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):
Better Homes & Garden: email@example.com
Good Housekeeping: firstname.lastname@example.org
Woman's Day: email@example.com
Family Circle: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ladies' Home Journal: email@example.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!