The realities of being a Mamapreneur

Hey folks, sorry for my lack of posting lately.  It’s been a pretty busy here at Little Pea central!!  I am pleased to announce that Little Pea has grown exponentially this season and will be adding 25+ new accounts this Fall.  Really, I am over the moon and couldn’t be more pleased with the response and momentum generated this year.  However, with this growth comes a hard dose of reality in what it takes to be a successful mamapreneur.

My intent when launching Little Pea had been to provide myself with an outlet for creative expression, a more flexible schedule so that i could be more available to my family, while at the same time an opportunity for financial gain doing something I love.  Easy, peasy – right?  Not so much.  In retrospect I can see where I was naive.  The initial stages of the development of Little Pea were pretty simple.  I was lucky to find sourcing partners relatively easily, one’s that I enjoy working with and that provide me with much needed flexibility. I love the design process and the development of my debut collection went smoothly and I was thrilled with the product.  Next step sales – yikes, here’s where it got a bit tricky.  All of a sudden I was thrust into a retail world where you need to be at the shows and have sales representation, ensure goods meet CPSIA requirements, vendor compliance, liability insurance, just to name a few.  My initial plan of make clothes, sell clothes, ship clothes went right out the window and I now find myself engaged in every aspect of the world of children’s apparel.  It’s enough to make a first time business owner’s head spin!!

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining.  Despite the challenges, I love it and thrive off the excitement of the industry.  All the  items mentioned are growing pains, steps I must take in the development of my business.  However, what was originally a part time job is now a full time job (seriously I feel like I could work 24 hours a day) and with it I am juggling my roles of mother, wife, and entrepreneur.  As anyone who has started a business, I am sure you can attest that running a company is all encompassing.  Your company becomes your baby; something you nurture and protect.  You invest time, energy, and emotion into this idea/concept/product that you truly believe in.  I would be lying if I said that it didn’t feel personal and I find it hard to disengage, to draw the line in the sand between work and personal time.  Plus, technology, although convenient allows us to have email, faxes, internet at our fingertips at all times- it’s hard to step away.

For me, this is my challenge.  Learning to step away from the stress and pressure of my business and truly enjoy and engage in my “off” time.  I think finding this happy medium is the essence of what it takes to be a successful mamaprenuer.  Each and every day I take steps towards keeping this balance.  Learning and reminding myself to enjoy the simple pleasures of life (puddle jumping with my girl’s, baking cookies, blowing on dandelions).  For me, it’s a work in progress and one that I will continue to manage with the help of my much loved “monkeys”.

Thanks girl’s for teaching mommy to stop and smell the roses!

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Little Pea in Daily Candy!!

Back in my college days, a friend of mine introduced me to Daily Candy and it was love a first read!  Over the years it has become a go to go guide for all things fresh and new!  They always seem to have an uncanny knack for keeping their fingers on the pulse of the trends.  Wether it be beauty and fashion, eateries, events, travel destinations I always know that their newsletter and website will be chalk full off the latest and greatest!

In fact, when I was originally putting together my marketing plan for Little Pea, securing a post in Daily Candy was at the top of my list, a pipe dream if you will. 🙂  That said, I was thrilled when I found out that they wanted to review the collection for their Kid’s Everywhere Edition! I am still reeling from the overwhelming response and have spent the last few days fielding inquiries from all over the US and as far as the UK!  Additional orders have been coming in, no doubt in part to this fabulous post.  So, to Lindsey and the team over at Daily Candy – thanks so much for the fantastic post!  Truly appreciated!

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Spring is in the Air

Despite the gloomy weather here in Portland, Spring has definitely begun to emerge from it’s Winter hibernation.  The tree’s are starting to bud, cherry blossoms in bloom, and tulips popping up all over town.  The NW is wet, what can I say but these small indications of Spring have me giddy with anticipation for the impending sunshine.

That said, the time has come to start thinking about Spring wardrobes for your tiny (yet no doubt fashionable) tots!!  Little Pea’s debut collection for Spring 10 is officially been released!  I have been busy shipping wholesale orders and prepping our newly launched e-commerce store!  The store is stocked with limited quantities of our top sellers from the Spring Collection and we couldn’t be more excited about the launch.  In fact, between a few unexpected wholesale orders and direct to customer business we are already sold out of multiple items!!  However, I am pleased to say that back up orders have been placed so if a sold out item catches your eye please contact me as they might be back in stock very soon. 🙂

In addition to the launch of the store, I am already working on the Spring 11 Collection!  Designs are set and fabrics being slated as we speak.  Expect more of what I feel makes Little Pea special – sweet and feminine detailing, playful prints, and bright color.  I can’t wait to start previewing what’s cooking – so make sure to become a Facebook Fan to stay abreast of what’s new and exciting in the collection.  I am constantly updating the fanpage with news and often post pics of current and upcoming pieces! All fun stuff, so sign up today!

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The Wonders of Social Networking

Chances are if you are currently reading this post – you are a fan of Little Pea’s Facebook page or perhaps follow @LittlePeaTweets so I can only assume you are on the up and up in the realm of social networking.  A year ago, these concepts were relatively unknown to me (shock, gasp!). Of course, I had heard of them, dabbled with Facebook to stay in touch with friends but never really thought these outlets would become a part of my daily routine.  However, as I embarked on the all encompassing journey that is Little Pea I found that these tools were a necessary and extremely useful component of my marketing strategy.  Hence I dove right in – set up the accounts, daily updating, linking to press, posting current news, and befriending like minded businesses.  I can honestly say that under this regime the business has flourished.  Greater hits to the site, purchases on the online store, and the nurturing of business relationships.  All a gradual progression of course (it takes time and energy!!) but a successful one and I couldn’t be more excited about the business results.

The slightly unexpected result of entering the realm of virtual networking are the friendships and connections I have made.  You see, I have always been a people person.  In my past life (before Little Pea) part of what motivated me to go to work every morning was the interaction I had with other people.  I have always worked in sourcing and development for design and manufacturing companies. Creative environments, full of savvy, smart, and assertive individuals and I loved it.  I really, really loved it – my peers were often women, some became mentors, and many became friends.  I have seen these women progress in their careers, start businesses, get married, have children.  To this day, I still foster these relationships.

When I made the decision to start Little Pea, I severely underestimated how much I would miss those daily interactions.  You see, for me being a business owner is a little like being on an island.  I work from a home office, often just me and my computer, surrounded by sketches and fabric swatches and to be quite frank I miss having people around.  I miss the daily interaction and the immediate feedback you get from working in an office (with other people).  That is where Facebook and Twitter come into play.  I have been so fortunate to have befriended so many wonderful and talented people on these social networking platforms.  Many of the individuals who I have connected with, like me are business owners – we share experiences, provide feedback, and serve as each other cheerleaders.  At first, it was all about building the business, making the right connections but as I have gotten to know some of these individuals I strongly feel these “virtual” relationships become more than a business function.  I check out their fan pages and tweets, read their blog posts and do what I can to provide useful commentary, promote their successes, and provide general encouragement and support.  In using these platforms, I do feel I’ve reclaimed some of the social dynamic which I thought I had lost when starting my owne company.

So in closing, dear readers – am I totally off base in this?  How do you feel your personal life has been enriched by Facebook or Twitter.  I would love to hear your thoughts!!

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More on Trade Shows…

Well folks, I just returned from the ENK trade show last week where Little Pea made their official East Coast debut and I must admit I am over the moon.  Launching this business has been a real roller coaster ride, with ups and downs around every corner. However, I can happily share that I feel the brand seems to be finding it’s footing within the industry and gaining great momentum. In the greater scheme of things this show was a baby step in the development of Little Pea, but a start and for that I am so grateful!  For me, a baby step is a major milestone. 🙂

Having just posted the Food for Thought piece, I thought a follow up comparing my experiences was in order.  You see, my official launch at KIDShow last August was – to be quite frank a bit of a let down.  As I mentioned, the show seemed slow and definitely did not meet my expectations (from a sales perspective).  Taking that initial experience and what I learned, I quickly made some adjustments to my sales model and was eager to see how the addition of sales reps would affect my business in the 2nd season.  Let me tell you, thus far I am thrilled with the results and couldn’t be happier with the team I have in place.

I had the pleasure of finally meeting my NY based rep, Terra Fazio and her team over at Thread Showroom. I spent some time with them at the show, mostly observing how they work and I must admit their approach and how they interacted with customers was exactly how I would have presented collection myself.  In addition, I also found their merchandising approach within the booth to be thoughtful and intelligent – grouping like collections together in a way where they could compliment with one another vs competing.  Which I think is extremely important when sharing booth space with other collections.  Sales with representation behind you – definitely better.  They had several appointments pre-booked which resulted in actual PO’s!  Yay!  Plus, several local accounts had appointments booked for the weeks following the show which I feel will also have a positive affect on sales.

To answer the question are Trade Shows worth it?  From a sales perspective, honestly, no (at least not yet) but I feel the exposure and momentum gained from being at ENK this season to be invaluable.  It would be easy to walk away from trade shows if you base the outcome on dollars alone; however, you must also take into consideration the publicity and networking opportunities that the shows provide.  Yes, there were accounts that passed on Little Pea; however, as the brand grows and gains more industry notoriety those accounts might add the collection to their assortment in future seasons.  I strongly feel you need to hit buyers from all angles, they need to see you in trade publications, on blogs, in the showrooms, at the shows – it gives the collection credibility and in this economy you need that.  In combination with a strong sales team I do believe the orders will follow.

I am already looking ahead to the next shows in anticipation!  Little Pea was shown in San Francisco this past weekend(I am anxiously awaiting news), La Market Week, and next month in Atlanta.  My first season was an experience, like I said of ups and downs.  I admit, mistakes were made but I have been hard at work setting in place an infrastructure that I feel will support my brand.  At the end of the day I am proud of the product I am putting out there, it’s a long road but if this show is any indication of what lies ahead I am happy to continue to chart my course.

Enjoy your Monday!!

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Food for Thought…

A friend of mine, Rebecca the president and founder of Petit Couture (check this line out immediately if you haven’t her signature owl pieces are simply divine) recently attended the KIDShow in Las Vegas and wrote a very thought provoking piece over at her blog.  Having launched Little Pea at KIDShow this past August I was immediately interested in hearing her perspective and have decided to throw my two cents into the mix.

Trade shows in theory seem to be a fantastic launching pad for new collections.  Although not insignificantly priced they do offer access to buyers, sales reps, as well as trade and industry publications – all necessary for building your brand.  My decision to launch Little Pea at a national buying show was definitely prompted by the above points.  In retrospect, I will say that some of my expectations were probably a bit high in terms of what was actually delivered; however, the overall experience was invaluable and definitely forced me to address some miscalculations in terms of my sales model (which I will address below).

My primary goal at the show was to sell the collection and unfortunately the August show was on the slow side.  In speaking to other exhibitors it seemed this was a sentiment felt by all which was very unfortunate as the cost of entry is so steep.   Most buyers seemed to be breezing through the show, often in town for one day, and primarily visiting lines or showrooms that they had preexisting relationships with.  That said, I quickly realized that I needed to sign with a sales rep.  Luckily several were exhibiting at the show and I was able to speak to and get feedback from several reputable showrooms.  I was also approached by a few reps which was useful as I was able to ask questions, solicit feedback, as well as compare the services/cost between showrooms.

Although actual sales were a bit light, I was able to make strong industry contacts meeting wonderful people on both the wholesale and retail sides of the industry who were happy to share their stories and contacts with me as well as offer encouragement and support.  In addition, while at KIDShow I had the pleasure of meeting the publishers and editor’s of several trade publications which resulted in editorial pieces in Earnshaw’s as well as Hudson’s!  (Thanks so much Rita, Caletha, and Margaret for taking the time to check out the collection!!).  So, in restrospect the show did deliver on some of my expectations – did, I benefit from being at the show.  Yes, I can say I honestly did but with this learning experience I was able to adjust my strategies for the Fall season.

This season – Fall 10, I have taken many of the lessons learned from my debut and am hopeful that these changes will serve me well as my company grows.  The primary change has been the addition of sales reps which means stepping away from the actual selling of the collection.  My takeaway from KIDShow was that in this economy you really need the credibility and established relationships that a rep brings.  Being a new collection, I often felt that buyers were a bit leary to take a chance on an unknown brand.  A sales rep has pre-existing relationships with the buyers and are often trusted counterparts to retailers which I strongly feel means a lot in a down economy.  Plus, reps house your collection in their showrooms which are constantly being visited by retail buyers.  Many reps, mentioned that attending the shows can also be costly for the buyers and many will opt to visit the actual showrooms vs attending the larger scale shows.  I definitely noticed this when approaching Portland retailers who were not intending to attend KIDShow but would be working with their reps out of the CA Market Center.

My advice if you are seeking sales representation would be to research several showrooms, check out the collections in their line ups, and ask questions!  You want to make sure they are the right fit.  Like trade shows, sales reps can also be costly so you want to feel connected with your representation, they are an extension of you brand and ultimately will affect how your collection is perceived in the market place.  So like I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask questions – I found that all the showrooms I approached were very open to questions and willing to provide feedback in regards to the line.  I feel so lucky to have signed with Paperdoll Style and Thread Showroom and am so happy with the results!!  Plus, this step has given me more time to focus on development and marketing – which are also crucial components in building the brand.

The addition of reps, doesn’t mean walking away from shows.  However, instead of taking the line to market myself I have opted to include Little Pea in my showroom’s booths.  Both Thread and Paperdoll Style attend several trade shows, including ENK, Atlanta Children’s Mart, as well as smaller shows in LA and San Francisco all of which I will be participating in via my sales reps.  This enables me to spread my trade show dollars over several shows, giving the collection more coverage across the US – all great for bringing exposure to the line which will most definitely affect sales.

In conclusion, do I feel trade shows work?  Tough call, I think they are  necessary component in the building my brand.  This season, the desire to show at market is primarily for PR – I want the buyers and the press to see and I of course want to bring attention to the collection.  Shows provide this opportunity; however, my recommendation would be to not rely solely on shows for sales.  Enlist the service of sales reps, market your line via blogs, contact editors, host trunk shows, hire PR services – all of these activities will eventually help boost sales.  The children’s apparel market is a tricky nut to crack and for me it’s all about finding the right mix that works for you.  I certainly feel I am still learning and will continue to do so as Little Pea develops and grows.  I hope my experiences shed some light on this subject for any readers there who might be in the initial stages of launching their brands.  Please feel free to share your feedback on the topic, I welcome any comments you might have.  Please hit me up, I would love to hear from you!!

Happy Monday!!

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Buy Local!

I was first introduced to the 3/50 Project by a local Portland based retailer, Bambini Boutique and was instantly interested in the philosophy behind the project.  In a nutshell, the 3/50 Project encourages all consumers to direct $50 of their monthly spending to locally owned brick and mortar businesses.  So instead of buying a birthday gift and card from a big box retailer, head over to a locally owned boutique and pick up that something special while also helping to build revenue for independently owned businesses.  Easy, direct, and makes sense.

What I like about this philosophy is that it isn’t an all or nothing approach.  Don’t get me wrong, I try and patron locally owned businesses when I can.  Shopping at the Farmer’s Market, drinking Stumptown Coffee, buying children’s clothes and toys from local boutiques. (Just picked up some great items at Posh Boutique this past weekend.) However, a girl like me also loves her Jimmy Choo’s (well Nordstrom is based in the NW, does that count for shopping local?) and the ease of running by Target for a box Huggies.  So, the 3/50 philosophy works in terms of my shopping habits, as I think it does for the average consumer.

However, with this in mind I started thinking that it goes above and beyond the end consumer.  Honestly, a similar philosophy could apply for local retailers as well, right.  As many of you already know, the Little Pea Collection is produced locally in Portland and as I am approaching NW boutiques I feel this factor is one of the compelling reasons for these Portland based retailers to give Little Pea a try.  Although the collection has been well received in the NW, I would love, love, love to see Little Pea in more local boutiques.

In addition, this methodology could apply to all US based retailers as well.  In speaking to other brands that produce their lines domestically, the choice to do so is heavily based on the belief that domestic production is better for the environment, better for our economy, and in some ways better for the health and well being of our children.  That said, I will get off my soap box for today in the hopes that a few local boutiques or even US boutiques will read this post and head on over to the Little Pea website to check out our wares.  Lovingly crafted in the Portland, Oregon, USA!!!

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