Even though Joyce Azria's father Max Azria, the noted founder of clothing retail chain BCBG schooled her in the apparel industry, she wasn't quite sure how it would turn out when she ventured into the volatile fashion world on her own.

But Azria has come into her own faster than she'd expected.

After nearly three years in business, her company, Vernon-based Joyce Azria Inc., is selling clothes under the JOYAAN label to some of the world's most renowned stores and saw sales volume increase 680 percent last year over 2004.

"The general health of the company is a surprise to me," said Azria. "In order to keep the momentum, stores really need to feel newness from the company."

JOYAAN is now selling in around 500 stores, up from just 50 small boutiques in 2004 when she had just about 10 pieces in her collection. The company projects that its wholesale volume will increase two fold this year, shipping over $3 million in merchandise.

Two years ago, JOYAAN got a big boost when the ritzy department store Harvey Nichols picked up the line. After that, Azria said her showrooms received calls from all over the globe from people who had spotted the brand at the London fashion landmark. Later, Saks Inc. added JOYAAN clothes, and they are now in nine locations.

Azria is still conscious to attend to the boutiques, which constitute the vast majority of her store accounts. For instance, noticing that buyers for the stores were extremely price sensitive, she lowered her wholesale prices to the $100 range from around $200.

Azria is careful about growth. This year, she wants her company to absorb the changes it's made over the last year, including nearly doubling its workforce and moving to a larger, 5,800-square-foot space. She also has to set aside time for her family: she's expecting a baby that will change some priorities.

"It is a lot to balance. I would be happy with just a little growth," said Azria. "I have been very greedy in these three years. It is great to be ambitious, but if your cash flow can't follow your growth, that is difficult too."

Checking In
L.A. real estate firm BentleyForbes Group LLC is looking for a few good rooms.

The privately held company has created BentleyForbes Hospitality, and hired Chris Pfohl a former vice president in the L.A. office of InterContinental Hotels Group PLC to run the unit.

BentleyForbes hopes to complete $750 million-worth of hotel transactions by year-end and have a portfolio of four-and-five-star hotels worth between $5 billion to $6 billion within five to 10 years.

Even though publicly held hotel companies such as Hilton Hotels Corp. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. are selling off properties to focus on the management side of the business, BentleyForbes President and Chief Executive David Cobb sees an edge.

As a private real estate focused company, BentleyForbes can concentrate on intermediate and long-range returns, while public companies are forced to meet quarterly results.

"We are a real estate company," he said. "Not an operating company."

Burger Saga
The latest in the tug-of-war between Irvine-based In-N-Out Burgers Inc. and its ousted executive Richard Boyd is a cross-complaint lawsuit alleging wrongful termination, defamation and breech of contract, among other issues.

The suit was filed by Boyd last week in Los Angeles Superior Court and is the eighth case to be filed between the parties in the last three months; Boyd has filed seven of them.

In December, Boyd filed six cases in Superior Court's civil and probate divisions related to three Snyder family trusts. He is co-trustee on these trusts, which are held for In-N-Out matriarch Esther Snyder's sole heir, her 23-year-old granddaughter Lynsi Martinez.

Martinez is scheduled to take control of the family-owned burger chain over the next few years, but Boyd claims that Martinez is trying to oust him and speed her own succession. Boyd is lobbying to remove the names of Martinez's brothers-in-law from the trusts so that he may have primary responsibility.

In-N-Out countered by first suing Boyd for fraud and then terminating him during a monthly board meeting in late January, from which he said he was excluded.

Rachel Brown, Andy Fixmer, Emily Bryson York

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