Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs: Bonnie Matthews, Founder of Blu Pony Vintage!
Bonnie shares with us her road to becoming an entrepreneur as well as some great tips on starting your own business.
Blu Pony Vintage, launched in March 2010 in South Pasadena, California. Blu Pony is fine apparel for lucky girls and boys. American Vintage. American made.
‘Ah ha’ moment that led to launching the business: I did a photo shoot with my collection of vintage kids clothes and showed the images around and people were wanting to buy the clothes from the images without having seen them in person. I was thinking I would only sell vintage clothes, but the reaction was so positive I blindly went into manufacturing.
Ideal customer: When I started my business plan I thought I had really only one type of customer: the “my kid doesn’t follow the crowd” buyer. But as the collection got into boutiques, I found that not only did I have the fashion forward crowd but I also had the nostalgic and romantic buyer. Parents were excited to see clothes that were wholesome and embraced the innocence of a child.
Landing first customer: I sent out catalogues to stores I wanted to be in and followed up with a call or email. The first few really bought the line without seeing samples, but I did schedule showings to get into the other stores.
Measuring Success: My first trade show and real launch was at the ENK NY trade show at the Javits Center in New York City. I had a 5 x 5 booth and was surrounded by booths with little beauty pageant dresses. My booth was so small that any time someone stepped in I had to step out. But I left with seven new stores and the same number in press write-ups.
Biggest Struggle: Finances. I have been running this business with personal/family funds and while I have been able to survive I am unable to grow as quickly as I would like. So the next step is a business loan. I don’t want to survive. I want to succeed. .
Surprise!: What a secret society the fashion world is. I will tell you this: the really good people don’t advertise. It’s all referrals.
Getting Sales: Amazing images. I come from the photography world and nothing sells an item better then a really amazing picture of it. Moms have also been a key part to my success. Get a mom to love your product and she will spread the word!
What I wish I would’ve known: Someone else in the business I could have consulted. I do have a consultant for the business part — but not the design side. I would have loved that. My husband would have loved that, too.
What keeps you up at night (business-wise!)?: Meeting my goals. I obsess over it. “How can I reach the store I want to be in another way? How can I grow without spending the dollars to do so?” And the fact that it always seems like its Wednesday already. Where does the week go?
Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job?: Yes. In the beginning I would lay down and say to myself that I can’t do this and how am I going to bring in some money? And then I’d hear an email come in and it’d be a store contacting me for an order. Those little gifts really kept me going in the beginning. I also think of Napoleon Hill and the “three feet” theory. Most people stop just before they succeed.
Moving Forward: Tripling in numbers. For Fall I will for the first time be in three showrooms: LA, New York and Dallas. All prior sales have been by my fortitude. With this added sales force, I feel confident about reaching my goal.
Pricing, Getting it Right: Research and know what your margins are. Know how much of a margin you need to make it. You need to include everything. Don’t guess at it. Take the time and really know your numbers.
Funding: A really amazing business plan. Mine took two months to complete and I did it through my local SBDC. It is free. From there I showed it to family and received my initial start up funds.
A Few Good Tips: I had this problem and then someone I’m helping launch their line also had this: Name conflict. If you want to grow your business globally, you had better be sure that no one in your same industry has your name. Check the USPTO website. A great resource.
The absolute best part of owning my business is: Having my hands in everything. My success or failure is all due to my effort. In the morning I say to myself, “You want this? Well get up and get it done.”
If I had to start over again, I would: Pushed myself harder in the beginning. I was a little scared of the unknown and would delay things because it was so unfamiliar to me. Such a waste of time.
I never imagined: Finding a really good pattern maker would be so difficult.
If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout: “It’s scary, I know. But what’s more scary is saying ‘What if?’”