'I'm not interested in slowing down'
By Kristine Ellis -- Casual Living, 10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Twentysome years ago, when JANUS et Cie was a local Los Angeles company and outdoor furniture consisted of a handful of styles in two or three materials, Janice Feldman confused an L.A. Times reporter and its readers when she referred to "creating an outdoor room."
It wasn't the first time Feldman was years ahead of a trend, nor is it likely to be the last. Since launching her lifestyle furnishings business in 1978, Feldman has cut a large swath through the interior and outdoor industries influencing design, retail programs and consumers alike.
There was no grand plan in the beginning. In fact, when she started the business, Feldman signed a lease for space before deciding what she was going to sell.
"I really didn't know. But I knew that we would have very beautiful products and that we would deliver very high-quality service," she said.
Feldman also knew that she was interested in dealing with many different market segments — including outdoor.
"I grew up in California and we lived inside and outside all of the time," she said. "That's my cultural background."
Feldman's vision of her company as it is today is fairly recent, resulting in significant growth over the last few years. JANUS et Cie grew from six U.S. employees in 1998 to 130 today, with 33 of those new hires made just in the last year. In addition to 10 showrooms, the company also has a 175,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in L.A. and manufacturing contracts in 11 countries.
Feldman remains very hands-on when it comes to strategic planning, design and intellectual property. She also remains in charge of the company's image, serving as final decision maker on everything from the look and feel of products to advertising.
With the growth, however, Feldman has had to learn to let go and turn over certain parts of her business to others.
"Once someone proves to me that they can do what I've hired them to do, I'm fine to let go," she said. "I would say I'm cautious in the beginning though, just because the business is something that I've so carefully grown. And I think any good entrepreneur would be that way."
Feldman puts emphasis on the hiring process, with only one out of about every 40 people interviewed being offered a position. But once hired, employees find a culture conducive to their success.
Even in naming her company, she was precise in setting her expectations. "JANUS"—the name of a mythical Roman god with two faces, one looking forward, one back — embodies her own commitment to the traditions of the past and the hope, excitement and possibilities of the future.
The rest of the name "et cie," which means "and company," was selected with as much thought. Her commitment and vision always included creating an environment where employees were nurtured and pushed to be their best, and clients were inspired and delighted with the relationship. Feldman's high expectations extend to her own conduct.
"I've always tried to run my life and my business in a very ethical way," she said. "I've also always been very determined never to give up. I'm like a person with a beam of light in front of them; when I turn it on and know where I'm going, I'm pretty focused and determined. That in itself gives me a tremendous amount of push and stamina."
Challenges become problems to solve.
"I like to solve problems," Feldman said. "It's part of my inherent nature, so when I have a problem I try to fix it. That's exciting to me."
Recent challenges range from educating consumers about the need to periodically clean their outdoor furniture to educating specialty dealers that JANUS et Cie isn't just outdoor furnishings nor is it only high end. As Feldman puts it, the company has its couture lines but it also offers ready-to-wear — all of which looks good.
The company will launch a comprehensive cleaning line next spring to help educate consumers about how to take care of their outdoor furniture. As for educating dealers, the more JANUS et Cie grows, the more it sparks dealers to learn about the company's products and policies.
And grow it will. Feldman has ambitious plans.
"I'm not interested in slowing down," Feldman said. "There are too many opportunities, and what I've learned over all of the years I've been in business is that people love our brand. They know that it stands for something really good, so we want to get it out to more of them."