It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention and that the thought is father to the deed, but those words have never been truer than when applied to parents striving to provide their children with the essentials in this economy. Faced with children that quickly outgrow clothing well before the garments usefulness has been reached, wanting to be socially responsible and not contribute to further waste and pollution, and being mindful of the need to stretch the family budget as far as possible, many parents struggle to succeed on all counts.
Entrepreneur and Mom
Gabrielle Fludd, a former Design Production Manager for a furniture retailer confronted that problem when her employer was less than thrilled with her starting a family and she believes took the opportunity to use the difficult economy as a reason to sever her ties with her employment. With skills in administration, design, organizational and problem solving skills in her portfolio; she recognized the opportunity to drastically depart from the corporate lifestyle she had been pursuing and create her own business that served the needs of mothers, children, and helped the environment while also meeting the important criteria of helping people save money.
Seeing the business potential in expanding on the consignment store concept and taking it online,, Ms. Fludd launched, www.gumdropswap.com, in Bridgeport, CT as an internet site that allowed people to trade their children’s clothing in for points that can then be applied to future purchases of clothing in a larger size to accommodate the needs of a growing child. The idea strikes a chord with any parent who has had to part with an article of clothing that still is in good condition, but no longer fits the child. In essence, Ms. Fludd had hit upon a business trifecta:
1. Provided a way for parents to clothe their children by leveraging their trade-in clothing that no longer fits, but was still in good condition
2. Allowed parents to reduce the overall expense of clothing their children by redistributing quality clothing at a reduced price from what retail stores would charge for comparable garments
3. Allowed participating families to feel good about not further contributing to pollution or filling landfills by discarding clothing that could still be worn.
Success Has Many Fathers
While the idea seemed like a good one when she considered it, Ms. Fludd also realized that it was quite a different challenge to run her own business and to migrate from a brick and mortar retailing environment to one that is reliant on internet transactions. While she was exhilarated at the potential the business could provide, she also knew that the risks were hers alone and if she should fail, she would have to accept all of the accountability. After all, she was investing her own savings into the venture, so she had to be careful about the choices she was to make. To confirm that her decision was a good one, and to prove to herself that she was not in error about the potential for the business; she did a very wise thing; she asked others for their opinions and guidance. Among the things she did to solidify her business idea, was:
• Interviewed acquaintances that previously owned or currently own their own businesses to seek their counsel on what worked and what to avoid.
• Relied on her own basic knowledge of web design for the tasks she could handle, but then sought professional web design support that was both knowledgeable and experienced, as well as affordable
• Spoke with other mothers and fathers – her prospective customer base to assess how they would use the service and what they sought in a business that could help them provide clothing for their families.
By being certain to get as many opinions, experts, and experiences included in her upfront research; Ms. Fludd was able to crystallize her vision and take the steps to increase the likelihood of success. Had she worked alone on her idea, she would have missed some important insights that only were provided because she trial tested the idea with important constituents. A key learning she derived from the experience was the importance of having a well designed website that was easy to navigate, allowed for transactions to be completed simply, and provided product descriptions with sufficient detail so shoppers could make informed choices. Ms. Fludd concedes, “The website was key and I had to find someone I could communicate and collaborate with. The designer proved to be a great asset and even suggested features I never thought were possible.”
While opening up a store on the web and selling merchandise is relatively straightforward, what is not nearly as easy to achieve is to build awareness of the site and to drive traffic to the website. Ms. Fludd recognized that early on and noted, “it was very important to me to create a business that sold itself because I needed word-of-mouth marketing to build my customer base.” To help create the impetus for people to talk to friends and family about the site, Ms. Fludd purposely kept the subscription price low to make it accessible to everyone. In fact, the question she is asked most often when people see how inexpensive it is to join is, “How do you make money?” By recognizing that she is marketing to people suffering in a recession with unemployment rates soaring, Ms. Fludd has offered many families with a reason to share her website address and to speak favorably of their experience in her effort to get them to become advocates for her and to generate excitement for her business.
Recognizing that her own marketing budget would have to be used judiciously, Ms. Fludd relied on the use of social networking sites to take advantage of her existing social circles. Her use of those sites led to her finding a supportive online community of fellow “momtrepreneurs” and other small business owners where she was able to share ideas and get some additional direction and insight. Additionally, she has petitioned local child care centers and churches to have them inform parents that the service exists. By building her customer base through this way, she has had controlled growth, but has begun to take on a viral life its of its own.
Another insight that evolved as the business was forming was the recognition that her local customers preferred to visit a physical location and complete purchases on the spot and not have to wait for product to be delivered via the mail. While the immediacy of the purchase is favorable, it presented an issue that Ms. Fludd is now addressing; the need for larger space for walk-in customers. What had been originally conceived as an internet business was now evolving into both a web-based business and a seven days a week, by appointment boutique for those within easy reach of the location. As she assesses the potential for the boutique side of the business, she is considering securing retail space and has been talking to the developers that restored the historic Arcade Mall in downtown Bridgeport.
When asked what suggestions she would have for others looking to start their own business, she emphatically replied, “ask for the opinions of potential customers and keep an open mind! Your original idea will likely have to be tweaked a few times, even after you open your business. Its important to have an elevator pitch (2 minute speech) ready when people ask what you do. You may not have time to fully explain a complicated ideas.” Ms. Fludd now reflects back on her launching of her business and comments, “I’ve been training for this job my whole life!”