Celebrating 35 Years: Jewelry firm has bright, elegant history

Gail Bennison Special to the Business Press   W ith $2,000 in savings, Kay Pile left her job in 1978 to pursue a dream in the jewelry and fashion industry. Her vision was to create a company with high-quality, hand-crafted jewelry and an emphasis on innovation and design at an affordable price. Today, Pile’s vision has grown into a multi-million dollar company, Treska Inc., that is best known as a leader in the trend-jewelry and accessories market with several brands, divisions and private labels. The company is headquartered in Fort Worth and has permanent showrooms in Dallas, Atlanta and New York. The business Kay Pile started in her garage is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Pile grew up on an 800-acre farm in Pall Mall, Tenn., the youngest of five children. As a child, she was involved in 4-H and showed cattle, but she always loved fashion. She completed her degree in textile and clothing marketing at the University of Tennessee and spent seven years as a jewelry and gift buyer for McClure’s Department Store in Nashville. “I loved my job, but it was a family company and I knew I would never have ownership in it,” Pile said. She started taking the store’s broken jewelry and gift items and making necklaces. She contacted the buyers she knew in New York and sold her creations. Pile says she has always been competitive and determined. “That’s my dad’s fault. When I was a kid, he wouldn’t let me beat him at checkers or any game we played. It was always fair and square, and he taught me to never give up. When I wanted to leave my job and start the business, I was concerned about it, but dad said, ‘Well, your car’s paid for; you’ve got a little savings; if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back.’” Her creative gene and fashion sense she inherited from her mother and sisters, she says. “My mother could make dresses, coats, anything. She was very creative in fashion. My sisters are wonderful at interior design.” Treska owns a 78,000-square-foot industrial space in Fort Worth, which houses the company’s headquarters, plus the distribution center, executive offices, the in-house design team, customer service center and all sales departments. Treska jewelry is designed, sourced and developed solely by its in-house creative team. The company’s ability to interpret trends, while keeping the designs pure, give Treska a stronghold in the industry, Pile says. The jewelry is composed of a wide variety of eclectic elements such as agate, semi-precious stone, glass beads, shell, ceramics, metals, plastics, resin, fabric and wood. Fashion accessory categories include handbags, scarves, belts and travel accessories. “The materials for our products are hand-selected by our product development team to reflect our current design collection,” Pile said. Senior designer Jaymie Martin joined Treska in 1985. She now leads the in-house design team. “I designed the jewelry before Jaymie came along,” Pile said. “She is a fabulous talent, and I knew that right from the beginning.” “Throughout my many years here, I’ve loved watching Treska grow into what it is today,” Martin said. “I love designing jewelry and having women enjoy wearing it has been the most rewarding part of my job.” Retail prices for Treska’s earrings range from $16-$30. Necklaces run from $28-$75. “All original designs are made in-house in Fort Worth and are shown to the major markets in New York City,” she said. “Then we send the pieces to China for customization in design, such as change of color, which the buyers really like.” Treska’s partnership with major retailers helped launch two branded lines: Aris by Treska and Zevar by Treska. Aris is a line of jewelry poised to fill a niche for high design, price-conscious fashion jewelry in major department stores. Treska’s branded lines are sold at Steinmart, Chico’s, Chico’s Outlet, J.C. Penney, Sears, Dillard’s, Belk and Bealls, among others. The company’s specialty division works with customers through exhibition events at its permanent showrooms. In addition to regular market dates, Treska employs 54 sales representatives across the United States. They show the lines at both local shows and road sales with specialty boutiques. Gus Boyce is national sales manager for Treska’s key accounts. Boyce works closely with the in-house design team and trend forecasters to ensure that products and prices are tailored for each key account. He also cultivates new business with key accounts, as well as developing existing partnerships. Wade Bryan is national sales manager for the specialty account division. Bryan manages Treska’s sales reps, working closely to develop product knowledge and new business. Donna Kee is the newest member of the management team. She joined Treska in 2009 as controller and brings 12 years of experience from her previous financial roles with the Texas Rangers baseball club and Dallas Stars hockey team. In 2010, she was promoted to Treska’s vice president. In her new role as COO, Kee oversees the company’s finance and operations functions. While other company owners were investing in the stock market, Pile invested in her employees. In October 2011, she moved the privately held Treska Inc. to an employee-owned entity through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). The company was sold, through shares of stock, to qualified employees as part of their benefits program.  “I thought ‘Why should I wait until I’m dead and gone for them to take control and ownership?’ I already had it planned in my will that certain ones would inherit percentages of the company,” Pile said. “So many people in this industry are afraid to take a chance and give employees what they’re worth. These people are like family to me.” Treska’s CEO Gary Fields joined the company more than 23 years ago as a jewelry maker. In 2007, he became president. Fields remains actively involved in product development. “He’s a true visionary for the direction of the company,” Pile said. “Gary has helped us excel and grow.” “I have learned so many things from Kay over the years,” Fields said. “But the ones that mean the most to me today are: Never be afraid to take risks. In this business, there are basically leaders and followers to some degree and the leaders are those that take risks and dance to the beat of their own drum. She has also taught me that the best leaders understand that it is not necessary to be an expert in every aspect of their business. You just need to surround yourself with talented and passionate people that share the vision. Finally, Kay taught me the importance of trusting your intuition and remaining true to who you are.” As for the future, Fields says Treska will continue to establish itself as an important emerging brand among major retailers. “We will expand our support of the boutique store base that we are built on by offering them fresh trademark collections. We have begun to lay groundwork to take Treska into the global marketplace. Support from our international sources and supply chain make it a natural progression.” Fields adds that the company has always maintained a family-like, close-knit work environment. “To us, the ESOP not only creates a culture of respect and empowerment but is a testament to the belief in our staff. The heightened sense of responsibility to each other and the legacy is priceless,” he said. To celebrate its anniversary year, Treska is holding special events at every trade show throughout the year. The company has launched an updated full-service wholesale website and is introducing its GMan men’s accessory line. Later this year, Treska plans to offer a high-end Gallery line, which will mark a return to artisan, limited-edition goods handmade in the United States and updated packaging for all categories. The key to Treska’s longevity and success? “First and foremost has been the consistent and recognizable offering of unique designs reflecting our artisan spirit,” said Fields. “We strive for every collection to reflect an inspired vision and noticeable value. Next, we have always had a very keen understanding of who our customer is and are constantly evolving to keep our loyal customer base excited as well as broaden our demographic appeal.” Pile, at 65, has no plans to slow down. In addition to her involvement with Treska, she owns a real estate company and is restoring the family farm in Pall Mall. She has been married for 29 years to Larry Thornton. They live in Fort Worth. They have one son, Chase, 29, and one grandson, Dylan, 9. Chase has no interest in the fashion business, Pile says. Treska and Pile donate funds and time to the Women’s Center of Tarrant County in Fort Worth. Pile is a member of the Rape Crisis Counseling team. She also is involved in Church on the Hill in Fort Worth.  Pile says her hope is that “the company continues to be successful and the employees continue to make money for all they’ve put into this. I hope that at the end of the day, they will be happy and this will continue on for many generations.”