Categorized | Shoestring Startup

SmashTaking My Muffin Top On Tour and Turning a Profit in Season 1

Smashing Golf & Tennis

www.smashingonline.com

All great business ideas begin with martinis, right? In our case, it was pomegranate martinis, which has the added benefit of anti-oxidants. Tennis friends Alyssa, Jayne & Kelly had been fermenting a business idea for a couple months while they played, but due to being busy moms couldn’t find time during the day to flesh it out. Finally, during an evening of martinis, the brainstorming began.

The original idea was a line of funny tennis shirts, because quite frankly, we’re hysterical (or at least think we are.) It was sort of a “Life is Good”, line with funny tennis sayings. But during our brainstorm session – we realized that none of us wore t-shirts on the court, or out in public. Nor did we know anyone who did and this began a conversation of what we hate about tennis clothes that are on the market today. We hated the “fat sucking, muffin top inducing” styles – we wanted something that was figure flattering, and thus Smashing was conceived.

Our market research began immediately, and we knew we were on to something one windy summer day on a clay tennis court. As we were hitting the little yellow ball across the court and saw muffin top after muffin top, we knew we had to do something.

Now I’m sure we could all do a dose of P90X and a few months of Atkins to firm up that midsection, but that just sounded, well, exhausting. As one of us said, “When are they going to put shape wear in tennis clothes?” A business was launched.

So with an employee roster of 3 (Kelly, Jayne & Alyssa), we launched Smashing Golf & Tennis Apparel. A line of golf and tennis apparel for women that has an inner layer of compression (or shape wear) to make you “slimmer in seconds.” Great idea right? Now we had to design the product. There isn’t a product out there like this we could knock off, this meant not just researching the fabrics we liked, but also testing designs to find the optimal prototype.

We each put in $15,000. To each of us that was a huge investment, however for a new business, especially retail, it was laughable. And the part that continues to amaze colleagues to this day is, our goal is to turn a profit in season 1.

Once we made the decision that we needed to turn a profit, it affected how we dealt with day-to-day issues. While many companies would spend $100,000 for web development, develop a big marketing campaign, or hire professional models, we needed to approach our business differently.

One benefit of our team was that we all had different business backgrounds, and so brought different expertise to the table. Kelly was a VP at a top advertising agency where she specialized in consumer insights/strategy writing and how to target consumers. Jayne has vast international business experience holding high-level positions in both the Financial Services and IT industries. And while Alyssa spent over a decade in the Executive Recruitment and Corporate Human Resource Management field, her creative skills and experience with fashion photography, styling and design have been the most useful talents brought to Smashing.

We also were lucky to have so many talented friends and family. There was a fashion photographer that was a cousin to Jayne, a model that was a good friend of Alyssa’s, a media contact list given to Kelly. All of these people either volunteered their time or charged us only for their materials.

But the best decision we ever made was to start a blog right away. As soon as we bought the domain name of www.smashingonline.com, we started to blog about starting a business.

Our blog is very honest and quite funny. We tell it how it is, warts and all. We have developed quite a loyal following of a few hundred fans. The blog is about 1 ½ years old and is still going strong. Actually there are many that have told us we should turn the blog into a book – they enjoy reading it that much! (www.smashingonline.wordpress.com)

Developing the product was not as easy as one would hope. While we all had impressive business backgrounds, none of us had fashion/retail backgrounds (unless you count Kelly’s 1 year as an assistant buyer). When clients would ask us what retail background we have, we would often show them our Nordstrom bill. We found to be taken seriously; we needed to learn the industry and fast!

Learning the fashion industry, was a little like learning a new language. Often times we were searching for the “English to Fashion Dictionary” just to understand what people were telling us. We reached out via Facebook and LinkedIn to find recommendations for pattern makers, local factories and fabric suppliers. It was amazing how much we learned via friends, and friends of friends. We felt as if social media offered us a way to get a quick fashion degree.

The one thing that almost killed our business? Trying to agree on a logo. Yes, it was the logo. We found we could overcome just about any issue, problem or challenge thrown our way, but trying to get three of us to agree on the logo was just about the end of it. It has become a running joke at our weekly meetings, and whenever we need to design catalogs, update the web, etc and it involves a font decision, we know we are in for a long night. Luckily we all have a sense of humor. That is the one crucial thing needed for an entrepreneur – a sense of humor.

But after countless stumblings, and spending more than we wanted on the research of the product, we had a prototype we were excited about. Now it was time to sell. How do you market a high end product in a down economy? And how do we convince our retail clients to accept less than keystone?

At our first client meting, the country club started off by telling us how business was rough and they couldn’t move merchandise. This was not a good opening. Our product is on the high end of the golf category and one of the highest in the tennis category. We were going to have to convince clients that our product was worth opening the wallet and was worth making less per garment than other vendors. It was going to be an uphill battle.

Kelly was the sales person and always looking for “the hook” to make our presentation stand out. She came up with the “show the fat” presentation. She would enter the room in a Nike tennis dress. It was not flattering. It shows every bump, lump, muffin top you could imagine. Clients would try hard not to gasp in horror that someone would actually wear that dress.

Next Kelly would put on Smashing’s dress. The jaws would drop to the floor and the order forms would be signed. It was a dramatic difference.

Everyone has heard a sales pitch before, but to see an actual demo showed we spoke the truth. Client’s saw that this was truly a different product and were willing to take a chance.

Marketing the product would not be as easy. The budget was a big, fat zero. We decided to embrace social media, the press and email marketing as a way to reach new consumers as well as to continue to connect with our existing fan base.

We utilize Constant Contact for email marketing as well as frequent updates via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Press has been our big marketing push this first season. We have been written about in the “Chicago Tribune”, “Chicago Daily Herald”, “South Barrington Life” (local magazine) and have been picked up by various tennis and fashion blogs. We have also been working with “Make It Better” a Northshore magazine in Chicago, “Shape” magazine, and “Golf Digest”.

We tested out Facebook Ads and Google Ad Words both via free promotion money. Both seemed to generate click thrus, but low conversion rates. That told us the marketing was working, but the website was failing to excite them.

After analyzing where to spend money for the next season, we decided to allocate a significant sum to finding a good web designer/SEO expert. This is not as easy to find, as you would think (especially within our budget). We are currently in the process of vetting out the candidates and hope to have a stronger web presence in 6 months.

We officially launched March 1st via the web and were available at retailers as of April 15th. In our first 6 weeks of sales, we have sold through 40% of our inventory. While we are ecstatic with our early sales, we still need capital to fund fall 2011 and design production for Spring 2012. We are not in the black yet; but working to be there by end of Fall 2011.

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