Little For Now - Retailer's Business Grows with Ingenuity and Hard Work
Little for Now natural parenting store is an online retailer offering eco-friendly and attachment-parenting products. Little for Now is a one-stop shop for cloth diapers and accessories, baby carriers, and slings. Julie Renee Holland shares how her little business grew through many changes!
When and how did you get started in children’s retail?
I started out selling used children’s items on eBay. Before long I realized this was just not a sustainable business for me and I needed to find sources for wholesale children’s products. I started selling natural and eco-friendly products for babies, including cloth diapers. Eight months later I opened my Web store with cloth diapers as the focus of the business.”
What was your background prior to this business?
I have done many things over the years, from starting one of the first personal chef businesses in the Washington, DC area at the ripe age of 24 to managing marketing and public relations for a scientific trade association. When I moved back to Utah I found that my skills were seriously undervalued in this area, so I decided to go into business for myself again. If I had realized how hard I would work over the last few years, I think I would have looked harder for a job. Being in retail has been one of the hardest things I have done in business, but the rewards are also great.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting up?
Capital, capital, capital. I have bootstrapped this business from the beginning. That has been both a challenge and a blessing. It has forced me to really evaluate what is important to me in this business. I also manufacture some of the things I sell. Manufacturing on a micro scale was really borne out of the need to stock more items than I could afford to buy wholesale. There are an estimated 750 cloth diaper retailers in the US and Canada. I knew that if I wanted to be a player in this very crowded landscape, I had to have inventory and I had more time and creativity than money. So I set out to create products I loved. One of my first products continues to be the best-selling. A year after starting Little for Now I purchased Sheepish Grins, a very small wholesale wool and skin care product line, because I needed a more consistent supplier for wool care products. Sheepish Grins products are synergistic with Little for Now products. While Little for Now would have grown a lot faster with more capital, having to spend smarter, not faster has also been an asset. When you have to think about where every dollar goes, you don’t waste money or buy superfluous inventory.”
What is one thing you would have done differently?
I spread myself too thin many times and that has hindered the growth of the business. When someone asks me for advice now, I tell them to pick one or two things they are really passionate about and start there. The same applies to marketing. Pick one or two ways to market and devote your resources there. When you spread your resources too thin, you miss out on good opportunities because you are too exhausted or too broke to take advantage of them.”
What do you feel are the three biggest keys to your businesses’ success?
- Creativity. The ability to think on my feet has been crucial to business growth. This applies to finding ways to get the best bang for our buck as well as how to market well or create new products.
- Hard work. Since my entire business is built on sweat equity, working hard has been very important. I have put in as many as 100 hours some weeks. While I do not recommend burning yourself out, when there is a crisis, you need to be ready to roll up your sleeves. Aspiring online retailers sometimes ask me how quickly they can start paying themselves a healthy salary while working during their baby’s naps. That just is not realistic.
- Research. I have no idea how many thousands of hours I have spent on research, but it probably makes up 10 percent of my work week. In the beginning it was probably double that. I know my products inside and out. I know who else is out there, what they sell, how much it costs, what kind of traffic they get, what customers are looking for, how to market effectively. Research pays off. We are having our third straight year of growth even in a bad economy.”
What types of marketing are most effective for your business?
Since this is a bootstrap business, I chose to use my writing background to bring in traffic rather than relying on paid advertising. I write a lot of high-quality articles that link back to my site. I also write my own copy for nearly every single product. This really helps with search engine optimization, but it also takes me much longer to list new products.”
How do you evaluate and choose new product lines to pick up?
I have learned to discriminate. In the beginning I used the spaghetti method. I threw all kinds of things at the wall to see what would stick. Now I ask if it fits our overall product mix, if I love it, and if it is something that would appeal to my customers. Just because a product does well for someone else does not mean it will sell at all for us. We attend the ABC Kids Show each year to learn about new products and network with manufacturers and other retailers. Last year we went to the show three weeks before my daughter was born. It paid off for us by allowing me to meet some key players and we scored 3 accounts we had been working on for a long time.”
Do “green” or eco-friendly concerns weight into your business decisions, and if so, how?
Absolutely. Our whole business is built on eco-friendly products. I can’t sell cloth diapers and with a straight face also offer cheap plastic toys, for instance. I also look at ways to do business with integrity and reduce consumption by printing on recycled paper, offering electronic paperwork wherever possible, and recycling shipping materials.”
What is one trend you’re currently seeing with customers?
While cloth diapering already saves a lot of money, customers are looking to save even more by buying the “right” diaper or choosing one-size diapers. They will do more research before buying to be sure they are not wasting money. They also appreciate my in-depth knowledge of products so they can get their questions answered and feel like they are making an informed decision. They want to feel like they are buying smart.”
How does your business make use of the Internet?
We are almost entirely Internet-based. In the last six months there has been an increase in local traffic, but I focused on building an online presence before I started to advertise at all locally. It just fit with what was happening in my life at that point. For brick and mortars, I would advise to get a web presence quickly. You need to be there, in the right way, before someone else is. Customers are using the Internet to find local stores.”
What is one change/addition that’s had a positive impact for your business in the last year?
Developing a clear vision of what I wanted for the business. I had a moment of truth last summer when I was very sick during my pregnancy and my sewing contractor announced that she was going to launch a competing business. Then she offered to buy Little for Now for more than I thought I could get for it at the time. While at first it seemed like a way out of the hard work while my health was compromised, it made me evaluate what my vision was for this company. I was not ready to give it up and I turned down the offer. My profits have increased substantially as I have trimmed away products that are not working and added others that make more sense.”
If you had one piece of advice for someone entering children’s retail today, what would it be?
Research like crazy, then decide who you are going to be when you grow up. While it takes time for any business to develop a personality, starting out with a clear vision makes it so much easier to figure out where you are going. Even if you rethink that direction from time to time, you will make much greater strides if you have an idea where you want to go. You can’t be Walmart, Walmart got there first. Instead, be who you are. Let your business be different. If you stand out in the crowd and meet a unique need, you’ll stick in a customer’s mind and eventually develop a place in their buying habits.”
Visit Little for Now at www.littlefornow.com.