Brandie Gehan, B by Brandie

Feel like your grandmother’s china could use a millennial facelift? Brandie Gehan, 33, is happily resurrecting the stagnant art of fine tableware and china by designing pieces that fit within today’s lifestyles. Her lovingly founded home decor company, B by Brandie, is full of unique, contemporary tableware that offers both practicality and style.

With her extensive background in marketing and advertising, Brandie was able to publicize and grow her company quickly. Although B by Brandie has only been on the forefront of home decor for two years, Brandie already has been recommended and recognized by Better Homes and Gardens, as well as other top names in the business.

Instead of using china only for Christmas dinner, Brandie has made it her life’s focus to create everyday statement pieces with the elegance of fine china, but with the contemporary versatility of modern dishes. Brandie’s story of success teaches us that looking for new ideas in old traditions can give us the inspiration to revive the past—and give us a taste of sweet success.

Her Starting Point

Many people find the transition between college and “real life” a bit daunting. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey between the two? What was your first job post-college?

As a child, I was always trying to come up with new ideas and ways to sell items to my neighbors. I was the kid always walking up and down the street selling cookies or lemonade. As for my first paid job, I decided I would start looking for a job right before I turned 16. I grew up in a suburb outside of Austin, before Austin became what it is today and there weren’t a lot of choices, so I walked into one of the few restaurants near my house and got hired as a hostess. I worked there for several years until I graduated from high school and I learned quickly what I didn’t like, but one thing I realized was that the restaurant business is a tough business. I also learned that having a good work ethic and being enthusiastic was important and that showing up was half the battle.   

After that gig, I interned at an amazing advertising agency in Austin, GSD&M. I was obsessed with advertising after hearing their principal, Roy Spence speak—he really motivated me and created a spark within me to pursue advertising. I was hooked. I quickly researched everything I could about that agency and pulled every string I could to get an interview there. I worked in almost every department at GSD&M and learned so much over those six years. I hope that I can be as passionate and enthusiastic about my career as Roy conveyed during his speech.

When did you first spark the idea for B by Brandie? How long did it take to make your vision a reality? 

I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur from a very early age. However, I have a tendency to be risk-adverse, not a great trait for an entrepreneur; so the idea for B by Brandie had been simmering within me for a while. I finally decided to take the plunge and follow my passion and gave my client notice and quit consulting to focus 100% of my energy on B by Brandie—that was May 2012 and it has been a wild ride! 

I always knew that I wanted to start my business online, since I had been working in the digital space for years and was very familiar with that channel. However, trying to narrow down what I wanted to create and sell online was more difficult. After, I put in my notice, I spent several weeks researching the market and exploring my passions.

I have always been passionate about home design and fashion, so I wanted to create something unique that incorporated both of those passions yet also filled a void in the marketplace. I toyed with several ideas and, after having a long conversation and some wine, I convinced myself I could do this. The next day, I booked a trip to NYC to figure out how I could execute my idea. 

Your career has progressed from video game marketing and e-commerce sales, to home décor products. When did you get interested in interior design and why?

I have been lucky in my career; I have worked for some amazing people and organizations. Design has always been important to me—I used to create mood boards and cut images out of magazines as a child growing up. In addition, my mom also has always had amazing interior design style, and she really influenced me growing up, we were constantly rearranging and moving items to the perfect spot in our house.

Her Big Break

Tell us about the daily tasks and responsibilities as founder of B By Brandie. Does your job allow for good work/life balance? How much travel is involved in your job?

Like any mother and/or businessperson, I sometimes have a hard time finding work/life balance, but I will say at the end of the day, I am able to make my own hours and create my own schedule. I often find myself catching up on work at odd hours to make all of my deadlines. I am a morning person, so that sometimes means getting up at 4:30 a.m. before everyone to get some quiet time to crank out the work. I love what I do and I love my family, so I am constantly trying to find that balance.  

We make it a point to always have breakfast and dinner together as a family when we are all in town, so that helps me keep perspective on my work schedule. 

I travel quite a bit with my work. My PR agency, my creative director, as well as my showroom are all based out of NYC, so I am usually up there about a week a month. I love NYC; it inspires me and really is a great home away from home. I also travel to several tradeshows and some international trips to the manufacturing plants throughout the year.

One way I try to balance my work life and family life during these trips is to take one of my boys with me on these trips—at times it can be stressful having long meetings all day, but there is nothing like having dinner with them in a new city to put all of those stresses in perspective. 

Many people would be shocked by all the pre-planning that goes into even the smallest of collections. After you have an idea for a collection or even just a piece of one, what happens next?

The latest collection took well over a year and half of pre-planning. We often go through hundreds of designs to ultimately settle on just a few pieces. My creative director is amazing and he has been with me since the beginning, so we are able to move through the process very efficiently since we have the same eye and perspective. One of the most challenging parts of B by Brandie is that we truly want a mix and match approach to the entire line, current or past collections, so we have to make sure every color and pattern works with every style we have ever created. 

Once we have several patterns and ideas that we think would complement the line, we spend time with focus groups to see what patterns resonate for them. These groups usually involve 10 to 12 influencers from the art, retail or fashion worlds who come over to my house—we have a huge meal and discuss the different designs. Often times, we are so involved with the line that it can be hard to see the bigger picture, so we use these focus groups to do a quick gut check. 

After we have the focus group feedback, we as a team meet to discuss and finalize the patterns we want to introduce for the next collection.

Once we have the designs finalized, we start to determine the colors we want the collection to contain, then we work with the manufacturer to perfect it. Porcelain and Bone China are two different materials, so the colors can translate drastically different on each type of material. Finally, when the color is approved we move into sampling the designs on the actual plates—this usually takes several rounds of review and meetings with our Chinese partners.

Once the product is approved, we start working on collateral and photograph all the pieces. Now, we get to play and mix and match all of the products together—this is the best part of the process. It always is so amazing to see all of the endless possibilities!

Staying fresh and innovative in the home accessories world can be a challenge. How do you stay creative and where do you look for inspiration?

I agree it can be a challenge! There are a ton of great companies out there, creating some amazing items! One focus for me since the beginning was to create products that would change the tabletop category and truly develop an entire line of products that could mix and match. I wanted to bring a youthful approach to the tabletop industry, a category that had been a bit stagnant over the years.

In the past, most people would register for beautiful china dishes when they got married and then use white porcelain plates everyday—I want to change that by creating a line that is easy to clean and even easier to acquire. I want people to have the opportunity to dress the table as they do themselves—with their own unique twist. 

I find inspiration everywhere! I love finding patterns and color ways in magazines, retail stores and online. Walking around New York City and Dallas, I see so much inspiration, it’s everywhere—you just have to be open to seeing it! I have hundreds of magazine tear outs and photos on my phone that I am constantly going through when working on a new collection.

How much of your role involves working closely with cross-functional teams like marketing, manufacturers, etc.? How much of your role includes creative skills and how much includes business skills (i.e. budget, managerial, analytical)?

Every day is different, which is fun and challenging at times! I would say I spend the majority of my time working with cross-functional teams. We carve out time each day to look at site statistics and test and refine our traffic driving techniques. In addition to the site analytics, I have weekly calls with our manufactures to determine timing and progress of our new products. I wish I could spend more time on the creative side, but we are a lean company and that requires that I also focus my efforts on the business side. I meet with my business mentors and investors bi-monthly, so that allows me to devote time to the financial and accounting side. I would like to carve out more time for strategizing and projecting—two pieces of the business that I think could always use more of my time.

Her Perspective

What is the most challenging part of your job, and how do you keep yourself from burning out?

One of the most challenging but rewarding parts of my job is the fact that no day is the same. I am constantly shifting from one project to another, which can be tiring. I feel I have learned so much over the last year and half—I now know how to go about testing for lead, and how to send a large shipment of goods from China and Poland to my warehouse in Dallas! I set up a warehouse and have tracked 25,000+ pieces of inventory—that’s something I had never done before.

I think of myself as a great multi-tasker—probably one of my greatest work strengths—but I still have to give myself “me” time. I make sure that I set aside a few hours a week to think and strategize, as well as make sure I have time to work out and explore my other personal interests outside of work. When I am spending time with my family, I have learned to put the iPhone down and close the computer. My work can wait. 

If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?

Today my schedule looks like the following:

5:00 a.m.: wake up

5:30 a.m.: workout

6:15 a.m.: get dressed

7:00 a.m.: get my son up and ready for school

7:45 a.m.: send a few emails and look at my schedule

8:15 a.m.: leave for the office

9:00 a.m.: plan out my schedule for the day

9:30 a.m.: meet with my team to discuss goals for the week

10:00 a.m.: meet with my coders to discuss backend questions

11:00 a.m.: meet with a visual merchandising consultant to develop ideas for Dallas Market, NY Showroom and Ambiente Show in Frankfurt

12:30 p.m.: quick lunch at my desk

1:00 p.m.: weekly status call with MFA PR agency

2:00 p.m.: meet with my creative director on collateral for Dallas Market and a co-branded Kendra Scott event

3:30 p.m.: catch-up on phone calls and emails

4:30 p.m.: finish up a blog post

5:00 p.m.: leave office

6:00 p.m.: cook dinner

7:30 p.m.: look over homework and pack kid’s bags for school next day

8:00 p.m.: me time! This usually involves looking through my latest magazines and catching up with friends

10:00 p.m.: bedtime

Major players in the interior design and styling world (Better Homes and Gardens’ Eddie Ross, for one) are recommending you to the masses. How did you get the word out on B by Brandie? What goes into marketing for the company?

I have been very lucky! I love Eddie and all of his work, and am so grateful that he has been an early supporter! I worked hard for over a year building the brand, trying to get the word out there. I was lucky enough to be able to meet several key players along the way, but my PR agency, MFA, has helped to secure many great placements and has been a great partner in my marketing efforts. 

Besides MFA, we are constantly working with bloggers and on other digital opportunities. It is important for us to have a constant online presence and to build our social footprint. I really think it is vital to build relationships with the blogging community, so that is one of our major marketing goals for 2014. Bloggers are so influential in this space as the shelter magazine world has shrunk over the years; people now rely on them to learn about the latest home design trends. Also, we focus on developing co-branding opportunities with other similar brands to build awareness, and we have some very exciting projects in the works!

What advice would you give to women hoping to design their own home accessory line? What skills are essential and do you think having an industry niche is an advantage?

I think it’s important that you understand what you want to do and how you plan to stand out. There are so many people out there in this category, so I think it is key that you create a brand with a distinct vision or purpose; otherwise, you will get lost in the crowd. I also think you need to plan on hearing “no” a lot—I’ve been lucky with the support I have been shown, but you need to have the confidence to hear “no” and keep going with your gut. I have had times where people didn’t believe I could do this and questioned my ability, but it is times like those where I worked even harder to prove that I could do something different and that I could succeed.

What’s next for you? How would you like to see your career evolve?

I am hoping to expand my sales channels beyond online to retail and other outlets in the next few months. We also have a licensed line that will be launching in 2014 that I am so excited about! I also am seeking to expand my product line beyond tabletop to other home accessories that support the mix and match modern approach.

Career Contessa Interview, Brandie Gehan, B by Brandie