How One Business Has Successfully Adapted to a Changing Industry

How One Business Has Successfully Adapted to a Changing Industry

Darryl Meattey is the founder of Surell Accessories, a company he’s run for 38 years. Surell manufactures and imports women’s accessories, such as earmuffs, neckwear, and vests made of fur, sheepskin, and faux fur. Meattey attributes the company’s longevity to hard work and nimbleness. “We’re small enough to turn on a dime, but we’re big enough to service some of the biggest retailers in the world,” he said. Surell products are carried in retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale’s.

Starting Out

Why did you start your business?

I worked for another firm for seven years. I was manufacturing children’s fur accessories like hats, muffs, gloves, and mittens. The company went out of business. The secretary at that company was Sue. I’m Darryl. We decided to start Surrel. We started out with a couple of people and worked for a few years for nothing to build the business up. We had some great accounts that filtered over from the other business. We hung in there year by year. As it got harder to manufacture in the U.S., we started importing little by little. Today, we are about 80% import and 20% manufacture.

I’ve always been the type of person who wants to help people, wants to lead, wants to take initiative. I came from a lower-middle-income kind of family from out in the woods. I didn’t have a lot of education, but I always had the drive to want my own business. I’ve just never quit – It’s been a lot of hard work.

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How did you finance the company at the start?

Sue and I each put in $7,500 and then we went to the bank and got another $15,000. I did flea markets on the weekends and she worked at the dog track for two years. We didn’t take salaries from the company during that time to build it up to where we could be paid. Little by little, we got a line of credit from the bank. We had hard times financially coming up through the ranks. But, now, we have banks knocking on our door wanting our business, which is a good feeling.

What’s the biggest mistake you made when starting out?

Once, we were manufacturing these leather hats. The company wanted white leather. We had a band that went around the hat that was glued on. The glue didn’t hold that well. The fingers of the people who were putting on the bands would get sticky and leave marks. The hats were just a mess! The company called me. I had to go out and look at them and sort them out. I learned from that that some things are just impossible to do. Working with white leather is just impossible – especially if you have any glue involved with it. At some point, you have to learn to say, “That’s not practical.” Through the years, I’ve learned to tell the buyers that some things are just not practical or productive.

What’s the smartest thing you did when starting out?

The smart thing is to surround yourself with the best people you can possibly find. I like to have people who are smarter than me so I can learn from them. Also, I’ve never been afraid to ask. If you don’t know something, there’s no shame in telling someone that you need some help. There’s always somebody to ask to help you solve a problem. That’s one great thing about having my family involved. If there’s a problem, we can always discuss it and I can get everybody’s viewpoint.

Managing the Business

What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?

Finance is always No. 1. Then, making money. We emphasize sales a lot. We set goals for ourselves. We have a consultant who works with us to set goals. We have sales seminars. And we focus on developing new products, because the world is ever-changing, so we need to be diversified.

How do you manage cash flow?

I hire an excellent accountant! The key to business is surrounding yourself with great people. If you have good people, you need to listen to them. We have an accountant in-house and a C.P.A. who audits our books once a year and does our year-end. We also have a good attorney.

What’s the most rewarding thing about running the business?

It’s rewarding to have a business where I could bring both my sons in to work in the business with myself and my wife. They’ve worked their way up like I did from menial work to being owners and CEOs in the business. One does logistics and watches the money and the other one sells. To work together and to be able to pay them a decent salary is pretty rewarding.

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?

You really have to think everything through. Sometimes, when I talk to people who want to start a business, they’re talking about building things and buying machinery. We just bought a new building three years ago. That was after 35 years of being in a building that was so small that the bank would shake their head and say, “We don’t know how you guys produce goods out of this little building!” You find a way to do it and become efficient. People should start small and outgrow themselves. You have to focus on sales to be able to do that. I’ve never been afraid to sell something. I worry about the manufacturing later! You really need to be sure there’s a market first.

The Future

What’s next for Surrell?

We always have goals. We always have new lines and new products. We’re always pushing ourselves. Our goal is always to have 30% growth each year. Though we haven’t always hit that, it keeps us going. We are working on doubling our business in the next five-to-seven years. With cold-weather merchandise, it can be difficult because of the changes in the weather and global warming. It could be 70 degrees in December and below zero in February, which affects our market.

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