Exclusively Kristen was born out of necessity: there were few brands that made quality shirts for large-busted women. I had a great concept for an underserved population of women, but very little money. Quality and fit are of the utmost importance to my company, so I had to be creative in order to provide good quality products but also save money. Below are some helpful suggestions on how to maintain quality on a shoestring budget.
There are many website developers that will try to sell you a custom website, which can run a few to several thousand dollars. Unless you anticipate a lot of traffic (1,000+ hits per day plus A LOT of sales), you should hold off on a custom website. Instead, ask a developer to work from a template and build your website from platforms such as Shopify or WordPress (both of which are popular with Shark Tank contestants). Be sure to ask the developer his/her hourly rate plus an approximation of how long it will take him/her to build the site. This will save you thousands of dollars. Shopify has its own maintenance, hosting, and credit card processing capabilities that is built into their monthly fee for your particular plan. However, if you build a custom website you will have to pay for hosting, maintenance, and work with a credit card processing company. Credit card processing companies charge a smaller percentage per transaction (good for high volume sales) than PayPal or Shopify, but most have a monthly fee, as well other fees listed in the fine print. These could include an end of the year fee or fees for not meeting their minimum monthly processing quota. Credit card processing companies also require that companies allow direct debit from their business bank accounts and will raid it unbeknownst to you in order to get their fees. As a small business owner with limited capital, I don’t like surprises when it comes to my money!
I live in NYC, so I have access to many fabric wholesalers. When I need fabric, I go to the larger fabric stores that tend to be more expensive but have a vast inventory in order to get swatches of what I want. Then, I’ll show the swatches to the smaller stores in the Garment District to see if they have them in stock and haggle for the best price. I will then take a swatch of the smaller store’s fabric that matches mine with their card and the price per yard stapled together and then move on to the next store. Once I’ve gone to all of the stores, I will return to the one that had the closest match and the cheapest price. This may not be worth your time if you only need a yard or two, but note that that yard or two may turn into 100+ yards for your production run, so it’s best to put in the legwork early and definitely inquire if they always have that fabric in stock. If you don’t live in LA or NYC, many fabric wholesalers have sales reps based in different parts of the country.
This is tricky, because you usually get what you pay for. Maker’s Row is an excellent resource for pattern makers and manufacturers, and I love that designers can review their services. Contact vetted factories and ask for their prices at different quantities (example: quantity 50, 100, 250, 500) and other services such as grading, sample patterns, samples, etc. Note that you can always try to negotiate a cheaper price. If you have a large wholesale order but not enough money for production, you can show the factory the order and ask if they will accept payment once you are paid by the buyer. However, this usually only works with factories that you have an established relationship with.
Marketing is expensive! When I started Exclusively Kristen I had a very small marketing budget. I used Google AdWords but then my budget for that ran out. With $0 to advertise I had to think of creative ways to get the word out about my business.
Marketing postcards: I always carry 3”x5” marketing postcards with me and hand them to women who fit my company’s target demographic whether it’s on the subway, in a park or in a store. I also leave them on the bulletin boards of local stores (with the owner’s permission). I sell items that are separate from Exclusively Kristen on Ebay and will send a marketing postcard with each order.
Social media: Social media is free but make sure that you are posting useful content such as promotions, style guides, your blog, fashion articles, etc. Stay away from always posting ads for your business; that is the fastest way to get unfollowed.
Trunk shows: I just had a trunk show at Brazen Bras in NJ and the only costs that I incurred were the rental car fee, gas, and tolls. The shop owner allowed me to sell my items directly to the trunk show attendees at my retail price, but some owners want the sale to go through their shop and will then pay you the wholesale price. Trunk shows are great because you get access to the shop’s clientele and can show your products directly to potential customers. You may even get a future wholesale order from the shop owner.
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