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Sleeves: The Shortest Distance Between Chilly and Toasty

Sleeves: The Shortest Distance Between Chilly and Toasty“Here, try it on!” My mom handed me something she had made to help my grandmother stay warm. It was made of polar fleece and looked rather odd but a few seconds after it settled around my shoulders, I knew I had found my next business!

It was 2006 and I was in the process of selling my second business due to a move. My husband is a pastor and through the years I had closed a successful furniture upholstery shop and was now selling a just-beginning-to-turn-a-profit plant nursery as we moved from one location to another. I had vowed that the next business I started would be internet based and not geographically dependent, but until that moment had not known what that business would be.

Sleeves: The Shortest Distance Between Chilly and Toasty

Laura

I had several things in my favor. I know how to sew and had sewn all my own clothes through my teens and twenties. I have been involved in a variety of businesses, either owning or helping with the startup, for most of my life. Our two sons were nearly through high school and headed into college, so I had more time to invest than in previous years. And my husband, mom and other family members were very supportive and willing to help.

A local fabric store was going out of business, so my first step was to purchase much of their stock of polar fleece at a steep discount. Then I began taking my mom’s idea and refining it, making a pattern and figuring out a way to make it look more market presentable. And I gave them to friends, asking for their input. I was still only doing this on an occasional basis, since the move and remodeling our new house took up the rest of that fall and winter. Then in the spring I was offered a job as a hospice chaplain, so taking the project to the next level was put on the back burner. Except that as I spent time around the patients and the nurses, I saw even more how useful these “things” (still hadn’t figured out what to call them) could be. I even made them for a few of my patients, which confirmed to me their potential.

In early brainstorming sessions, we had tentatively chosen the name “Snugglers”, but within a year or so, something called the “Snuggie” hit the market, taking that option with it. So as my time with hospice and home health wound down, the need to find a new name rose to the top of the list. How do you describe something that no one has ever seen before in just a few words? I ended up calling them “Sleeves” because that is just what they are. They cover the shoulders, back of the neck, top of the back and the arms all the way down to the fingers. They are like a cross between a bed jacket and a shrug, only better than both. The advantage, especially for a bed-bound individual, is that they are so easy to put on. There is no bulk to try to tuck in behind you, they are comfy enough to sleep in, and they stay on when you turn over or move around. No more having to keep your arms under the covers or trying to tuck your blanket up around your ears when you read in bed.

As I continued to test market the prototypes, three distinct styles emerged. The “Sleepy Sleeve®” is primarily for bed-bound patients and those with limited mobility. The “Bookworm Sleeve” is for more active individuals who want to wear it around the house or to the office or classroom, while the “Summer Sleeve” is lighter weight for when you are chilly but not quite cold. At the same time I was trying to figure out how to size them. Making Sleeves of various dimensions and trying them on various individuals took time and recordkeeping, but eventually the sizing was standardized.

Finally in September of 2010, I quit my job (I have always preferred being my own boss) to go full time with my new business, which by now was called “You’re Getting Warmer”. My plan was to sell from a website and not go for the wholesale market, partly because I knew nothing about it and it seemed more complicated and intimidating. So my first entrepreneurial task was to come up with a website. Our oldest son was a senior graphic design major in college so he gave suggestions, but I wanted to make it myself– partly because I didn’t have money to pay anyone, partly because I figured I would need to tweak it fairly often as my stock of closeout fabrics meant the available colors/prints would come and go. I frequently vacillated between despair and triumph as I confronted, then conquered each detail of the process. Once it was finished, however, I realized that the hard part had just begun. Google rankings mean little when no one knows your product exists. I had no competition, but neither did I have customers!

Sleeves: The Shortest Distance Between Chilly and Toasty

starla

A series of attempts at craft shows and farmers markets, facebook ads and word of mouth got me through the first Christmas with some decent sales, but by February it became clear that I had to rethink the whole “internet only” approach. Through several conversations with health care professionals, I decided to take the plunge to wholesale. Now I was really in uncharted waters! Marketing, inventory, labels, RN#’s, making brochures and other promotional material were all brand new to me. Finding a manufacturer here in the US was a big step, but I knew I could not market all day and sew all night. And up until now I had spent more time than money, but when the manufacturing process required a financial investment, my parents offered a loan, which I gratefully accepted and will pay back in time. I am currently marketing to hospital gift shops (by phone and through a hospital gift shop newsletter) and am exploring college bookstores and other avenues.

You could probably call this the business that Google built. I have had so many questions that have been answered by web searches. Every little gem of information had to be painstakingly mined out of the bazillions of links and sites that are out there. But a month ago I found a website for women entrepreneurs (http://www.savorthesuccess.com/) that has changed everything. I now feel like I am drinking out of a fire hose with all the good ideas and suggestions that have been offered, and with information overload I need some time to put them all into practice. http://entreprenette.com/ has also been a huge source of experienced help and information.

So far I am the only employee. I have bartered with friends for various photography and design services and done the rest of it myself. My overhead is low since I work from our home, and my husband has a good job so I can pour everything back into growing the business. But I am seeing that though doing it all has its advantages it also has its limitations; and since selling is my least favorite and my weakest area, I really need to get some help there.

I have half-jokingly said that I am not really in charge here, that this business is taking me places I never thought I would go. And I am still not sure where it might end up. Ultimately I would like to build a company that could be sold or handed off in a few years when my husband and I would like to slow down and move to other adventures.

The hardest part for me has been doing things every day that I have never done before. It is like climbing a mountain and finally reaching the summit, only to discover that it is just a little tip of a much bigger mountain that is still just out of reach. Yes, there is a sense of accomplishment and there are days when the systems you have worked so hard to set in place (i.e. quickbooks, shipping accounts) actually work and something seems EASY! But they are in the minority. I don’t think anyone can prepare you for the amount of hard work and determination that it will take to bring a business from nothing to profitable. And I am still not there yet. But for an entrepreneur, the lure of success and the freedom of flexibility will always trump punching someone else’s time clock.

Linda McCabe

Owner, You’re Getting Warmer

www.youregettingwarmer.com

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