STARTING FROM SCRATCH…AGAIN
Wedding coordinator turned party goods artisan Ryan Larson from Tin Parade gives us her advice for getting a new product to wholesale.
You had a very successful wedding planning business before starting your party goods business – one offered a service, and the other a product. Did the new business feel like starting from scratch or did a lot of the skills from running your first business carry over? I have said many times that it has felt completely like starting over. While there are a lot of skills related to owning and running a business generally that have definitely carried over, they are such different types of businesses that I really had to just start from the beginning.
What is the biggest piece of advice you have to offer someone who has a product they want to wholesale? It’s going to take longer to get it to market than you think. Every single step takes longer than you think it will – getting your sample/prototype made, getting to final product, raising funds, getting it into stores. There are more steps than you expect and they each take longer than you anticipate.
What are your tips for bootstrapping in the first year of wholesaling your product? What are the best cost-cutting measures you came up with? Just watch every single penny that you spend because the old adage “a penny saved is a penny earned” is so true. It is so easy to overspend in every area, or to think you need every new and shiny contraption in your office. But only buy what you really have to. And if you do have something you really do need, see if you can borrow it from someone else before you spend any money. One of the best things you can do is get to know another business owner who is similarly situated or maybe a year or two ahead of you, because you can be a resource for each other and really help each other. I’ve made relationships like this at the gift shows, and it’s so nice to have people who are at the same stage in the process as you because you don’t feel bad asking each other a million “dumb” questions while you’re both trying to figure it all out.
How do you develop the types of relationships that it takes to get picked up by an Anthropologie or a Bed Bath & Beyond? Branding is really important, so we make sure that our sensibility carries through in everything we do. From the box our sample is in, to the label that is on it, to the way it is packaged – everything shares the same aesthetic. So for example, we would never send our product to a potential buyer in a standard flat-rate box. We want them to have a sense of who we are from the very first moment they see our package on their desk – if they share our sensibility then the fact that it carries through will make an impression, and they will probably like our product. I think this also demonstrates to buyers that they would be able to ask us to make something custom for them and expect us to be able to do it.
Once you have a product that is taking off, what is the process and timeline for introducing more product? Everything happens in six-month intervals, because that’s when the gift shows are and that’s when the push for product is. So the advice we were given at the beginning is to release something new everything six months. You show the new product, see how it does at the show, and then watch for reorders on items that were picked up. If sales start to plateau, then you would want to bring in a new style of that product. But you need to keep the buyers coming back to your booth at the shows, so for at least that reason you need to be releasing something new every six months.
What has been your biggest challenge to date? Funding! I have a million ideas, and in my mind they are all great, but they all take money to produce and it can be difficult to decide which things to produce at what time. Even funding the few things we have decided to move forward with has been a challenge because everything takes so long and there are so many more costs than you expect – inventory control and warehousing and all of the small things that have to be paid on a daily basis. I was surprised by how much harder it has been to get funds than I expected; you might think that because you have great credit, you will get the money you need. But it doesn’t always work out that way. I have excellent credit, but I essentially had to have my first business fund my new business because I had shown profit and growth for a certain number of years and that meant more to my bank than my good personal credit did.
What top three tips would you like to pass along for those who have just started to use social media? My biggest tip is that you don’t need to panic if you’re not doing as much on social media as you think you should be. I really think it depends on the type of business you have and what you are using it for. I don’t put as much emphasis on it as perhaps other types of companies would because for me, it’s a way to show my brand but I’m not using it to try to build a large online retail presence. The stores I’m trying to reach don’t actually want me to have a super strong online retail presence because if I’m selling a ton online myself, it affects their sales. So our social media is about carrying our brand through and making sure people can know about us and can find us, but not to draw them to our site for selling. For a long time we felt a lot of pressure about doing social media all day, every day, and we felt so bogged down by it! So now we are very specific and purposeful about what we do with it.
Entrepreneurs often say “you can’t do it all.” What three things do you always outsource? One thing I’ve had to learn over the years is how important delegating is to moving forward. Find good people and trust them to handle certain things for you. When forms have to be filled out, I have someone else do it and then I look them over and sign. When stores need a certain size photo file, I have someone else upload it and send it to them. I hold tasks for myself if they involve something that needs to be written in my own voice, but if it’s a form just listing our products and prices and attaching photos, I am really good about delegating that out. I am paying someone by the hour to do that type of work but am reaping larger rewards because I can spend that time selling to bigger customers rather than getting bogged down in smaller details. That said, I always keep my hands in it enough to know what the small details are so that I could do them myself if I had to!
My best advice to a woman launching a venture is… To think really hard about what kind of lifestyle you want. And I mean the lifestyle you want as you are starting, working and growing your business, not the lifestyle you envision once you make a bunch of money. It’s great to have a financial goal and aspire to a certain type of lifestyle, but being realistic about what your day-to-day is going to look like until you get there is much more important. You need to be honest with yourself about how much time you are willing to work and how much time you CAN work given the other responsibilities in your life. This is separate from how much needs to be done, because the truth is that you could work from morning to night and still not get it all done. For me, it was non-negotiable that I had to be able to pick up my kids from school every day and I’m lucky to have been able to create that world for myself, even though it meant working from 8pm until midnight six nights a week for the first six months. Everyone has a different threshold of what they are able to give to their business vs. what they can’t give up in their personal life for the sake of their business, so you need to figure out what that means for you.