You can’t help but wonder what handbag Cassandra Connors is carrying. As the founder of Bella Bag — purveyor of pre-owned, high-end designer handbags — she has her pick of the top brands.
Today her choice is the Celine Luggage Tote in electric blue, a style credited with putting the French fashion house back on the upswing in 2010. It’s a gorgeous bag and it is holding a heavy load, stuffed to the gills with everything a busy CEO needs to function.
While the bag’s heft may be weighing Connors down, the business she has built by selling bags like this one has only lifted her up. “This didn’t just create a job for me, it created a life for me,” said Connors of the company she created in 2005.
With a flagship store at Buckhead Atlanta, the newest shopping district for luxury retail, and plans for another boutique in the Long Island (New York), New Jersey or Connecticut area, Connors is ready to grow Bella Bag into a national brand.
It is a long way from eBay, where Connors, who once aspired to be an actress, began selling a few vintage designer bags for extra cash. She quickly saw a gap in the market of pre-owned designer bags and decided to fill it. Bella Bag was born as an e-commerce and wholesale business, Connors said, but today the company is increasingly focused on growing its retail presence.
The transition isn’t easy, but it is one she considers vital to Bella Bag’s future. “As a wholesale business, we rely on other businesses’ success for our success. We have to incorporate retail for long-term success by building a national brand,” Connors said.
The flagship boutique at Buckhead Atlanta gives the brand a new level of visibility. Not only are there prestigious neighbors including Hermes, Etro, Scoop and others, but there is plenty of traffic on Peachtree Road with passers-by popping in to see what Bella Bag is all about.
In the two years since Connors first tested a Bella Bag storefront at Miami Circle, the boutique has refined its retail model. The Buckhead Atlanta boutique carries 10 core handbag brands including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes, Gucci, Prada, and Fendi. It is also the only place in Atlanta where you can purchase a Goyard tote. While all Bella Bags are pre-owned (though not necessarily used), Connors is quick to distinguish Bella Bag from a consignment store. “We pride our company on being a luxury handbag retailer,” she said.
As such, they focus on offering classic styles with a strong heritage whether fresh-off-the-runway, vintage or one-of-a-kind. Customers are drawn to bags with a story, said Connors, who also plans to satisfy that desire by displaying and selling coffee-table books that give insight into the history of these luxury goods.
Bella Bag clients can trade, buy or sell bags in-store or online, where the selection includes more designer brands and accessories such as scarves, watches and jewelry. The company offers a layaway plan and will source bags for clients looking for a specific style or color of handbag. Prices can range from $200 (for small accessories) up to $55,000.
Connors jokes that she can smell a fake bag before it is in her line of vision, but authenticity was the foundation of the Bella Bag brand. Clients can be assured of a bag’s authenticity given the 13-point inspection Bella Bag conducts before accepting any bag and the 100 percent guarantee on all of their items.
With her business growing at a rapid pace, Connors found she had a bit of growing to do as well. “I had to figure out what a CEO is,” said Connors, who says she has learned in recent years to let go and not react to every little thing. She has managed to double revenues yearly since 2010 without taking on investors or venture capital, and while her passion for the business began with handbags, it is now fueled by the people her business had brought into her orbit.
Just over a year ago, Susan Nethero, founder and current board member for Intimacy, heard Connors speak at a gathering for women in business. “I thought it was so great to see someone who has taken fashion to new heights,” said Nethero, who recommended Connors for the protege program of C200, a membership organization for women entrepreneurs and corporate innovators.
“She has created the beginnings of an idea that has promise and that can really grow exponentially,” Nethero said. “I felt she was ripe and ready for the next wave of ideas.” The mission of the protege program, Nethero said, is to help grow and develop the business and double sales in two years through mentorship, collaboration and webinars.
Connors said she still fights with some decisions, and she values the connections she has made with women entrepreneurs and executives who have already provided her with honest, valuable and actionable advice.
As an entrepreneur who built her brand on authenticity, that is the one quality she clings to in heady moments of success. In the days before the flagship store opened, Connors realized she needed a window display. It had never been a concern before. The Miami Circle location did not have windows, she said. She laughed recounting how an employee’s father ended up creating the first window display.
“I hope to always be bootstrapping it,” said Connors. “If you’re not, you lose perspective.”