Thursday, June 28, 2007

Some interesting reads for mompreneurs

I have some very big shoes to fill while Sandra is away on vacation. While I’m not going to dispense advice myself, I thought it would be helpful to reference some previous articles published about Robeez and Sandra. Each article addresses Sandra’s experiences from a different perspective and provides insight for inquiring mompreneurs.

Q & A – Sandra Wilson, Visionary behind Robeez, published in The Mompreneur, June 2007
By Kathryn Bechthold

An empire built on heart and sole, published in Women’s Post, May 2006
By Gracey Hitchcock

The Mother Corp.: Meet Five Mompreneurs, published in Today’s Parent, March 2006
By Astrid Van Den Broek

Happy Reading!
Kellyadd to sk*rt

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The SavvyMom Mompreneur™ of the Year Award

Here’s a great opportunity for all Canadian mompreneurs! SavvyMom has launched a national awards program to celebrate the great ideas and innovative solutions developed by savvy Canadian moms. You can nominate yourself or a friend, or vote for your favourite mompreneur.

The contest, which will run throughout the summer, is designed to find Canada’s top Mompreneur™, who will be rewarded this fall with an $18,000 prize package of cash, business services and office equipment designed to help take her business to the next level.

You can learn more about the award through the Mompreneur™ of the Year Award website.

Posted by Kellyadd to sk*rt

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Wilson’s Family Vacation

For the next three weeks, I am trading my cel phone, BlackBerry, and blog in exchange for a safari hat and a few glasses of tasty South African wine. I am headed to Africa for a long-awaited vacation with my husband and son. While there, we will visit the Cape Town area of South Africa and then off to Botswana on safari.

But don’t worry; while I am away “Motherly Advice” will continue to run. Kelly from Robeez’ communications team will be at your service to coordinate answers to some of your questions courtesy of the other experts at Robeez and will save the rest for my mid-July return.

Vacation makes me think about balance. While I’m away, I encourage you to think of a way you can incorporate a little “me” time into your week. It may not be a vacation but even five quiet minutes to sit and drink your coffee at the beginning of your day can make all the difference in a hectic life. I think it is so important to find balance in your life as a mom and an entrepreneur. In the early days of Robeez, I would escape by going for a run with friends. I got an hour filled with conversation and endorphins, and an hour without a phone call or a shout for “MOMMM-MMMYYY.”

Enjoy the start of summer. Look for my next post in mid July.add to sk*rt

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The World of Web

The latest question comes from Nicole Garza, founder of Mally Bibs. Nicole’s home-based business now serves a few hundred retail stores in North America and online customers through her website.

What are some key things you can do to increase your website traffic and more specifically, increase web sales? I would sure love to increase our online sales from a few orders a day to a few dozen!

Since starting Robeez, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is recognizing my own strengths and shortfalls. I think it’s important to recognize when you need help and to actually ask for it. Prior to starting Robeez, my work experience was in financial management. I knew all about debits and credits but when it came to search engine optimization and cookies, I knew I needed help. So for today’s question, I am taking my own advice and calling on someone who knows a lot more about the web than I do. Today’s “motherly advice” comes from another mom on the Robeez team, Lori, our Ecommerce Manager. Here are Lori’s tips for increasing website traffic and online sales:

  1. Pay Per Click programs – adopting pay per click programs from search engines such as Google can be costly but extremely effective at driving traffic to your website.
  2. Search engine optimization – make it easier for search engines to find your site. One quick(ish) thing you can do to add visibility is to create individual product pages. These should include titles with your product name and copy that includes “key words” and features.
  3. Linking strategies – ranking in search engines is determined by a number of factors. One of the many things search engines look at to rank websites is the number of qualified links to a website. The more websites that link to you, the higher you are ranked. (An interesting note: reciprocal links are less valuable.)
  4. Ecommerce basics – reading up on ecommerce basics on websites such as Internet Retailer and Website Magazine can help keep you up-to-date on the latest tips and tricks in the world of online sales.

Lori’s input makes me think of a secondary topic: hiring. As Robeez grew, I knew that I needed help to take it to the next level. When hiring your first (and subsequent) employees, I recommend someone with a complementary skill set. If selling is not your strong point, hiring an employee who is equally shy is not going to help you. While skills are important, it’s also extremely important to look for someone with values and personality that work well with yours. Without realizing it is happening, by hiring employees you are forming the company’s corporate culture. Find talented people who are passionate about your product and your company. I attribute much of the success Robeez has achieved to the amazing people who helped along the way.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Naming Your Price

These questions were submitted by Estella on the “My Reason for Blogging” post.

Price is an important decision; I remember going over this again and again when I started Robeez. Here are some recommendations for a mom who is just starting her business.

I am trying to figure out how to price a product for retail. Is there a formula?

I know of two simple ways to price your product.

  1. Market-based pricing
  2. Cost-based pricing

In market-based pricing, research the retail marketplace and your target consumer. Using this information, select a retail price that reflects the positioning of your brand and what consumers will pay for the product. Factor in your costs to ensure you have a reasonable margin. As a rule of thumb, apparel retailers will typically double the wholesale price to determine the retail price. (This is referred to as keystone pricing.)

In cost-based pricing, compile your costs and add the amount of margin you need to make on the product and this establishes your wholesale cost. As I mentioned above, the retailer will typically double the wholesale cost to set their retail price.

I am getting my product produced in China and with the Canadian dollar being strong right now, it's great, but what happens when the dollar gets weak again and the cost goes up to produce?

I recommend factoring fluctuations in the dollar into your cost calculations. By assuming that you are paying for the goods with a lower value Canadian dollar, you cover yourself when the market changes.

Right now, I have the actual cost for a small run to test the market. I've taken the amount ($6), doubled it ($12 = $6 to produce & $6 profit) and when it goes to retail, do I suggest $24 to stores?

Your cost calculations are quite typical for the baby industry. You can provide retailers with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (or MSRP for short); however you cannot enforce the price. For more information about pricing, I recommend you review guidelines for the country you will be selling in. For Canadian regulations, I recommend reviewing the Competition Bureau’s website.

Also, how do I handle cost of Point of Purchase displays? Does the retail store purchase that from me separately or add that to the total cost of manufacturing to determine the unit cost?

This will vary, depending on your business. Some companies provide displays free-of-charge, others require partial payment, and others still will pass along the full cost of the display to the retail store. However, since you are starting a new business, I would recommend building the cost of POP displays into your wholesale price. Offering branded displays can ensure retailers merchandise your product in an effective manner and helps increase sell-through. Consider the size of your display and the type of store your product will be sold in. These factors will greatly impact the scale and budget for your POP display. Ideally, I would recommend working with retailers to develop a display that will suit a variety of needs.

Good luck with your product launch!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Needs To Happen Before You Start Selling

This question was posed by hailey’s mom through a comment on my “Getting Your Name Out There” post.

Did you wait to 1) register your trademark 2) design graphics, print materials, packaging, etc. before you approached any retail opportunities?

What needs to happen before launching your business can vary vastly by business and owner. When opening businesses, I’ve seen entrepreneurs take one of two approaches to start-up costs: The Minimalist or The Big Spender. I’d like to think I was somewhere in the middle but honestly I was more of a minimalist. I was a new mom without a job and I wanted to make sure Robeez would produce sales before I invested more money. Here’s a look at the approach I took:

My first priority was to measure market response to Robeez so I did not register the trademark immediately. Once I had been in business for close to a year, sales were growing and I knew that it was long past the time when I should have registered the trademark. In hindsight, I would recommend registering your trademark early on. You can learn more about trademarks through a local small business or entrepreneur resource center. The web is also a good place to research trademarks.

The Vancouver Gift Show was really my first public showing of Robeez. To prepare for this show, I needed to have packaging to display the shoes. I worked with a freelance artist to design my packaging. Then, I approached a local print shop that catered to low volume print runs. My stepmother even made a “Robeez” quilt to use as signage. You can see my minimalist approach in the photo . This was my booth at the Vancouver Gift Show.

Would you be able to recommend some good sources for non-toxic leather?
When you are starting out, you need to find a supplier who offers a good price on small volumes of leather. I recommend checking your local yellow pages for a distributor; that’s how I found the original supplier for Robeez. (As time went on and production increased, our sourcing team found international distributors who specialize in higher volumes.) Select a supplier who will ensure the health and safety of their leathers through testing and documentation. For example, Robeez requires tests for heavy metals and harmful substances to ensure our leather is absolutely safe and non-toxic for babies, and we regularly audit our suppliers with random sampling.add to sk*rt

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Expanding Your Sales Team

The next question comes from Nicole Vaslot, co-owner of Westcoast baby, a collection of infant and children’s apparel and accessories.

How can we figure out how much we need to have in stock before we hire US sales reps to sell our product?

1. Use Current Experience to Identify Trends
For Canadian companies, the US market can look like a goldmine of untapped potential. And it is. So I recommend that you pursue this market but be sure to take the learnings you have gained in the Canadian market and apply them to the hiring of US sales reps. Review the success of your Canadian reps, how many accounts they opened in their first six months; the average order size for each account; the reorder pattern for each account. This data should give you an idea of the volume you can expect when you take on a new sales rep, whether they are located in Canada or the USA.

2. Find the Right Rep for Your Brand
Finding the right sales rep can be challenging. Many apparel reps carry a number of brands putting only a small portion of their energies into promoting your collection. Rather than pursue multi-line distributors, Robeez had more luck with “sales-moms”. Moms, with some selling experience, who love the Robeez brand and were keen to introduce it in their area.

That’s how I found Sabrina back in 1996. She was a new mom and had received a pair of Robeez as a baby shower gift from a Canadian friend. When her daughter outgrew the first pair, she looked Robeez up online and called to order. We got to chatting and shortly after she started approaching boutiques in the San Francisco area to carry Robeez. That was our entry to the US market. As time went on, we found more moms and grandmas with similar stories. This was the early basis for our sales force.

3. Add New Territories
My suggestion from experience: start with one region at a time. By entering one region at a time, you can stay on top of demand and production of your products. If you hire a number of reps at one time, you may put yourself in the sticky situation of not being able to fulfill orders. The “one-at-a-time” strategy also allows you to identify a pattern for growth I mentioned above. We found that each new territory we added followed a similar pattern in its growth rate. We could learn from the pattern and it helped us forecast for the next territory.

You should know fairly quickly if the sales rep you hire is going to bring you the level of business you are hoping for. If you have not seen results within three to six months, it may be time to look for a replacement.

4. Set Measurable Targets
To continue to stay on top of demand, get your reps to set targets for new accounts and sales each month. This will help predict production quantities and revenue targets.

5. Position Your Brand Carefully
My final words of advice: ensure that your reps approach the “right” types of stores for your product. Especially in a new territory, this ensures consistency in the quality and perception of your brand.

Happy Selling!add to sk*rt

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Challenges of Being a Mompreneur

This question was posed by mom of two, Sharon Chai, founder of Bamboobino, a unique line of children's robes and accessories made from soft bamboo fabric.

What were your personal and professional challenges when you were a new mom and trying to establish Robeez? And how did you deal with them, or make them work for you?

Challenge One: Time Management
It’s one o’clock on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Robert is four-years-old and races around our cul-de-sac on his bicycle with his friends. I sit curbside with a group of moms chatting about the latest adventures in motherhood. As they sit holding cups of coffee, I work through a bag of Robeez shoes. I’m checking the shoes for quality, clipping threads, and prepping the shoes for the packaging bonanza that will take place later tonight. This was how I spent many afternoons in the early days of Robeez. Glamorous? No. Necessary? Yes.

I tell this story not to scare but one of the major realities for moms working from home is time-management. This was one of the ways I fit business in. My time management strategy evolved as Robert got older.

  • Infant – I would work while he napped in the afternoon and slept in the evening. Sometimes I took Robert with me on sales calls which often helped make the sale because buyers could see Robeez in action!
  • Toddler – I put Robert in daycare two days a week. This allowed him to spend time socializing with other children and gave me the opportunity to get the bulk of my work done, uninterrupted.
  • Preschool - I snagged a few hours midday while he learned “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and played in the sandbox. On extra busy days, I would call my in-laws to swing by for a little grandparent playtime.
  • School Age – I waited until Robert entered elementary school full-time before moving the business outside our home.

The gist? I fit business in when I could.

Challenge Two: Finances
One of the first things you give up as an entrepreneur is a regular pay cheque. This can be tough, especially when you have babies, mortgages, student loan payments, property taxes… the list goes on and on.

To manage life with a single income and a new business, we needed to apply a bit of creativity. For example, for a number of years we hosted international students in our home to help cover the mortgage.

With my business, I was careful to watch cash flow. It was simple: for Robeez to survive, it needed regular income. I set monthly revenue goals and made sales calls until I had reached them. Most of the profits were reinvested in growing Robeez. Another key: stay on top of receivables and inventory levels; they can be the death of any business. Whenever possible, have customers pay by credit card rather than offering credit terms.

Becoming an entrepreneur is hard, risky work, and it can take time to reap the rewards. This can be difficult, if not impossible to accept at times. It’s likely that you will never have a predictable pay day again. Some people are more naturally accepting of this, others will struggle with it every day. Consider this heavily before starting your business.

Challenge Three: Confidence
One morning, as I dropped Robert at preschool, I got chatting with another mom. We talked about our boys, summer vacation plans, and eventually got on to the subject of work. I excitedly told her about Robeez – the shoes, the business in my basement, leaving my career. As I spoke, my enthusiasm quickly turned to embarrassment as the mother looked at me like I was crazy. She was clearly very skeptical about my career choice. She was not the first or the last to look at me this way.

Starting a business takes guts. There will be people, like this mom, who think you are crazy. While I encourage you to listen to feedback, I also encourage you to follow your instincts. Be confident that what you are doing is right; for you, for your business, and for your family. I persevered with Robeez and look at what it became.

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