21 Apr

How do you spell entrepreneur? S-H-E-P

Shep and Ian Murray of Vineyard Vines
Tuesday April 20th, 2010 at Skidmore College

The neck-tie industry was suffering in recent years due to the swift influx of hip, young and innovative businessmen taking over the corporate sphere, presenting themselves in mere turtlenecks and tailored jeans (Steve Jobs). However, little to Shep or Ian Murray’s knowledge, two brothers from Greenwich, CT, their newly introduced Vineyard Vines apparel company would reverse the trend.

I was fortunate enough to listen to Shep Murray discuss his past education, work experience and entrepreneurial ventures tonight at Skidmore College, his alma-mater. While employed at an ad agency in New York City at 26 years-of-age, Shep was told to start thinking inside the box. Being young, adventurous and driven to gain from his liberal arts education, Shep immediately left the agency, with his younger brother following at his heels.

In 1998 they created Vineyard Vines based on the mantra that “Life’s too short to wear brown.” Their initial business plan was to “manufacture and distribute neck-ties for businessmen that need to wear them, because we don’t have to!” The images displayed and emotions evoked from their full line of men and women’s clothing represent the good life.

So how did these entrepreneurs transform a strictly neck-tie business run out of bathrooms in bars into a $100 million apparel line? While Vineyard Vines relies heavily on projecting a lifestyle through their products, Shep stated that their real success wouldn’t be achieved “without [their] team of employees and dedicated customers”. Furthermore, he stressed the importance of continuously listening and communicating with clients in order to preserve strong relationships. “It takes a lifetime to maintain a customer, but only a second to lose one.”

The recent growth in social media requires businesses to actively participate in continuous conversations with their customers. Vineyard Vine’s recent introduction of a company blog, Facebook page and twitter account is a big step in the right direction. In addition , Shep discussed plans to implement an online forum to promote a platform for clients, competitors and retailers to engage in honest conversations in hopes of improving Vineyard Vines product offerings, customer service and image. I believe the forum can act as a two-way conduit for Vineyard Vines to crowd source some of its future lines and other initiatives they are considering.

Shep geared the majority of his lecture towards the graduating seniors in the audience, ending with an inspirational quote: “Do what you want to do. Don’t get chained to the office chair. Live a fulfilled life.”

Shep and Ian Murray represent true entrepreneurs. Visit their company website for your preppy fix: