by Sara Tams of sarah + abraham
I was in Stacy Amoo-Mensah‘s beautiful design studio recently (oohing and ahhing at everything, of course!), and I noticed some printouts of a few of the fabric designs that she created exclusively for a local company, Itzy Ritzy (the fabrics will be available on their products sometime this summer).
I had heard of Itzy Ritzy through Daily Candy and was curious to find out more about the company and the steps that co-owner Kelly Douglas is taking to grow the business.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Itzy Ritzy.
I’m a mother to two sweet little girls and the co-CEO of Itzy Ritzy. I grew up in Naperville (a suburb of Chicago) and then went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville where I majored in Economics.
After graduation I moved to New York City where I worked for Anderson Consulting /Accenture as an IT consultant and met my husband, Brian.
Following a handful of job changes and moves, we were pregnant with our second daughter and decided to fulfill our entrepreneurial dreams and focus on finding a business to buy.
How did the idea for your business come about? What were your first steps to make it a reality?
For those of you out there who have the entrepreneurial spirit, but aren’t sure if you have the “Big Idea”… it’s okay! There are many ways to become an entrepreneur. Brian and I decided that for us at the time it would make more sense for us to apply our business acumen to an existing great idea, so we set out looking for companies to buy. (If you’re interested in learning more about this process, feel free to email me.)
Eight months of searching later and after and a failed attempt at buying a cabinet making company in LA, we found a small baby products company for sale in Southern California started by the inventor of the shopping cart cover. In 2008, Brian and I successfully bought the company and moved it from CA back to Naperville. Having two little girls and an eye for style and quality, we believed we could grow the business to something great and provide parents functional and chic baby products.
In the past two years, we’ve changed the company entirely including re-branding, building a new website, expanding the product line from three to ten products, improving the fabrics including 100% custom designs, and growing the business from 125 boutiques to over 700.
Where are your products manufactured?
All of our snack bags, nursing covers, nursing pads, large wet bags and blankets are made locally. We work with a great group of sewers and fabric cutters who are not only very talented but also passionate about Itzy Ritzy and the attention to detail associated with handmade products. We are really proud to support our local sewers, and it’s fun to work together with them directly on a daily basis on everything from product innovation to quality control, and even getting their input on new fabric selections. Our other products are made both here in Chicago and overseas.
What have been the major turning points, obstacles, and/or lessons you’ve learned as you’ve grown your business?
Wow, this is a tough one. In terms of lessons learned, I’d say always trust your gut and hire really good people who share your enthusiasm for hard work and integrity. I still struggle with taking everything too personally and wanting everything to be perfect.
I’d say the biggest obstacle is manufacturing. It has been difficult for us to find domestic manufactures that can handle our order quantities, insistence on high quality, and keep up with our growth. This obstacle has also been a turning point, as we’ve successfully moved some of our production overseas which allows us to reduce costs and prices, although it comes with its own headaches and complications.
It’s also difficult to find dedicated independent sales reps who share our passion for the product line. We are fortunate to have a great team in place now, but we have some territory gaps, so if anyone has any recommendations of excellent sales reps, please send them my way!
What are the most effective ways you’ve promoted and marketed your business? What have you tried that hasn’t worked well?
I’ll start with what hasn’t worked so well, so I can end on a positive note.
Early on we wasted a lot of money on hiring a big PR firm. We had re-branded to Itzy Ritzy, had great products in place, and were ready to have the world know about us. PR was intriguing, we took the risk and hired a PR firm, and in retrospect, we likely had unrealistic expectations. While the people were great, we don’t think it did much for us in terms of exposure and increased sales, and most importantly we wasted too much money (which a young start up business can’t afford to do). I would suggest starting off with a freelance publicist prior to moving to an agency. Through networking, we are now working with a fabulous unconventional PR firm that we love.
To be honest, we’ve only done a limited amount of paid print advertising. I’m still trying to navigate our way through advertising in consumer magazines (Parents, Pregnancy and Newborn, etc.) versus trade magazines (Earnshaw’s, Baby Shop, etc.). If you have any great insight on this you’d like to share, I’d love to learn from you!
What’s worked well:
+ Interestingly enough, having a celebrity photographed with your product really does have a significant impact on sales. In the beginning I would blindly send celebs products, but for us this never worked (not to say it can’t work for you!). It’s much better to have a celeb request a specific product from you. Typically for us, this has come via working with a PR firm, but we also have had celebs ordering directly from us.
+/- Blog reviews are important, and we appreciate dedicated bloggers. Since there is an increasing number of bloggers out there requesting free product, we’ve had to start analyzing the sites and visitor statistics more thoroughly before doing reviews. If you’re just getting started, getting blog reviews is helpful for exposure and for your press page. The two most successful blog features for us thus far have been DailyCandy Kids and Celebrity Baby Blog.
+ Exhibiting at a tradeshow is a great way to meet new accounts and network with people in the industry. They are very expensive, so look into getting creative and sharing a booth if it’s too expensive to have your own booth.
+ Finding great partners! There are so many talented women (and men) out there with great ideas doing great things. It’s so amazing to see what happens with the synergy of two strangers working together. For us, thus far we’ve found great partners with Jamie Bird, the original inventor of the wet bag, and with Stacy Amoo-Mensah on signing on with us exclusively for fabric design. We weren’t actively seeking either of these partnerships, but they came out of networking and thinking creatively.
What’s your typical workday like?
Wake-up, snuggle with the girls, drive my older daughter to pre-school, and get into work around 9:20. From there, the day is pretty unpredictable. The amazing thing about having your own business is that you are responsible for all of the aspects of running a company. I love seeing an idea from conception to completion and having my hand in every part of it. Brian and I divide our responsibilities to focus on our strong points (and so that we don’t totally annoy each other!). I’m primarily responsible for marketing and product development, and he’s responsible for financials and operations.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a small business?
Believe in yourself, do your research, identify a need in the marketplace, talk to someone who’s started their own company, start a focus group, look for interesting partnerships along the way, have a good support system, and go for it!
What are your future plans for Itzy Ritzy?
Continue to introduce innovative products that are high in function and fun, network and partner with amazing people, continue to have a great team, and hopefully the business will become successful enough to significantly give back to the community.
Stay tuned for a giveaway from Itzy Ritzy starting tomorrow!