Westchester's Sharon Decker On Success: Passion, Long-Term Vision, And Calculated Risks

Some tips for running a successful company, gleaned from her 30 years in business.

At just 24, entrepreneur Sharon Decker saw a niche in the eyewear market, and decided to capitalize on it. Decker felt that Westchester needed its own fashion-forward designer eyewear retail shop so that consumers wouldn’t have to travel to Manhattan to try and buy the latest styles. So she launched Eye Designs of Westchester in Scarsdale in 1984, with the goal of offering distinctive eyewear designs and personalized service. Fifteen years later she opened a second location in Armonk, and today, Decker is celebrating 30 years of business. She’s learned a few lessons along the way, and shared them with us recently.

Have Passion: “The most important thing you can have as an entrepreneur is passion for what you do. If you have passion, you’ll find a way to make the business work. If you are doing something because it seemed like a good money-maker, you will eventually be disappointed. If you choose something because you love doing it, you’ll not only find a way to get things done, you’ll enjoy each day you’re doing it, even if it’s not living up to revenue expectations at that moment.”

Make Customers and Staff your Priority: “I have always hired the best people I could find. Even if the cost was a stretch for my budget, I always felt that having the right people behind the counter and answering the phone would increase customer satisfaction and certainly over 30 years that has been proven to be true. And when it comes to customers, they should be your number one priority! Bend over backwards to make every customer happy and you will have customers for life and a huge extended sales force. Ask any business owner what their best source of business is and they will tell you referrals, therefore, doesn’t it make sense to make sure that every possible referral source is overjoyed with your products and service?”

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Choose Quality: “This is true for the products you sell, the service you provide, and the staff you hire. I have always believed that quality is far more important to people than price. While people may tell you the cost of something is an issue, when it comes right down to it, quality will win out 99% of the time. The reason is it lasts. We had a customer return with a pair of sunglasses that she purchased six years ago and she was frustrated because they simply wouldn’t wear out and she wanted to invest in another pair but felt guilty not using the existing pair. We convinced her to give them to her daughter and she bought another pair for herself.”

Take Risks: “Take calculated risks and have a Plan B. You want to take risks but the odds should be in your favor and you need to have a plan B in place should the risk not work out so that you don’t panic, you just move into your contingency plan at a point that you have already established.”

Trust your Gut: “The mistakes I made came from not trusting my gut. If I did something when it didn’t feel quite right, it usually wasn’t. Listen to your inner voice, very often, it’s correct. Don’t be talked into something that you really feel uneasy about.”

It’s Not About Instant Gratification: “If you think you will open your door tomorrow and you’ll be profitable and have more customers than you can handle within the first month, you’re likely mistaken. Plan to be in your business for the long haul and you will think more strategically. While social media has made us all feel like everything should be instantaneous, it’s not! Again, plan strategically and for the long haul and you’ll have more satisfaction watching sales grow over time rather than thinking it should happen overnight.”

Cut Revenue in Half: “If you’re just starting a new business, make sure you have enough money behind you to get started. You don’t want to open and then a year into it realize you don’t have enough money to sustain the business. Plan appropriately and then cut your expected revenue in half and see if you can still survive.”

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Work Hard: “While this seems like it should be a given, today it isn’t. One thing people seem to forget these days, particularly the younger generation, is that it takes hard work and 120% effort to make a business a success. It means coming in early, staying late, going the extra mile, being the cleanup crew, learning new skills and generally working very, very hard. Albert Einstein said that Genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I would say if you want to be a success in business the ratio is the same!”

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