Christine Syquia contacted me about starting a column on Entrepreneurs-Journey. I asked what business experience she brought to the table and she quickly impressed me with her story of starting a million dollar accessories business with her sister, with distribution in some of the largest fashion stores in the USA.
I know you’re going to enjoy what Christine has to offer because she has stories from running a real world business selling real physical products – fashion accessories. Christine has some great advice to share for any entrepreneur, and she’s starting today with a brief background story and some business mantras worth living by. Here we go…
Eight years ago, my sister and I began a journey which took us around the globe many times over and catapulted our product into the hands of many devoted fans. This is my story about my company and the invaluable lessons I learned along the way.
My name is Christine and I was the co-owner of a handbag company called charm and luck. My sister Jenny and I owned the company and in our official titles, she was the Designer and I was the Sales Director. Once we started growing and had a staff, I would privately refer to myself as the ‘babysitter’, but more on that in later posts.
Both of us had backgrounds in fashion. I worked in management for Nordstrom while I put myself through college. My sister took a job at Vogue Magazine after she graduated from college.
While working at Nordstrom, I felt as if my life was literally passing me by. It was mandatory that all management had to sell, so I would spend the majority of my time on the sales floor interacting with customers and overseeing my sales team. I was envious of the freedom of the customers who would breeze in and out of the store on a weekday afternoon. I could not stomach the thought that I could possibly spend my entire career working for one company.
Starting A Business
I always had wanted to have my own business so I could have the freedom to do whatever I wanted. From time to time, I would look into various opportunities – flipping real estate, buying a franchise, consulting – but ultimately they did not appeal to me for one reason or another.
It was during a trip to the Philippines that I began to think about importing to the US as I saw many handicrafts that were made and sold for pennies. I mentioned it to my sister Jenny, and soon after we decided to start our own business.
We chose to work with accessories because their fit is universal. Clothes need to be graded and the minimums per size can be high. Shoes are difficult and risky since they require experience to get the fit correct. With accessories, any woman can throw a purse over her shoulder, look in a mirror, and decide if she likes it or not. And it was a good time to enter the accessories market; when we started, the accessories market was enjoying double-digit growth increases year after year.
We picked a company name and were off and running. Our initial business plan included our major goals but we did not do profit projections because I personally felt that was a waste of time. We both knew where we wanted to be, but writing down on a piece of paper that we wanted to make $250K in Year 1 felt futile to me as mere speculation.
My partner and I were very clear on one thing: we wanted the company to make money so we could have financial freedom. We were devoted to doing whatever it took to get us to the next level, and that is part of the reason the company was successful. We sacrificed personally to see our company grow.
As the company expanded, I would often see individuals or companies who were struggling to get off the ground. My general business mantras included the following:
Action Attracts Action
- Even if your business plan is not ready, or your bio is not perfect, or your blog needs work, that does not mean you shouldn’t launch your company. I see many individuals who want to start their companies but hold back because their plans are not perfect. Things will never be perfect.During our first three years, we changed our logo three times. We re-did our website four times. We kept changing and improving when we had the funds and time to do so. But in the beginning, we knew we needed to get out there and get our company off the ground, so we hit the ground running. Many times we figured things out along the way.
Course Correct If You Need To
- Do not be overly focused on doing a task one way. Often when running a business, a new technique, program or product will come up which can help you. Always listen and, if need be, change your course. If it can save you time, money or get you more sales, then try it out. I have observed many a business owner who is so rigid and not open to new ideas that it ultimately hurts them.
- An example of us course correcting was a particular trade show in Boston. After I arrived and set up our booth, I realized that it was not the show for us to do. Unfortunately I was booked to work at that trade show for a week straight. I felt like I was back at my old management job with time passing me by.My partner called with news of a great opportunity to meet with a major buyer in New York immediately. I course corrected by paying my neighbor at the trade show to watch my booth and left for NY for a couple of days.Now, that is not something I recommend you do but I saw the opportunity for something I knew could be huge for us and I took it. I could have stayed at that dinky trade show and maybe made a couple hundred dollars or maybe a thousand. Who knows? But by going to NY, I sealed the deal of getting us into a major department store with locations throughout the US.
Research Your Competitors
- This is something a lot of new companies do not do. You need to figure out who your competition is and what they are doing.Business plans always look at the top three or five competitors, but I urge you to take a hard look at your top twenty competitors. Look at their distribution, their branding, their website, their customers and especially their sales funnels. Do your research online and see what keywords pop up for the website and see how many hits they get monthly from Alexa.We always checked out our handbag competitors to see who was buying their product, which sales reps were repping them, who their publicists were, etc. This type of research was invaluable as we were able to model the processes that other larger companies had in place to help us with our growth strategies.
Starting a business can be the most rewarding thing you will ever do in your life. It can also be the biggest mistake. I would urge you to really examine your life, personality and most importantly, your work ethic and be real with yourself to see if you are truly up for the task.
It requires an enormous amount of effort, discipline and self-motivation to be your own boss. But, as I wrote, for me it was the most amazing experience as I was able to visit places, meet people that I would not have met and ultimately, grew personally in ways I would never have dreamed of. This would not have happened if I had stayed on my management career path.
Next I will be writing on how we chose our company name and the adventure I went on to have our first products made.