From Basement Selling to Big Box Selling

Last September I, Jamie Bird was sewing in my basement, which also served as my office, warehouse, shipping center, and business storage space. I was just grabbing my thread to start sewing a new batch of wet bags for next day shipment when my phone started ringing. This was my personal number, not the business line, so I did not answer but listened to the message being left. It was a big box store, calling because they wanted to test the Wet happened? wet bag. They wanted me to fly out to corporate headquarters and find out more information about the process.

At first I thought it was a joke, at the very least a scam. I mean, what small business gets a phone call from such a large corporation? Feeling very overwhelmed, I immediately called my good friend (and fellow SUP) Marina Westerdahl. She told me I would be crazy not to go; a week later I was on a plane. I will never forget the feeling of dread upon landing. My stomach hurt, and as I was trying to hold back the tears threatening to spill any minute I thought, “What in the world am I doing?” I was still sewing out of my basement. My first professional manufacturing run was in the process, but I did not have the first clue about outsourcing the labor of my wet bags, never mind dealing with large quantities or electronic ordering. The samples I brought with me were handmade and lacked the sleek packaging of many of the other brands out there. Yet, they still committed to trying it out.

Each step of the way has been a stumbling block. I had no experience dealing with EDI, import brokers, warehousing goods, etc. It may sound cliché, but remembering to take one small step at a time has helped me get through this process. To look at the whole picture almost gave me panic attacks (and still does). Only now can I look back at how I transformed my business from sewing in my basement to dealing on a larger scale and national platform.

A few terms of interest:

  • EDI- stands for “Electronic Data Interchange”. It is the electronic system of communication between businesses. Purchase orders, confirmation that the POs were received, and invoicing are just a few of the things done through EDI.
  • Pick and Pack-the warehouse picking out the products that will be shipped
  • Distribution Center- big box stores move product into a distribution center before shipping it to the actual store
  • Import Broker- if you are manufacturing overseas, it is the person responsible for clearing your goods through customs and getting them shipped to your warehouse
  • Insurance-some require certain insurance protection, between $2 and $5 million is standard.

When I heard 200 stores, it seemed easy since I already sold to 50. I mean, how hard could it be to add a few more? Little did I realize that big box is completely different than dealing with boutiques or online e-tailers. For example: if I am out of a certain stock position, I backorder and ship when it becomes available. Big Box lacks that flexibility. Shipping timelines are tight and orders need to be filled on time and be complete. I never realized this before, but big box retailers actually charge you back in those circumstances. I have a good friend that shipped an entire line of calendars three days late. She was charged more for the error than she made on the item.

Manufacturing was my first big challenge. How do I find a reliable company to produce the goods? I asked friends and other businesswomen and had samples made at seven various places. Each one did not work for some reason- either the cost of the item was higher than I wanted to pay, or the sample was poor quality. After many prayers, I feel blessed that I ended up finding a sourcing company in the States that works with a manufacturer in Hong Kong.  They guided me through the entire process of manufacturing to create an item that is shelf worthy.

Next was the product packaging. How could I grab the attention of customers with so many other great products on the shelf? They need to know what my item is and what it is used for immediately. I believe the time I was quoted was three seconds. I hired a graphic designer and she came up with a beautiful new design that I feel represents the product and explains what it is. This, too, had “inexperience bumps”. Testing out how large the band should be to fit securely around my product, what colors to use, where the various nuggets of information should be placed presented more challenges. Paying a designer by the hour, each change I made cost more money.

Fulfilling out of my basement was no longer a workable solution. Finding a warehouse that would deal with a small to medium size company without my getting lost in the shuffle was important to me. I needed someone that would help me understand the process and also keep me informed without having to track them down constantly. I simply do not have the time to micromanage. Finding a great warehouse took a lot of time and energy, but I am so grateful I found a reliable one with great customer service. It makes a difference.

The goods are made, the warehouse is set up. How do I get them from China? I needed an import broker. Long story short, I needed a small amount of Wet Happened? bags sent to me via airfreight very quickly so I needed to choose one. Clearing customs in one to two days was crucial to making my ship date. A good import broker will not only help clear customs, but also find the best percentage paid in terms of duties. Many import brokers I talked to were so vague about fees, bundling them up so they were hard to compare.  Once I found someone that listed the fees upfront, and was willing to explain each charge and timeline, I knew I was dealing with a reputable agent.

As a recap, this is the process thus far:

  • Finalizing the product, what I want it to look like
  • PO for manufacturing the Wet Happened? wet bags initiated by me
  • Manufacturer makes the goods
  • Import Broker gets goods into the states and overnights them to my warehouse
  • PO sent to me from big box via EDI
  • Warehouse receives packing lists from EDI and sends RTS (ready to ship) notice that my goods are ready for pick up
  • Goods are picked up from the warehouse
  • Advanced shipping notices are sent that the goods are on the way
  • Goods arrive at distribution centers, and then they are shipped out to each individual store

I have not even mentioned trademarking my name, coming up with the funding for 9000 pieces, buying barcodes, forming an LLC, setting up with an EDI provider, and getting business insurance. I always viewed (and still do!) myself as a mom working from the basement, so I never did the things I should have done initially to protect myself. Scrambling to get this all accomplished made the costs and stress level a bit higher that business owners that already have this in place. Where to begin was sometimes the hardest part. Not even knowing what to ask for, or where to go, presented a unique challenge many days. Just when all hope was lost, I would usually find someone that knew something about the situation at hand. Ask enough people, and someone eventually will know.

Finally, the inner struggle. Fairy Godmother Heather Ledeboer made a really great point when I was approached to do this. For my retailers, this is not a win-win situation. Once a product goes into big box, many times it loses marketability for online boutiques. I really struggled with what would happen to all the retailers with whom I had a relationship. After all, they helped me grow my business. I still am not really sure if it will hurt sales, but it is safe to say it was a big concern for me going forward with this.

It is hard to touch on everything involved, so this is just a brief overview of the journey I took.  It seems like every step of the way got more involved and more complicated. Ultimately, it is easier to sell high volumes in this capacity, but it does take some work to get it all set up.

While mine is certainly not the only way to experience this process, know that if I can do it so can you! One step at a time will help get you through the maze of trying to set your business up to sell big box.

What does Jamie say her experience has been like thus far?? My sales have been great- I sold about 75% more than they expected the first few weeks, and have remained well above thier expectations since. My stock was supposed to last 24 weeks; they bought all of it in the first three weeks! So, I am in the process of making more for the holidays. It has been so gratifying:-)

This post was sponsored by S. Joy Studios. Great and affordable design for web, blogs, print, and more!


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30 Responses to “From Basement Selling to Big Box Selling”

  1. Sarah Burns on October 9th, 2008 4:57 pm

    Wow! This is my dream. I’d love to find out the name of your sourcing agent.
    Congratulations! This was very inspiring.

    Sarah Burns

  2. susieshomemade on October 9th, 2008 5:25 pm

    This is some REALLY good information. Thanks for the post. I am bookmarking it right now.

    susieshomemades last blog post…Welcome to the Jungle

  3. Michelle McCullough on October 9th, 2008 6:31 pm

    What great information. I was just talking to my sister-in-law about getting into big box stores and suggested she come check out this article. Good luck, Jamie in all of your endeavors!

  4. Heather from Mom 4 Life on October 9th, 2008 11:12 pm

    I am proud of all you have done Jamie in such a short amount of time! Congratulations:)

  5. Jody Jonas on October 10th, 2008 5:32 pm

    Congratulations Jamie! I too have an opportunity with big box and am so scared, nervous and undecided. I would love to chat more with you, if you have a few extra minutes?!?……what’s that, right? You can contact me at 801-602-3886 or jody@babybamcollection.com or I would be more than happy to call or email you.
    Best of luck on the rest of your journey!!

  6. Heather Allard on October 10th, 2008 7:44 pm

    Yay, Jamie!!! I’m so happy for you. Enjoy this success you so deserve!

    Did Joyce create your packaging designs? Everything looked beautiful!

    Great job!

    Heather

  7. Jamie Bird on October 10th, 2008 11:29 pm

    Heather-yes, Joyce did do that! THANK YOU so much for the referral. She was awesome and I have already referred her to at least three people. A big thank you also for your advice and guidance. It was nice to have someone to turn to in the beginning who had been there, done that. I do apologize for not giving you a shout on in the article. It is hard to touch on just how many people helped me through this process!

    Thanks for all your well wishes and congrats:-)

  8. Karen St.Clair on October 11th, 2008 4:10 am

    Hi Jamie,
    First Congratulations ! Your story gives me hope.
    I was going to pack it in this year.
    But you know the old saying “Quitters never win and Winners never Quit”
    I took all those steps you did finding someone overseas ,getting a import broker,
    hiring a designer for my product,website designer,etc.
    After lots of time and money I’m stuck on how to market my product.
    How did you grow?
    Currently I sell Wett Giggles on line.
    Wett Giggles is natural glycerine soap witha toy/nail brush attached.

    I was able to find a soap company in the US to help me make the hand made soaps…..The toys/nail brush are from overseas.
    I’ couldn’t find one company in the US to produce the toys I needed.

    So the toys arrive from overseas and I add the soap here in the US.

    I need some with growing my business.
    Any suggestions?

    Thanks

    Karen

  9. Robin Higgins on October 11th, 2008 7:45 am

    Congratulations Jamie! Great information, dreams do come true some faster then others.Good Luck!

  10. Karen St.Clair on October 11th, 2008 11:45 am

    Hi Jamie,
    First congratulations! You are very inspiring.
    I took the same steps as you only I work from my attic.
    My company is call Wett Giggles.
    It’s natural gylcerine with a toy/nail brush for kids.

    It’s been a long process…..The toys are shipped from overseas
    and I add the soap in the US.

    Finding a toy maker overseas,getting a import
    broker,designer,finding someone in the US to make the soaps ,website etc…
    Has been a bit taxing.

    Right now I’m stuck on how to grow my business with limited funds.
    Any suggestions?

    Thanks for your time.

    Karen

  11. Sarah Burns on October 12th, 2008 1:47 pm

    Aloha Jamie, I received your email and wrote you back. Be sure to check your spam box. Mahalo for contacting me!

    Sarah

    Sarah Burnss last blog post…BabyMomento Giveaway: Eco-Friendly Personalized Cards CLOSED

  12. Heather Allard on October 13th, 2008 11:14 am

    Jamie,

    Seeing you succeed is all the “shout out” I need. If you meet any other “Mogul Moms” who might benefit from my blog, just send ‘em over.

    Please do keep in touch…maybe I can interview you for my “Mogul Mom” feature?

    Heather Allard
    The Mogul Mom

  13. Courtney Velasquez on October 13th, 2008 6:47 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! Your story reminds me of the fear I have for a big box retailer approching me to sell my changing clutches in their store. It frightens me and at the same time it seems super exciting!

  14. Jamie Bird on October 13th, 2008 10:00 pm

    You know I would love an interview, Heather! I would be honored:-)

    Next step: licensing. I might be in contact with you about that! Going that route really appeals to me.

  15. Marina Westerdahl on October 15th, 2008 5:57 am

    Jamie,
    I’m so proud of you! This whole article you wrote was amazing and so informative. You truly are an inspiration to me. You go girl! :)
    -Marina

  16. Debbie Savage on October 15th, 2008 10:28 am

    You are so awesome! I was visiting my family in Utah a couple weeks ago and noticed your beautiful product at the Target store in South Jordan. I am so dang proud of you! Keep it up girl!

  17. Yolonda Habimana on October 16th, 2008 8:19 pm

    Jamie, A BIG Congratulations on your success!! Your story really lifted my spirits tonight as I was reading it and encouraged me to keep pushing forward with my business. I really think your product is awesome too!

    My product is called ‘The Habipad’ and it’s the trendy new way to change on the go! We’re in the process of trying to find reputable manufacturing overseas and I would really appreciate any advice you could give me.

    My email is yhabimana@habipadcover.com, I would love to get a chance to talk to you , if you have a moment.

    Miracles and Blessings,
    Yolonda

  18. Jeff Eaves on October 17th, 2008 4:05 am

    I feel lucky to find your site today. I have sold to many Big Box store chains with startup, small or medium sized businesses over the last 12 years. I have been working on putting together a site for helping anyone to get started on this process too, as you know it can seem overwhelming. I am from Canada so exporting was a critical issue as well to the US. You’ve got a great story. My experience is in Lawn and Garden, Hardware mostly where I’ve listed over 50 skus. I am going to follow your work, and dont hesitate to contact me for any little advice or idea I could share.

  19. Angie Beermann on October 17th, 2008 1:30 pm

    jamie, you deserve this success more than anyone i know! congratulations and thanks for always being there for me with my many questions :)
    Angie

  20. Jamie Bird on October 23rd, 2008 7:31 am

    Angie, Debbie, Heather, Marina–all of you have been there since the beginning. Thanks for supporting me through this whole process. It has been fun to grow together. I would not have my sanity in tact without you guys! :-)

  21. Wendy Shumate on November 1st, 2008 8:09 am

    Thank you for writing the article. It was very helpful.

    I am currently in the process of trying to get a clothing item manufactured. Would you be kind enough to tell me the name of your sourcing company that had connections in China?

    Also, how did you figure what was a fair price for manufacturing each item? The prices quoted to me in the United States so far have been very disappointing and there seems to be no pattern as to what is charged.

  22. Jamie Bird on November 2nd, 2008 12:00 pm

    Hello Wendy!

    I would love to speak with you! Do you mind emailing me at info at minimebabygear dot com? I would love to hear what you are doing, and see if I can offer some help!:-)

  23. Lisa Finlayson on July 27th, 2010 4:08 pm

    This is just what I was looking for, thank you.I am in the process of trying to find a reliable source to manufacture my product. Can you tell me the name of your source company that you used in china?

  24. Danielle Dollinger on March 8th, 2011 2:02 pm

    I am an internal representative and I am looking for people such as Jeff Eaves to interview. My company is looking to interview external representatives’ familiar with big box stores such as Lowes to represent our client.

  25. BabyMommy on April 28th, 2011 5:35 pm

    Congratulations Jamie,

    We are trying to do something similar. Recently, my husband and I have started a website called Cutesiebaby.com. It gets daily updated with online deals on baby products. One day we dream of becoming big, just as you did!

  26. Jane on August 21st, 2011 1:26 pm

    Hi Jamie

    Love your story, and it gave me so much inspiration.

    I am currently getting my product sample manufactured overseas and so my next step is going to be selling to boutiques and on-line retailers… I was wondering if you could answer me a few questions being that you sold to 50 different companies yourself. I want to prepare a great presentation when I go and talk to them, but I want to be prepared. I want to bring my samples with me to get pre-orders so that when my order comes in, I’ll be able to collect right away once I ship them out. I should maybe explain that I designed a new type of children’s coat that will sell in 3 sizes and 3/4 different colours to start. How much of a discount should I offer my clients if they order what I want to call a “set-up package” (36 coats to start so 3/4 of each size and colour). In other words, what should my suggested retail price be at this type of order? And if they choose to re-order in the future only certain sizes and smaller amounts, should my discount change. What do you do when your clients re-order. Do you require a minimum amount? Do you require they order a certain amount in a set amount of time to continue getting the discount. Also, do you require a minimum amount for free shipping or do you offer that already?
    I appreciate your time and respect your opinion.

    Also, do you recommend any on-line boutiques that would be great for a mom starting off a business where maybe I could sell my products through their website and they would just take a reasonable cut? or maybe they would be interested in purchasing new products to sell. I would like some companies I can trust.

    Thanks.
    Jane

  27. Connie Brindell on May 9th, 2012 1:17 am

    Hi Jamie, Congratulations on your success!! I”m just getting started in my “basement” and entering my niche market –have so many questions and feelings of overwhelm with what is ahead – sourcing fabrics with limited income is the current challenge, Thinking creatively and carving out time -like this moment in finding startupprinces. So happy that you shared your story and looking forward to devouring all the info available thru startupprinces. I need a coach, a mentor, a fairy god mother? So much to learn. Marketing, overseas mfg., head is swimming, any and all suggestions are welcomed. Thank you

  28. Melissa Bambrg on June 17th, 2012 7:50 pm

    Hello!
    Thank you for your story! As you mention, this process is overwhelming. I have a patent pending pillow accessory and have NO idea what to do next. I have a working prototype I made, beyond that I am at a loss. Do you have a book, person, or company you recommend as next step?
    THANK YOU so much!

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