Tuesday, September 29, 2009

5 Questions on starting a children's apparel business

I received a comment recently on my "Sike" post from a fellow entrepreneur named Laurie. Laurie is already way ahead of the game, but had a few questions for me. Let me say that I am far from an expert here!! We have only been in business for a few years now, but I have learned A TON through the experience. It was so tough in the beginning because no one wants to give up info that could be competitive, and rightfully so. But where does one begin?? Do we all have to make the same mistakes as we set out on our journey?? Wouldn't it be nice if we could share in those learning experiences to all get further faster? Now that I am a few years down that path, I understand why others were slow to help out...us business owners NEVER have enough time, and after being robbed and ripped-off, it is difficult to trust others in the industry. I want to help other women on the same path, so I try to share as much as possible. Hopefully my crazy experiences and random opinions will be helpful in some way =)

So here goes my answers to her Laurie's questions:

1. What to look for in sales reps and if there are some out there that are paid only based on commission?
Yes, there are some sales reps that are paid only on commission. I think this is the most fair way to work this business relationship...this way they are paid for the work that they do, and are not paid for the work that they don't. Typically you will find the commission rates to be higher with reps that don't demand a showroom fee, but this only makes sense. Here are some of the lessons I have learned with reps...
- Get everything in writing. Write a contract and make sure it is very clear. If a rep has issue with your contract, don't work with them because it will end eventually anyway. Everything should be fair, and if they don't see it this way, then they are not who you should be working with long-term.
- Do you intend to pay your rep for orders that come from your existing stores? If not, be clear about this because many reps expect to be paid on everything, orders they send you, orders from your existing clients that they see at a show, orders that their customers call in directly to you, and orders that your existing clients call in to you after they have ordered from your sales rep at one show last year. Believe it or not, most reps expect to be paid on orders from customers that they don't even know about, stores they have never visited, or even met, but happen to come from their territory. I don't think this is fair, but many reps would disagree.
- Make sure everyone is on the same page before sending samples and be sure that you have a written agreement stating that those samples are your property to be returned at any point in time upon your request.
- It is tough to find good reps, but they exist. Some reps are fabulous at what they do, but to me, the biggest factor is communication.

2. How did you get all of your media contacts? Through reps? On your own? What is the best way to get exposure?
I got my media contacts through old fashion hunting. I spent much time on google and going through magazines to get the editors names. I then found another email at the company and used the same format to take a shot that my email could make it to the right person and actually get read. To be honest, I received a response to one out of every 50 or so emails sent, but the few that did respond landed us in BabyTalk Magazine, on Fox news, and in Texas Family Magazine, just to name a few. I have learned in business that you don't get what you don't ask for, and people want to help you, you just have to help them to want to help you =) I am including a few publications below to help you get started (courtesy of Build-A-Buzz):

AARP: firstinitiallastname@aarp.org
Better Homes & Garden: first.last@meredith.com
Good Housekeeping: firstinitiallastname@hearst.com
Woman's Day: firstinitiallastname@hfmus.com
Family Circle: first.last@meredith.com
Ladies' Home Journal: first.last@meredith.com
People: first_last@peoplemag.com
Time: first_last@timemagazine.com
Newsweek: first.last@newsweek.com

3. What advice would you give people starting their own line?
Wow, I could write a book on this one! The biggest piece of advice would be to keep your head up and know that you are not alone. This business can be a little lonely at times...you work your little heart out and it often feels like you are fighting an uphill battle. You also quickly learn that in every business you must weed through many to find those you can trust. Be cautious, be proud, be determined, be an outside-the-box thinker, be creative, be ambitious, be brave, be memorable, be honorable, and ALWAYS follow your gut. Make decisions that you will be proud of when looking back, and don't spend too much before making any.

4. What mistakes did you make that you would warn people about?
I listened to people because they were more experienced in this business, even when I knew that I had a better idea. I trusted too easily and I didn't get enough in writing. Don't be embarrassed to ask manufacturers to sign non-disclosure agreements...if they are hesitant, that means they have reason to be. Put deadlines on your factories and give them a reason to stick to them (financial penalties). This is more apparel specific, but give your factory more specs than you would ever think would be needed. They don't use "common sense", so don't let them try.

5. If you knew then what you know now?
Well, I think I would probably have gotten more sleep and less grey hairs over the past two years! So, I have learned a lot over the past years, but honestly, it has been one heck of a ride. I absolutely love what I do. It makes me crazy, it can be lonely, it is SUPER stressful at times, I work WAY too much, but I couldn't ask for better customers or a better career! I have often said that I am glad I went into this whole thing a little naive because I may have been too scared to take the leap. I'm glad I didn't know how much I really didn't know until I was too far in to turn back. Now I look back and although I still have SO much to learn, I feel so much more confident in my decisions. I don't second guess myself as much and I care MUCH less about what others in the business may think about me or what I do.

Like I said, I am far from an expert, but I am honored to share my experiences in hopes that they inspire you just a little bit. There were so many days in the beginning when I just felt like I was in over my head. I didn't know where to turn. My friends were very supportive, but they truly did not understand how incredibly difficult and demanding this venture would be for me. You are not alone and we all started where you are today. Actually, Laurie, it sounds like you are starting out much further ahead since you have a handle on the manufacturing aspect of this whole thing. So, I hope this helped a little!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Okay, I am trying to be understanding and not bitter... so, the house contract fell through. The buyers couldn't get financing and terminated the contract. I keep telling myself it is happening for a reason, have faith Amber, have faith. So, I am going to have faith and move forward. The house is back on the market and we have a showing scheduled for tomorrow. I know it sounds silly to beg for prayers when there is so much more important stuff going on out there, children and others that need your prayers too... but, if you think about it, can you please add us into your prayers tonight?? It would be really great if God could just give me a little step stone, so I at least know where my family will be this Christmas...that would be really nice! I will be patient and know that He has a plan, but, God, selfishly I would really appreciate it if you could just give me a little peek.

I know we all have our weeks, but this week has been a bit exhausting. I'm trying not to whine, and I do know that I am so fortunate to have all of this on my plate, really I do, but man does it get tiring sometimes! Since our GC quit on our new house/office, I have been spending about half my time out there in meetings and the other half in the office trying to get caught up. My poor DVR is overflowing with shows that I hope to watch one of these days!! I know it is completely worth it, but it would just be nice to have an end in sight.

Okay, that's enough negative for now. Good news...Nordstrom just placed their order as we head toward the holidays and we have created a new surprise RuffleButt Bloomer just for them. We will also have a few available on our website, but they are definitely a limited edition. I am really excited to see them, as we are shipping from the factory just in time to be in stores by the end of next month. Believe it or not, that's quick in this business, especially when everything is overseas! The other good news, we have so many incredible customers, supporters, and now friends...I couldn't wish for anything better =)

And lastly, if you have a little one in size 2T, we have a Purple Glitter knit RuffleButt and matching t-shirt on sale for $22.99 FOR BOTH!! It sounds a little gaudy, but it's really not...it is a subtle glitter made right into the fabric and the tee is embellished with a rhinestone butterfly. It is really precious and a total steal right now!! We're already sold out of all other sizes, but if you're little one is a size 2T, or will be a size 2T next Spring, this is a hidden gem on our Sale Page!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cutest Baby Brands

So, I had this random marketing idea...well, actually Mark had this great marketing idea, so I gathered three fantastic children's product companies and we are partnering up on a fun little marketing effort. The great part is I truly love their products!
So, I am pleased to share with you:



No Slippy Hair Clippy - I told you about this company just last week. I have always heard great things about their products, but it wasn't until I got some adorable clips for Aubrey that I was hooked! They are so cute and actually stay in her hair. Seriously, she wears one almost every day!

Zooni - So, this company makes THE most adorable fuzzy hats...and cute mittens, and now socks. They are all beyond cute, but the hats are what won me over! I saw these first when I was out in LA for the Golden Globes gifting suite, but then spotted them on the Tori & Dean show just a month ago. Aubrey has hers in her closet waiting for winter here in Charlotte, and I've already sent them as gifts to more than one friend! You gotta love it when your gift is one they actually use and remember...like RuffleButts ;)

Bobux - I have been a fan of these shoes for a long time now. Actually before Aubrey was even born, one of our friend's daughter was sporting her Bobux at church, and she told me this was one of those must-have products that I would have to get. They are super cute, but they also allow kids to maneuver without clunking around in stiff new shoes. Aubrey has received numerous pairs of shoes as gifts, but needless to say, most of them sit in her bin while she wears the ones that are actually comfortable 90% of the time.

And of course, RuffleButts - I think you know who we are by now =)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

God, you always know best!

So, I have really been put to the test over these past few months...we have a lot on our plate...own two homes, are dealing with construction on one, dealing with selling the other, running and growing RuffleButts, and finding the best solution with childcare. I always try to have faith and when I pray, I try to focus on asking for God to put the step stone in front of me and give me the knowledge to know where to step. I try really hard not to ask for specific things like "God, please sell our house today." I try to remember that He knows best, and when He decides not to make something happen when I really wish it would, that there is some reason. Well today, he reminded me that patient faith is rewarded. So, at 8:00am our GC quit...this was a good thing. Our GC was not happy on this job (he's used to running the show and building a home from scratch), and we really weren't happy with him. It just wasn't a win-win situation and we ended it amicably. At 10:00am, we received a contract on our current home. By 6:30pm we had a finalized deal. The best part is, I was able to celebrate this with Mary our employee, Elizabeth our intern, and Kristina, Aubrey's new nanny. All of them happy to make the move with us!

I share this both in celebration with my blogger friends, as well as a reminder to everyone out there praying for something. It is so difficult to remember, but faith is always rewarded. Sometimes we won't understand...I remember praying month after month for God to grace us with a child, yet month after month, she did not come. I prayed through a miscarriage, not knowing that so many of our friends had gone through the same experience. Then, following the birth of our daughter Aubrey just 10 months ago, I looked down and realized why He had not answered my prayers...he needed me to patient, to wait for my precious daughter to come at the right time. We have some friends, two of the most thoughtful and considerate people I have ever met. They have been waiting patiently for their turn at parenthood since we began our family prayers years ago. I don't understand why they have to wait, and I'm sure they don't either. I truly can not think of anyone more deserving. It is so difficult not to get angry or to lose faith, but it is days like today, that I know He is working His (not my) plan. We may not understand it, or like it for that matter, but there is a rhyme to the reason, and He is listening.

Friday, September 11, 2009

No Slippy Hair Clippy

I met Annie Salyer from No Slippy Hair Clippy a few years ago out in LA. She was super sweet and really made a lasting impression on me. Her brand seemed really creative and I always heard others raving about her products. Well, that was pre my little cutie patootie, and now I have a whole new appreciation for Annie's creations!

Aubrey's hair is super fine, much like mine. She is not lacking for hair, just enough to hold in any kind of hair accessory. Of course I dress her pretty darn girly, but that still doesn't stop those random strangers from asking what "his" name is? What does a mom have to do??

So, No Slippy Hair Clippy to the rescue! After browsing through the TONS of styles available on their website (www.NoSlippy.com), Aubrey's three adorable clips showed up in the mail this week. Seriously, she has not gone a day since without her Clippy! We have had them for less than a week, and I have had no less than three people ask where we got such cute hair accessories.

We have only taken pictures in two of them, but I'll be sure to post another picture soon of the cute little ribbon thing they are clipped to hanging in her room. And the best part is, since they are hanging and organized, they don't get lost!! Annie, you are one smart lady =)

And, by the way...the picture below is Aubrey entertaining herself in the office recycling while I got out a few late night emails!