Monday, July 30, 2007

What to do when you’re not the expert

I am not a seamstress either so I can relate to this comment! (I think the last time I took out my sewing machine, was to make the first pairs of Robeez.)

A question from Sophia: I’m looking at clothing created for children, but my problem is that I don’t sew. I’m having a difficult time finding someone that will sew what I’m looking for. Is there anyone you could recommend or at least a direction that I can go?

I faced this same challenge in the early years of Robeez. For the first few years, we followed a cottage industry production model. Here’s how it worked: I cut the leather pieces and prepared the notions. All the pieces were then delivered to a seamstress who worked from home. Seamstresses were paid on a per piece basis. The shoes were then returned to me and I reviewed the shoes and prepared them for packaging.

There are a number of places to find seamstresses:

  • Visit a local drycleaner/alteration store for recommendations
  • Place an ad in a local newspaper
  • Poll friends and family for contacts
  • Contact a local college or design school with a fashion program

This production model worked for a number of years. As time went on, Robeez grew quickly, and we decided to bring production in-house to manage volumes and quality. Today, Robeez has over 200 leather cutters, seamstresses, and quality control coordinators working in our production facility.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Can we build it?

The next post deals with regional vs. overseas manufacturing. Here’s an email I received recently:

We need more baby products with "made in Canada" and "made in USA” labels. My question for Robeez founder: How did you manage not to move offshore? Do you credit your success partly because your product was made in Canada? Did retailers care about it or not? What would you advise to business women who (or wants to) manufacture locally?

It is rare these days to turn over a label and read “made in Canada” or “made in USA.” Overseas manufacturing is definitely a reality in today’s marketplace.

I may sound like your mother but “if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?” My mompreneur advice: don’t assume that because “everyone” is manufacturing offshore that this is the best option for your business, especially when you first start out. For Robeez, we have always maintained production of our shoes and booties in BC. Simply said, local manufacturing fit our business model and contributed to our success. We see a number of benefits to doing things this way:

  • Quick turnaround – ordering products from overseas takes months of lead time to allow for production and shipping
  • Quality control – maintaining a high level of quality is important to our customers
  • Quantity control – minimum order quantities are often required in offshore manufacturing, by sewing shoes here we can make as many or as few as we need, quickly!

I believe you need to look at your business model and the product you want to create.
There are many products that are complex, using materials that require special machinery and fixtures to produce. In these situations, offshore manufacturing is a likely choice. But for simpler products like Robeez, we chose to keep manufacturing local.

Now for the second part of the question: Did retailers care about it or not? In Canada, there are a number of boutiques that cater specifically to locally made goods. To these retailers, our made in Canada label is extremely important. But for the vast majority of retailers, the label influences rather than drives purchase decisions.

I can say that I am extremely proud to know that Robeez provides local jobs and contributes to the BC economy. There are currently over 300 people employed at our head office in Burnaby.

So the moral of today’s message? Should mompreneurs manufacture their wares overseas? It depends. Carefully look at your budget. Consider the product you are making. Consider who will sell your product. What is their order cycle? Do they order six months in advance or place an order and expect delivery next week? All these factors will impact your ultimate decision.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Finding the money to get started

The first response after my return from vacation; it feels good to be back. The next message comes from Deborah who is in the process of manufacturing her baby product and has even recently received an iparentingmedia award. (Congratulations!) Her question:

I was wondering how one goes about finding investors. Do you need to have a well-established company before an investor will even take a chance?

When I started Robeez, my start up costs were minimal. Some leather, sewing notions, a fax machine, and I was pretty much set. I used personal finances and a business line of credit to get started. As Robeez grew, we used the profits to finance the business. While this was appropriate to my business, I know many other entrepreneurs face much larger costs to get the ball rolling.

So while I may not be an expert in the area of investment, I know of a great resource for financing a new business. Women’s Enterprise Center has a document summarizing financing options. Which one will work for your business will require some research but hopefully this will give you some ideas.

Whatever solution you find for financing your business you will need to start with a clearly defined business plan. I can’t emphasize the importance of planning enough. Starting with a solid plan allows you clearly define your business goals from day one. There are a wide variety of free samples available on the internet. Get started!add to sk*rt

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Back From Safari

Robert, Jim, and I have returned from Africa. It was so refreshing to spend time together as a family. No phones, no computers, no television, no video games. Just nature; it was amazing! One of the camps we visited in Botswana was just paces away from a watering hole. I watched my teenage son sit for hours and watch animals. The warthogs, wildebeests, giraffes, and impalas that visited midday kept his attention the way video games usually do. The off-season was the perfect time to visit. Much quieter, fewer people, lots of time together as a family.

But now back to work. I’m up and running again with the blog. Please send in your question and I’m happy to answer them. A few of you wrote while I was away. I will post responses to those questions over the next couple weeks.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Helping mompreneurs do their homework

Sandra is a big believer in learning; ask questions, do your research, know your subject in and out. If you’ve stumbled across this blog, it’s likely that you’re already on the right track. While Sandra is away on vacation and unavailable to answer specific questions, I want to help make research a little easier, so I’ve pulled together some of our favourite online resources for mompreneurs.

Websites that cover various subjects of interest to mompreneurs:
Women Entrepreneur – This website is part of Entrepreneur Magazine group. It includes articles about everything from compensating your sales reps to selecting the right tradeshow.
Empower Women Now – This blog covers topics that very current; everything is clearly and thoroughly explained.
Mompreneur Center – Another great source from Entrepreneur Magazine. This section focuses specifically on topics for entrepreneurial moms.

Websites with information for entrepreneurs specific to your region:

If you have a favourite mompreneur resource to share, please write a comment.
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