She turned around Keds and grew Converse by $100M. Now she's looking to conquer the $13B consignment industry

1/16/2015 - Biz Journal

She turned around Keds and grew Converse by $100M. Now she's looking to conquer the $13B consignment industry

Hilary Burns, Bizwomen Reporter Jan 16, 2015, 11:51am EST


Kristin Kohler Burrows enjoys a good challenge.


Burrows is the new president and CEO of Boston-based Second Time Around. She arrived at the company with a vast array of retail experience, including stints at Keds, Converse and Adidas, and has a knack for turning struggling companies around. But now she has a new mission on her hands.


Her goal is to make Second Time Around the most well-known name in the fragmented fashion consignment space. The company is doing well - it has 250 employees and plans to double its 41 store locations in three years (they declined to comment on revenue). But she wants it to be even bigger - to scoop up a larger chunk of the resale industry, which the Association of Resale Professionals estimates is worth about $13 billion industry and is made up of 25,000 resale, consignment and nonprofit resale shops around the country.


Burrows' experiences up to this point have groomed and prepared her to take on a CEO role, and now she's at the helm. In a phone interview with Bizwomen, Burrows discussed her retail experience, lessons learned and goals for Second Time Around. Take a look.


Earning her wine


Burrows began her career in retail with a cold call.


She was getting a master's in marketing communications at Boston University, and with no idea what might come of it, she called Reebok. She'd been an athlete her whole life, so why not combine sports and business? She ended up with an internship at Reebok, where she fell in love with the product side of the business.


"It was both about building products to capitalize in the market and also about the storytelling around that," Burrows said. "I'm a big believer that storytelling is what retail marketing is all about today."


After that internship, Burrows moved to California to take a position as a product line manager at Asics. In that role, she launched the brand's women's fitness line, but after a couple years, a man she worked for at Reebok recruited her to come to Adidas.


The company was in a state of turnaround, and Burrows was tasked with improving the cross-training product line. In her first three years, she expanded the line by 100 percent and reached $20 million in sales.


"I realized I am a high-risk, high-reward person," Burrows said. "I like to feel like I'm making a difference. When you're fixing something, you feel like you're making a difference. You go home at night and say, 'Wow, I accomplished something.' I felt like I earned my glass of wine. Those are the kinds of roles that not a lot of people like, and because of that, I was given more responsibility at an earlier age."


'The designers hate you'


Then, when Burrows was 26 years old, she got a harsh wake-up call.


She was at Adidas, working with a team of designers and a different team of developers to create a product line. One day her boss sat her down and told her the words no manager wants to hear: Your team hates you.


"The developers love you," her boss said. "But the designers hate you. Figure out how to work with them to get a great design."


Burrows had been using the same communication approach with both teams - direct and concise. It worked for the developers, but the designers were not pleased.


"I said, 'You're absolutely right. I need to communicate differently [with the designers].' I remember walking in to meet with the design team, taking a deep breath and thinking about how I wanted the outcome to be," she said.


It worked to tell the developers to change a shoe color, but she needed to give the designers more room for creativity. So she started asking more questions when she worked with them.


"I would paint the box, and then they would fill in the box," Burrows said. "I can't put a pencil to paper - I can barely do a stick figure. I would say to them, 'This is what we want to accomplish. How do you think we should get there?' And then let them figure out the solution."


It took about three months to build the trust, but it paid off.


Burrows had dinner with the lead designer from Adidas this week. They're still friends today.


Hopping around


After five years with Adidas, Burrows decided to move back to the East Coast to earn her MBA from Harvard. Her next retail position was with Converse, where she expanded the Converse Chuck Taylor and kids businesses by more than 100 percent to $100 million in revenue.


Two years later, Burrows headed to Fila, the international sportswear company where she helped sell the brand to another company. After the acquisition, Burrows paused to have her first child, but it wasn't long before she was approached by the former COO of Fila, who recruited her to come to Camuto Group, where Burrows managed the Jessica Simpson licensing brand worth $500 million.


But that job wouldn't last.


"Licensing wasn't really for me," Burrows said. "It was more facilitating versus owning. I like to have that pressure of owning something."


And she would have it again soon enough. Before long, a former colleague encouraged her to apply for a job at Keds. Burrows applied, got the job and became the president of Keds at just 39 years old.


"The business at Keds had been declining for years," Burrows said. "I look at brands like they're people and this was like a mistreated person. It hadn't been celebrated. Whenever you talked to customers about Keds, it brings a smile to their faces thinking about their childhoods, and we tried to recapture that as a smiley, happy brand."


Burrows had been at Keds for three years when she became pregnant with her third son. She had been commuting from New York to Boston every week and it just became too much. By the time she left, Keds had seen eight quarters in a row of profitability and global growth. She also grew's business by 30 percent.


But it was time for the next step. This time she became the president of G.H. Bass & Co. Burrows repositioned the Bass brand from an outlet-only strategy to a multichannel brand and then successfully sold Bass to another retailer. It was the best move for the company, but it left Burrows out of a job. That's when Second Time Around entered the picture.


A lofty goal


Although Second Time Around is a much smaller business than G.S. Bass or Keds, it's growing and Burrows sees a lot of potential. It's a chain of upscale consignment shops that buys lightly used clothing from shoppers and then sells it at 30 to 40 percent off the original retail value. They have 41 locations in 12 states now, including stores in New York, Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire.


"This is not a turnaround business," Burrows said. "The business is doing well. It's almost like a startup with a proven business proposition. What I loved about Second Time Around is the resale fashion industry is extremely fragmented. The opportunity here was to come in and say, 'Second Time Around, that's going to be the go-to name in fashion consignment.' I feel like we really have that opportunity to do it. Now how do we leverage the store base to become an omnichannel retailer?"


Burrows was named CEO in November and spent the first six weeks on the job in a "discovery phase." She visited all 41 stores, talked with store managers and customers and read survey results. She then sat down and created a road map that identified how Second Time Around is unique and identified the initiatives that would move the retailer forward. Now the board of directors has to sign off on that strategy before Burrows can proceed.


"We have to create the mindset in female consumers that we are the go-to place for fashion and fashion resale," Burrows said. "You leave our boutique feeling beautiful and you feel smart. It's great contemporary luxury clothing for a great price."

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