‘Friars in Fashion’ Detail Path to Business Success
Keri Murschell ’94 and Chris Riccobono ’01 always knew they wanted to start their own businesses — they just needed the right idea.
The two entrepreneurs addressed students and staff as part of the Providence College School of Business Advisory Council’s Speaker Series. Titled “Friars in Fashion,” the panel discussion was moderated by Robert J. Reilly ’86, executive director of UBS Investment Bank and a member of the Business Advisory Council.
Murschell, who majored in psychology at PC, worked in technology sales for 10 years before launching her golf accessory business in 2003. “I just always knew I wanted to launch an idea. I just never knew what it was,” she said.
Inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s advice to follow passions, Murschell acknowledged to herself that she loved travel, golf, and fashion. That drove her ambition to become “the Kate Spade of golf bags.”
Nine months later, she launched keri golf, a line of golf bags and totes designed for women. During this period, Murschell had her first child and continued to work at her day job. She also invested $60,000 to $70,000 of her own money into the business.
But Murschell sold $20,000 worth of pre-orders at her first trade show and was featured in US Airways’ in-flight magazine, as well as one of Winfrey’s favorite things in O magazine.
She entered a partnership with Adams Golf, designing bags for the company’s women’s line, until Adams was purchased by TaylorMade-adidas Golf in March. Now, she is in charge of all global accessories for Adams Golf. A quarter of the company’s business is women’s products, she said.
Murschell said she learned many lessons in the process.
“I got my M.B.A. the hard way,” Murschell said. “I did not have that financial background.”
Gaining valuable experience
Riccobono, whose business specializes in men’s dress shirts meant to be worn untucked, majored in finance. But, due to the economic downturn after the attacks on the World Trade Center, he got a job in pharmaceutical sales instead. Later, he entered GE Healthcare’s technology sales and leadership program.
He always intended to become an entrepreneur someday, “but I needed the idea,” he said.
Riccobono later went to Columbia Business School for his M.B.A., once again concentrating in finance, with the aim of becoming a trader. But the market crashed again when he graduated in 2007.
He returned to GE but worked on a video wine blog in his free time. That experience “gave me the confidence to launch UNTUCKit,” Riccobono said.
Riccobono launched UNTUCKit in June 2010 after needing a year to get the fit of the shirt right. Now the company hopes to raise $1 million or $2 million through venture capital or an angel investor.
But 2010 was not the ideal time to launch a business.
“Raising money was next to impossible,” he said. “People are not investing unless it’s the perfect opportunity.”
“Managing money — it’s all about the margins,” he said. Men’s retail has moved predominantly online, he said. Most money spent online was on men’s clothes, he added.
With e-commerce, “you really get to interact with your customers,” he said. His company also avoids the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store.
Riccobono said he uses traditional public relations to market his shirts, as well as a combination of “celebrity seeding” — sending free shirts to famous people in the hopes they are photographed wearing one — and selling shirts through email “deal” sites such as Guilt.
“You lose money on the margins, but you’re reaching a ton of people,” he said.
At first, he said that he took bad news terribly when it came to his businesses.
“You might launch five businesses and fail, but you just need one,” Riccobono said. “Once you launch your first company, you feel like you can launch hundreds of them.”
Murschell agreed, saying, “Learn to fail. Until you do, you cannot succeed.” She advised students to “take advantage of what they have here, at arms’ reach.” Students should use the College’s network, which includes parents of their friends and classmates, she said. “Go for what you dream of, and if you fail, who cares?”
But it takes hard work. Riccobono recommended students “get a job, get some experience, and make some money,” he said. Work on big ideas at night while earning money at a day job, he said.
“For every ‘no’ I got, I forced myself to make three more calls,” Murschell said. “I stuck with it, no matter what.”
Murschell said she gained a lot from her PC education.
“You gain an understanding of how the world works together,” she said. She encouraged students to take marketing or business classes, even if they were not part of their majors. “Don’t stop at what you think you should do,” she said.
The next Business Advisory Council panel discussion will address careers in finance. It will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday, November 29, in the Smith Center for the Arts’ John Bowab Studio Theatre.
— Liz F. Kay
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