One of the key advantages to “crafting” a product that people around you request is that it puts you next to the customer. That direct connection offers real-time access to feedback, improvement and future product ideas—all critical factors for startup success.
Teajai (TJ) Kimsey, owner of Annique’s Nook in Kansas, created her first product to solve a family need and before long, she was doing the same for others. As a working mom with a daughter active in competitive cheering, having the right shoes to transition from school to practice created a lot of household stress. Leveraging her sewing background, she created shoe covers that quickly converted a pair of specialty shoes into something that could go from gym to car to competition without compromising the integrity of the high dollar cheer shoes. That elegant and functional solution was noticed by other team families and before long she was sewing up shoe covers for other girls on the squad.
Later the same year (2012), she made a cheerleading doll outfit to match her daughter’s uniform and, as with the shoe covers, the requests started pouring in.
TJ realized she didn’t just have a hobby, but a business idea and she created an account on Etsy in January 2013 to test the national waters. By the end of the year, 95% of her business came through Etsy and she was revenue positive.
The most important thing to keep in mind says TJ “is Etsy is a great distribution channel, but it still comes down to your ability to market the product.” Her first order took five months to come in. During that time, she was busy promoting her line.
Prior to the Nook, TJ ran a web development business with 14 employees. That experience was directly transferrable to her new one as she used Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Manta to promote products to her current following with almost daily updates. She used a small budget of paid advertising on Facebook and Google along with content driven SEO to introduce her products to new potential customers.
While orders came in TJ paid close attention to the feedback of her customers. The cheer shoe covers went through several versions based on customer needs to arrive at the current version. Customer communication is vital even today. To that end, TJ recently added chat to her website to help her stay close to her customers. That proved prescient when she could use her cellphone to livechat with her customers during a recent storm that left her area without electricity for two days.
Today, Annique’s products can be purchased on Etsy and a dedicated website and her business is split 50%/50% between the two sites. This former consignment shop owner, Sears Department Manager and Web Marketing owner has recreated herself again.
Now that she is dressing dolls and keeping cheer shoes in top condition with customized products, her next target is the cheerleaders themselves who TJ says “are ready for some big, honking bows” along with other products targeted to tweens.
AnnMarie Quintaglie McIlwain is a former marketing executive with Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and consultant to several Fortune 100 companies. Now, as Founder and CEO of CareerFuel.net, she is a social entrepreneur who connects people with the information and inspiration they need in order to get jobs and start businesses. CareerFuel is the only site that gives people what they need to know to find jobs or start businesses plus blogs and short films about real people who made it happen.
A recipient of numerous civic and leadership awards, AnnMarie is a Board member of CFIRA.org, was a participant in the first White House Entrepreneurial Session, the recent WeOwnIt Summit, and the first Alley to the Valley Event. She is also a member of 85Broads and Startup America.
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