabulous necklace to celebrate a milestone event.  And that takes a lot of work.  But I think part of the reason that the Nantucket Nectars and Vineyard Vines guys have succeeded is because they genuinely loved their products.  They came up with something unique that didn't exist before and people responded.  I've certainly got the love, so I can't wait to see what happens.

And while we're talking fashion, Annie and I are starting to think about illustrations for Book 4, titled Star Sisters and the Best Seller.  It's such a fun part of the process because she is amazing at bringing my ideas to life.  It's not a summer book, but if it was I could totally see Coco in this chevron halter and Lucy in this collared anchor print: