A Christmas Gift from NPR

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Hello again everyone. I hope that you all had a restful and beautiful holiday weekend with your friends and family.

Last week, I was driving to the airport here in Chicago to pick up my Aunt and Grandmother, who were flying in from Ohio. On my way there, I was reflecting on our business and, as usual, focusing on what I need to do more of or what I need to do better in 2017. I was asking myself questions such as: “How can we take our jeans to the next level and not make them just another pair?”; “How can I be better in 2017?”; “Do I have the right vendors selected?”; “How can I make sure that I achieve my goals in 2017?”; and “How can I get more people excited about what we are doing?” While sitting in my car aimlessly inching forward while reflecting in traffic on I-55, I was given an incredible Christmas gift from National Public Radio (NPR) and I wanted to share it with you.

NPR was interviewing Sara Blakely who founded Spanx. The interview and the conversation were so incredibly refreshing and well-timed for what I was thinking about. Allow me to share a few of the takeaways here. I would encourage you to find it online and listen to it if you get a chance before beginning your New Year.

Lesson 1: Keeping your guard up.

Sara said that she didn’t talk about starting Spanx for a year once she had committed herself to starting the business. The reason was she wanted to be able to keep her head down and march towards her goal without the pressure and stress of other people’s expectations. She said that once she did begin telling people she received the usual responses. “If it were such a great idea, then why wouldn’t the big companies have already done it?” “How are you going to support yourself and pay for this business?” The responses were generally negative and discouraging, but she acknowledged that her friends and family were just expressing their concerns for her best interest.

This was a great reminder. As entrepreneurs, we have to walk a delicate line in order to stay on the right course. That is the line between being receptive to opportunities and feedback that would grow the business, and being willing to block out certain outside noises that threaten real progress.

Lesson 2: Embracing our failures.

Sara mentioned that one of the most influential people in her life was her father. More specifically, she said there was one particular routine he started which heavily influenced her decision to start her business. Every week her father would ask her, “What did you fail at this week?”

She said that as a child she thought it was a rather odd question, but looking back it meant a great deal to her success. From an early age she was encouraged to try new things while being told to not acknowledge the innate fear of failure that plagues many of us. She said this was pivotal to her growth both personally and professionally.

Lesson 3: Don’t ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness.

Sara told a story about when she was first given some shelf space at seven Neiman Marcus stores. She spent a day at each store with a small folding table, telling consumers about her products and how they were different from what was currently on the market. The NPR anchor conducting the interview asked how did Neiman Marcus allow you to do that and Sara said they didn’t tell her she could, but they didn’t tell her that she couldn’t. So, she just showed up with her table, anticipating at some point they make ask her to leave. Luckily, not one store asked her to leave.

She mentioned that, for small businesses, the answer you will receive will always be “No.” Many times, start-up brands are put on the back burners in the minds of vendors and customers because they aren’t well established. However, you still have to be able to promote, sell and produce your product with the same capabilities and vigor as the big guys. Instead of asking permission to do this, Sara says to just do what you have to do as the steward of your brand until people tell you that you can’t. There is nothing more important for a brand than getting your name and point of difference across to as many people as possible. So do what you must even if it means annoying your vendors and distributors a bit in the beginning. They will forgive you once your brand begins to sell and helps their businesses grow.

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I think that all of these lessons and points were great and I hope you find them both useful and inspiring going into the New Year. I love hearing advice from people who have walked the walk and talked the talk. Have a Happy New Year and a wonderful rest of your week.

 

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

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Holiday Time = Family Time

I am sitting on a chair outside in 68 degree weather, yet, I can’t wait to get back home despite the fact that there is a Polar Vortex on its way. Why you may ask? Yes, I love the Holidays, but it’s really because I will get to see all of my family members. I will get to catch up on quality time with my family because they have been so helpful and supportive through everything, especially my entrepreneurial journey. My grandparents have been especially helpful and inspiring for my business.

My maternal grandmother and my aunt, who both live in Cleveland, are my editors for these blog posts. My grandmother, an English/Math double major, was a middle school teacher before a progressive 30-year career in special education that culminated in a leadership role, Director of Instruction.  She knows a thing or two about proper grammar and punctuation. My aunt is in PR and Advertising, so she volunteers her time to help edit my blogs when she is not managing advertising plans, media campaigns, or editing press releases and advertising copy/layouts for her clients.  Every week they eagerly and diligently edit and review my writing but, more importantly, they help reinforce the importance of family and the support it provides. Prior to having them review my blogs, I was the writer, editor and website and I felt like I had to do all of this on my own because it was my duty and responsibility. Then, they volunteered to help me and it has been such a blessing because it frees up more of my time throughout the week to do other work. This simple act taught me that I am not Superman and that it is okay to lean on your loved ones, when need be. I appreciate them both very much.

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My paternal grandparents have inspired me to continue my journey and given me the courage to see my dream through. My grandfather was an Assistant Principal at a Chicago Public Elementary School.  With four kids, he was looking for a part-time job to add to his income. So, he found out about a hair care product company which needed more part-time salesmen for its products. He began selling the products to salons along 47th Street after the school day was over. Soon after he began, the salon owners began giving him feedback and suggestions for how the products could be different and he started making his own products in his kitchen to meet their needs. Eventually, he and my grandmother began selling their own products and started their own business. The business grew and grew until they quit their day jobs in order to work full time as hair care product manufacturers and entrepreneurs. They had no formal business training or experience in the industry. They just had the will, energy, several pots and pans for making products and a station wagon to sell them out of. Sometimes the best business ideas don’t grow out of business plans and crowd-funding campaigns. The best ideas, rather, just grow organically from a need and, more importantly, the ability for someone to stop and hear those needs.

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As we approach the holidays, I hope that you too can reflect on those in your life who have helped you and I hope that you have the opportunity to tell them, “thank you” for all that they do and have done. Please let me know below who you are thankful for this holiday season in the comments, if you are willing to share. As always, have a great week.

 

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

Trial and Error

We have been working diligently to continue our seemingly never-ending product development process. However, our marketing is slowly beginning to take shape as well. One of the main initiatives as we put the finishing touches on our marketing plans is to have a “trial run, allowing us to really see what the world (and especially all of you) think of our product and brand.

As we embark on this marketing phase, I can’t help but reflect on the principles of Marketing 101, the 4 P’s. These guiding principles have actually been quite useful at this stage, and might be helpful to others looking to start a business. Many of you might be familiar with this already; they are certainly one of the main concepts that have stayed with me from college marketing classes. So allow me to review the 4 P’s here, as well as two other P’s I’ve added from my experience:

  1. Product – This is a pretty obvious one. What are you making and how is it different from other products currently on the market?
  2. Price – What price do you plan on charging for your product? Price can play a big role in establishing your brand identity. Are you a premium brand or a value brand? How will you insure the price through your supply chain with its influences (stores, distributors, price increases on your inputs etc.)?
  3. Place – Where do you plan on selling your products? Online sales have been booming for apparel start-ups, but some brands prefer to have their products retailed in stores or even in their own stores (Banana Republic, Abercrombie, etc.). In other words, where do you want people to be able to find you?
  4. Promotion – How are you going to get the word out about your brand? You can advertise your products in magazines, on the web, on billboards or even on television. Social media has certainly become a major platform for awareness and interest generation. You can also use price discounts, coupons or good old-fashioned samples to help people try out what it is you want to sell.

Kyle’s Two Bonus P’s:

  1. People – To whom are you trying to sell? Selling a product to Millennials is a lot different than selling to Baby Boomers, so your target consumer affects all the elements above. In addition, many products and services are sold business to business (accounting services, Xerox machines, shipping and freight) which requires a completely different marketing mix than selling to consumers.
  2. Process- How do you go about conducting your business and what set of values is your business centered around? This element has come into the forefront within the past few years. I find that more and more customers want to know how and why we do the things that we do. That story as well as those principles can be a great differentiating factor in the eyes of consumers.

Essentially, we have been working diligently on the product phase and now we want to move towards the promotion phase. In order to do this we’d like to send 50+ pairs of jeans to engaged consumers so we can 1) hear what they think about our product so far and 2) begin to have some trial of our product. To that end, we need your help in finding willing and able individuals to wear our jeans and provide us with some much-needed feedback. We plan on distributing them towards March or April of 2017. Ladies, unfortunately we make what we know, which is men’s pants for guys around our age range, but feel free to talk to your husbands, boyfriends and/or brothers to see if they want to participate. If you know of anyone who is interested in participating in our test, you can email us their name, age and email address (genesisofadream@genr2k.com) and we will take it from there.

We are trying to get our list started now so we can be ready to go as soon as samples become available. Thank you in advance for your interest and I hope you appreciated the introduction or refresher about marketing. Take care and thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for being a part of our journey and story.

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This is a picture of our sewing and denim treatment vendor’s garden. They water the garden using the recycled water from their garment washing, which is cleaned and recycled after every use. They can wash and treat a pair of jeans with less than one cup of water. Very impressive. This garden makes for a great “break room” for the employees.

 

” ‘Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.’ ” – Isaiah 42:19