While chasing kids around the kitchen in the fall of 2006, a friend and I decided we wanted to do more than pick up toys and change dirty diapers.
She sewed and, as a former junior high school English teacher, I was comfortable in front of others. So we thought we'd give the idea of selling custom purses at parties a try. After contacting a few friends to host parties, we quickly felt the excitement of giving women an opportunity to design their own purse. So with a little effort and research, PURSEnally Yours officially launched in January 2007, specializing in customer-designed purses.
Our intent was to make a little extra money, spend some time away from our lives as moms and perhaps even hire someone to work with us by the end of the year. It didn't exactly happen that way. We hired another seamstress within two weeks, and we began to get quite busy just with the sales I was generating. In the first month, we had sewn 31 purses designed by our customers. By the end of the year, we had sewn thousands of them. Our sales topped six figures our first year in business.
During that first year, we hired six seamstresses and fabric cutters, and 13 direct-sales consultants. Because we need people who can sew well, we start them out sewing samples for us. Currently, we have a production team of 10 independent contractors and a waiting list just as long of women interested in working for us. I've been very cautious in hiring, consulting our attorney and our accountant to make sure these ladies fit the parameters of independent contractors.
A couple of blurbs in the local media, Fishers/Geist Magazine and at Geist.com, helped spread the word in the early days, but our customer base that first year grew largely by word of mouth through our customers and their handbags.
While the early success was certainly exciting, it was also overwhelming. About midway through the year, my partner needed to give up her portion of the company because of family conflicts. By the time we hit the last quarter of the year (aka, the busiest time), I was overseeing all aspects of the company, including production, which I knew nothing about. Fortunately, the seamstresses working directly with me were very excited about our success, and they were very helpful in navigating me into the next year.
After happily surviving the first year of owning a business--and succeeding--I was able to create a system that is still very effective and efficient today. The beauty about creating and owning your own business is that you can really design it however you wish. I have done just that.
PURSEnally Yours operates as a direct-sales company, which allows me to recruit ladies independently to sell purses through in-home parties or online. It also allows me to expand my reach. The company originally only had consultants in Indiana; now we have consultants throughout the country.
Initially, the biggest challenge in adding consultants was the cost of producing a sales kit. Each kit costs from $500 to $600--a lot to ask of women who wanted to join the team. So in the beginning, we didn't charge consultants for the kits. Today the kits cost consultants $299 to $399, depending on whether we have specials at the time.
The design kit includes all of our current sizes and styles of purses and accessories, and consultants continue to receive new fabric swatches, fringes, etc., throughout the year. In addition, I work directly with each of them offering communication via e-mail or the phone to answer questions, provide support and give suggestions. We also offer incentives for consultants to get active quickly and earn cash back. Most of the women on our team are previous customers or have heard about the company through family and friends.
We also advertise for consultants via the web and encourage our sales team to spread the word. And we include a note in every customer's purse mentioning our consulting opportunities. Turnover is high, so we're always on the lookout for new consultants.
Members of our production team also work independently from their homes. They pick up orders from the office on a weekly basis, sew the purses and accessories at their discretion, and return them by the date requested. This has been a great opportunity for those ladies to turn their hobby into a full-time living.
PURSEnally Yours has been successful in growing without much risk. Because everyone works as an independent contractor, the "office" is still located in my basement. And because our products are custom designed, the company carries virtually no overhead. The office also doubles as my warehouse.
More than 80 varieties of fabrics are numbered and lined up on shelves. Each week, my production leader (head seamstress) sends me an e-mail with all the orders that have been collected, and I fill totes with fabric for our cutters to pick up and return by the weekend. They'll cut the order per customer designs. Once they are returned, notions get added, and then they're ready for the seamstresses to pick up.
The excitement of PURSEnally Yours continues to spread as more women are exposed to the fun, fashionable concept of designing their own purses. Currently, we are on track to have our best year yet. The recession did slow us down a bit, so I expect this year to be closer to what I was anticipating in the second or third year of business. We tend to do about 65 percent of our sales during the fourth quarter. But based on our gross sales and continued expansion of our consulting crew, we hope to reach $250,000 by the end of the year.
Think Outside the Bag
Here are some tips detailing what I've found helpful in developing my company:
- Stay involved. I was so tired after the first full year of business that I passed along as much work as possible the next year. In doing so, however, I found myself frustrated because not everything was being done the way I thought it should be, such as communicating with salespeople and encouraging unique approaches to working with new consultants. I also noticed a decline in overall sales. Since it's my company, nobody was going to care more than I did. I quickly became fully engaged again. I believe that in time I will have the opportunity to be comfortable and less involved, but it wasn't meant to be in the second year of business.
- Be proactive. I did not need to make a big financial investment when launching Pursenally Yours. This made it easy to get started, but challenging when trying to promote my business. I knew the concept was great, as the feedback from customers and consultants was phenomenal. So I did some research, created a press release and started contacting local and national print and broadcast media. I went to them instead of waiting for them to come to me. I get a response about 30 percent of the time, which often turns into free exposure for the company.
- Change with the seasons. I see numerous designs from repeat customers throughout the year. This tells me that, as seasons change, so do purses. I make sure we continue to update our inventory by launching new fabrics every three months and a new product twice a year. Not only do ladies have the opportunity to design their own unique purses, but they can do it all year long. It's just as exciting for us as it is for the customers to see the new selections available.
- Give back. It's easy once the company grows and you start earning money to want to keep as much as you can. It's important, however, to make sure you take the time to give back. We have worked with numerous schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations to create FUNdraisers! It's an opportunity to share the concept of the company with others, while they enjoy raising money for their favorite organization. Hosting a purse party to raise money can certainly be more creative and memorable than flipping through a catalog to place an order.
I was a junior high English teacher before I had children. I didn't start PURSEnally Yours until both of my kids were born. I'm happy to report that I've been able to maintain my stay-at-home mom status while successfully growing and managing a nationwide business.
Natalie Zaun is the owner of PURSEnally Yours , specializing in custom purses, hip handbags and trendy totes. PURSEnally Yours operates in eight states and works with some 65 women who help sell, sew, cut and create the custom-designed products.