Thursday, March 19, 2009

Retail Therapy

Q U I C K - - F A C T S
Owner: Brooke Kotarides
Launched October 16, 2008
# of employees: Just me for now! But luckily I have lots and lots of help from my family and friends…So I guess I could say me + 20 employees if I was actually paying them for all their hard work!
How many hours do you work/week? Pretty much whenever I can. I also work a full-time day job, but my office has been so supportive, amazing about giving me flexibility to work on things during the day, or take off days when I need to for trade shows, etc. So I’ve been able to balance it! But basically it’s whenever I can, which ends up being 40+ hours a week every night, and weekends!
Did you write a business plan? Not an official one, no.
First sale: My mom. She said she had to be the first one!
Links: & Facebook page

>> Think you're ready to run an online shop?

1. What's the concept behind your shop?
I started the shop because I wanted to provide an outlet for inspiration, but I also wanted to present the "small-town" boutique that everyone could have access to. Thus why I started the business online first.

>> click here to continue reading about madison belle

Concept behind the shop:
madison belle was created for those who adore decorating, entertaining, gift giving, and creating.

The shop’s products range from country inspired styles to vintage, modern, shabby chic, and more. We encourage an eclectic mix. The idea is that you find things that express you and they all work together to become your style, and yours only!

And, at madison belle, you can do this without breaking the bank! We aim to keep things at a reasonable cost so that you can afford to decorate and gift-give the way you want to, without making that savings account disappear.

** Use promocode "heart10" and receive 10% off your purchase **

1. pillows by hable construction – ranging $79-95
2. cupcake tea towel by artgoodies - $15.00
3. owl pitcher - $12
4. country day apron by funktion - $37
5. sticky chewy messy gooey cookbook from chronicle books - $22.95
6. “bliss” vase by beth mueller pottery - $18
7. enamelware towel bin - $14.00
8. take out menu organizer from knock knock - $20

2. How did you come up with the name? Can you share 3 other names that were close runner ups or ones that would have been disastrous in hindsight?

Oh gosh. I went through an insanely long list before settling on madison belle. I always wanted to have a shop with the name bella in it (means beautiful in Italian, and being Italian, that held a special place in my heart!), but come to find out, after researching, I found that almost every boutique out there had bella in the name. So I instantly shortened it to belle (beautiful in French!)

Madison is a shout-out to my college, James Madison University in Virginia...
to my friends there...and to the person I became from that experience.

But another fun fact is that my boyfriend went to University of Wisconsin- Madison, so it has a dual special meaning to me!

3. Name one thing that completely took you by surprise when you first started the shop - something that neither biz how-to books or any "SCORE" workshop prepared you for.

Sales Tax! Collecting tax is a completely different process online than it is in a store. You only charge sales tax based on where it is shipped to, if that is the state where the business is located. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how all this works. Especially for NY because NY does not have a set sales tax rate, it is different per county! I called the Tax Dept countless times, but it would have helped a lot to have that explained in person to me in a class, or a book!

4. Where there any stand out books, resources or tools that were really helpful during the planning phase or even up until now?

Not specifically. I tried to read books and articles online or check out forums, but they didn't really tell me what I wanted to know. Honestly, I think having worked in “corporate America” and learning how business works in general, helped me the most. I think that gave me the confidence to understand, anticipate, and organize.

5. How long did it take you to set up the shop? Start from the day you said to yourself I'm opening a shop to the day your site launched.

Let's see...I started conceptualizing madison belle probably a year and a half to two years before I actually launched the store. That consisted of mostly researching, researching, researching, and saving money. Once the money factor was in order the whole thing came together rather quickly. I think it was only three months from when I ordered my products, got my site up, and launched!

6. Running an online shop means constantly wearing different hats. Here's how Brooke ends up spending most of her time:

1. This advice was given to me and I am so thankful for it...When first starting out, just stick with ordering the minimum. You may want to order 100 of something just because you *think* it might be a great seller, but come to find out, it just isn't. It's much easier to have 2 of something and re-order more later once you know your shoppers are into it, than have 100 items lying around that don't sell.

2. I've learned that buying for an online business is actually a lot different than buying for a brick & mortar. I didn't realize that going into it. I don't have a brick & mortar just yet, but I can imagine that some items that may not sell on the website would easily sell in the store...because they are items that someone in a store could easily pick up, rather than pay shipping & handling for it. This lesson has helped me focus my ordering, moving forward.

3. Go with your gut. Don't try to appeal to everyone. Stick with what you love, and others will love it too!

7. Please allocate % of time you spend on the following activities (totaling 100%)
10% Buying
10% Marketing & Promo
25% Production & Operations (photos for site, hang-tags, display)
5% Customer Service
25% Fulfillment/Shipping
25% Accounting/Billing/Finances

>> So you think your goods are perfect for madison belle?

8. Do most of the other designers you carry approach you, or do you actively seek out new designers/crafters? If so, where?

I initially sought out most of the designers that the shop carries. This is because I did so much research before I started ordering that I basically had in mind everything I wanted to feature from the get-go! I would attend all sorts of craft shows in NYC, like the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn for example...I would search etsy constantly...oh, and of course attend the tradeshows. And I read blogs too since there are so many great ones out there featuring new designers constantly!

Once I got a feeling of what was out there and what kind of products I wanted to buy in order to create the aesthetic of the shop, I was able to reach out to those designers and place my orders! But it really does help when people approach me about their products, or introduce me to their friends’ products! Because even though the research never ends, sometimes things get super busy and I miss something lovely. So I’m glad that someone brought it to my attention!

9. What is your process in choosing merchandise and what 3 things can artists do to stand out in your mind?

When choosing merchandise I first ask if it will fit into the aesthetic of the shop, and then I go with my instinct on the item.

I think something that stands out to me is if the product is made well. Yes, it could be the cutest thing ever but if it looks like it's been thrown together, I can't justify selling it to my customers.

Also, the way a designer presents an item, for example, its packaging, stands out to me. I’m a sucker for great packaging…and I know my customers are going to enjoy those little details too. That is why shopping handmade or from boutiques is so special, you can’t just get those details at Target!
10. If Oprah decided to give you $10,000 tax free for your business, but you had to spend it in one week, what would you do with it?

Ah! I would put the money towards opening a brick & mortar immediately!!!!

11. What's one lesson that you've learned so far that you wish someone would've told you before you started your own business?

I wish someone would have given me this quote or reiterated this to me before I started!!! I think when deciding to start a business, you begin with this idea in your mind of what you are trying to create and what you want the results to be. I think that kind of motivates you to get to your end result. And that is necessary, and important, of course…but, I think it can only be a guideline. In the meantime things you never expected to happen start happening, and the business begins to change on its own! So instead of crossing off those to-do list items and wishing to get to the next finished result, I now try to enjoy the process. It would have helped knowing ahead of time that this is the way it is because I would have saved myself a lot of sleepless nights staying up trying to finish something that doesn’t even matter now months later.

** Use promocode "heart10" and receive 10% off your purchase **

Thanks Brooke!!


Banana-head Pancake said...

looks like a great store and a great interview!

LOLAFALK said...

What a cute site - very well laid-out and such a well-edited selection of housewares. I want one of everything! Definitely bookmarking it for future shopping.