It is crazy to think that I am more than three years along my RuffleButts journey! It seems like yesterday that I sat in our little South Florida condo searching endlessly for information on apparal, manufacturers, marketing, entrepreneurship. I knew my life was about to change, but I really had no idea to what extent. To be honest, I was a bit lost, and completely overwhelmed. It is now three years later that I realize that the journey never really ends, it just changes paths.
I often think back to those early days, as I questioned my abilities, my ideas, my strength. Now, three years later, I now know I am tough as nails, and some ideas are good, others could be better. I've learned that I am not perfect, but I have a big heart and can do more than I ever imagined possible. I've learned that I have failed many times in this process and am sure to do it again and again, but I will get back up and still move forward with every bit the determination, morals and optimism. I often try not to get jaded by the industry. This truly is not saying anything negative about the children's apparel industry, as I often felt the same way about real estate. Once you are in a certain industry for a while, it's becomes easy to stay in the box, to watch what others are doing. In the beginning, I was so naive, I didn't have a clue what others were doing. I didn't know about trends, or trade shows, or safe designs. I just made what I liked, at a quality level I was proud of, and sold to anyone who appreciated my creations. I try to keep that mindset, to do things differently, to keep the fundamentals important...our team, our ethics, our big dreams, and the box with no walls.
If you are in the beginning stages of anything, or even 3 years on your own journey, don't forget that you are not alone. We all faces times of challenge, of feeling totally in over our heads. Don't get stuck looking at everyone else.
It has been recently that we have had numerous companies copy our designs. And when I say copy our designs, I don't mean similar colors, or similar bloomers, I mean literally copying the designs. At first, I had my panties in wad, less about them copying, but more about taking with no regard, what I have devoted endless hours to creating. It was then I realized that these companies are truly at a loss. If they are spending their time watching what we are doing, they will never be ahead, always tailing behind. This is big picture here, I'm not just talking about in designs, I mean in life. If you are comparing your mothering abilities to your neighbor, your style to your best friend, your financials to your sister-in-law...you will never be good enough, for yourself. If you copying other companies instead of following your own dream, you will never truly succeed, and you certainly can't ever be proud. I, as well as most in the industry, take inspiration from many places, some being other designs that we've seen along the way, but that is a whole different story. Regardless, I received a piece of advise from a pilot recently that is quite applicable...he told me that all good pilots focus on the end of the runway. They can't be bothered by any distractions along the way or it could cause them to make major mistakes.
So, where ever you are along your journey, heed his advice...focus in the distance, on your destination and you will stay on track. Don't let yourself feel smaller than others, as I guarantee they were at this point at one time as well. Always hold yourself (and your business if you are an entrepreneur) to high standards and don't waiver on the things that are truly important, no matter what the cost. We have a quote on the wall of our office here at RuffleButts:
"Think BIG, be honorable, and always give more than expected"
I am often emailed with specific business questions, and although I would love to answer them all, I sometimes fall a little behind. In attempt to help anyone and everyone finding this type of info helpful, I am going to try to give you my 2 cents here:
For national trade shows...
I am truly not the expert on this one. The only trade show that I have personally attended was KIDShow Las Vegas when I first launched the company in 2007. Ever since, I have been torn on the decision to attend these events. The cost is extremely high when factoring in travel and all of the additional costs on top of the booth. Although, with that said, it is all about ROI. If you write enough sales to cover your cost, it is a no-brainer, especially with re-orders down the road. If you don't write enough sales to cover the cost, is the exposure worth it? The trouble is you never know how much you're gonna write until the money has been spent and the show is over.
Another interesting piece of this puzzle for us is that we have been extremely blessed by the fact that 95% of our wholesale customers have come to us. In the past 3 years, we really haven't participated in trade shows or trade advertising. Fortunately, we have incredibly supportive fans who often recommend our products to their favorite stores. We also have two super sweet sales reps at their local markets who have introduced their clients to our brand. As our business grows, we continue to expand and explore other opportunities, but so far this is where we stand with trade shows.
Other events (specifically the Boom Boom Room):
Ok, I get this question often, and I totally understand why, but it is a tough one to answer. Here's why...I truly believe that most events are what you make of them and 90% of the time, they are a lot of expense for an ROI that rarely justifies it. For me personally, I am glad that we did the Boom Boom Room and am grateful that Jayneoni extended the invite. With that said, I feel like, over the years, it seems as though almost all children's product companies have received the same invite, and the reviews are quite mixed. For me, it is all about expectations. If you expect to walk into some event, to be surrounded by glamorous celebrities and for your line to become a Hollywood hit overnight, then this is not the place for you. If you are going into this as a possible press opportunity and fun experience, then I think it could be worth the cost. For me, I'm glad we went when we did, but don't have plans to return in the near future.
I find that so much in this business is hit or miss, trial and error. You truly have to find what works for you. I would say that most of our business friends do participate in these trade shows and some attend the Boom Boom event year after year. I find that I often stray from the norm in the business and do what works for us. With that said, this may not necessarily be what works for you.
I just realized that it has been over a month since I posted...where has the time gone?? I have been completely MIA for the past four weeks. Bridget (a great friend of mine) called yesterday me to make sure I have not had a complete mental breakdown and checked out! No, I'm still here, hanging on, but I seriously do not know which way is up at the moment. Okay, I know this is not the 1st time I've said this, but here's my run down of the past three weeks (so you know I'm not just whining!):
December 17th&18th - tear apart and pack entire office (including ALL inventory)
Weekend of Dec 19th and 20th - rent uhaul and make trip after trip of the inventory and desks to the new office
Dec 21st - last minute judgement call to cancel trip to Louisville in order to move to new house over Christmas
Dec 24th (Christmas Eve) - Load up truck and move three rooms of furniture to new house (still have not sold old house, so have to keep most furniture there)
Dec 25th (Christmas Day) - since all of Aubrey's gifts were shipped to Louisville for the Christmas celebration that we didn't make it to, we pretended to open presents and then went back to unpacking
Dec 28th - start setting up new office, while the in-laws come in town to help build shelves for the office and watch my little rug-rat while her nanny is on vacation all week
Dec 31st-Jan 2nd - friends in town for New Year's
Jan 2-3rd - still unpacking and setting up the office (wow, this takes much longer than expected)
Jan 5th - our gas suddenly goes off in the middle of the night and they don't get it fixed until 9:00pm the next night (yes, no heat in 20 degree weather)
Jan 7th - I seriously have no idea where the past few weeks went!!
Somehow we have kept up with orders and are still going strong. I do not know what I would have done without our fabulous employees!! Mary packed and unpacked her little heart out and as a big topper, it was end of the year inventory time! Kristina helped to keep me sane, and was a packing fool! I do have to admit, although it was super crazy and stressful, it was actually a huge treat for me to spend so much time with Aubrey over the holidays, even if we were playing the unpacking game all day every day!
As usual, I feel completely overwhelmed and totally behind on everything. I really need to get organized to get off to a good start in the new office, but I have SO much work to do, I don't have time to stop. We are trying to get our new Spring Collection from the factories, but of course, have issues as always. I found out after the actual ship date that not only had our swimwear not began the production process, but the fabrics were all completely gone. I had to start over, select and design new fabrics, and then begin working with a new factory to get them done in less than a month...needless to say, this is not easy! Our manufacturing contact is probably about to lose her mind as well, but the tough part about this business, well, any business really, is that it doesn't matter why you are breaking promised delivery dates, it just matters that you are breaking them. It falls on you, so it is up to me to keep my promises to our customers.
I am also trying to find time to plan. We all know that if you are on a journey, and don't have a destination, that you are really just wandering around. I feel responsible - for the security of my family, for the reputation of RuffleButts, for our employees, and for the happiness of our customers...we definitely need not only a destination, but a map to get there. I worked late into the night last night, and probably will do the same for the next while. I am 150% determined to do this right. We have a great product (they sell), we love our jobs, we have happy customers, we grew more than 300% last year...I think we have something good here, we just need to stay on track and follow our dream! Now, if I could only get a few more hours in a day =)