Breathing new life into an old hosiery mill has proven to be “a heck of a retirement project” for Tom and Susan Miles. The couple has transformed the plant in Biscoe into a modern producer of supportive maternity undergarments called Belevation.
Belevation Maternity Underwear has evolved from being a twinkle in our eyes in late 2007, to the status of a savvy preschooler - in 2013. Having worked as a B2B service for the textile industry for many years, we had a lot to learn about the best way to reach 21st century consumers.
It's been a very slow process, but we haven't quit yet. Along the way, I've held several dumb second jobs to help pay the bills, but my low pay and under appreciation in those positions has just driven me harder toward Belevation's business success.
So here it is; my best advice for mompreneurs, women who can envision working incredibly hard, but doing it on your own terms. This list is for you:
1. Make sure someone in your house has a day job so you're not putting all eggs in one basket. The Small Business Administration says most businesses fail in the first 5 years. Know that upfront and protect yourself accordingly.
2. Do as much as possible yourself to keep costs low, then reach out to students who are highly skilled at things like websites, but have lower overheads than pros.
3. Make a website right away and get lots of help with SEO. Word Press content management sites are great since they are easy to self-maintain.
4. Network, network, network. We can’t be an island when it comes to anything.
5. Know the competition and be better in your niche. Evaluate what your niche is.
6. Set up your personal and business Facebook and Twitter accounts separately. Potential clients needn't know who you’re voting for, or if you’re in a bad mood.
7. Even though personal should remain personal, keep friends and family up to date online about your business news. Hopefully they will help spread the word.
8. Use advertising selectively. Ads are really expensive and can bust a budget.
9. Send out press releases to news orgs and try to get free mentions. Give back to the community right away since good deeds are newsworthy, so it’s a win win.
10. Giveaways are king with bloggers – so be prepared to give away products and services often to get free publicity. Well worth it compared to buying print ads.
11. Read a good newspaper like the NYT daily. Savvy biz owners need to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world. Read on a tablet on the treadmill, so you can fit in some exercise. Busy people need to kill two birds with one stone.
12. Enjoy your successes, nothing feels better than knowing you've accomplished something yourself. You'll have the best stories to tell on the school bus stop too.
Last week Belevation traveled to Kentucky, to the ABC Kids Expo, taking our place among the many companies exhibiting for the 1st time. The development of Belevation's maternity support garments is a mom and pop effort, but it was stunning to see the hundreds of mom innovators presenting their creations at ABC. Necessity is the mother of invention and the buck stops with mom, so she's on the front lines in the problem solving department daily. "Mom invented-and mom tested", from Atlanta, GA, was the Highchair Organizer, a cleverly stitched pouch that secures to the back of your child's highchair to hold all of those meal time essentials. Imagine knowing where everything is? Revolutionary!
Across the aisle from Belevation was BG Birthing Gowns by Cindy Lintel, a labor and delivery nurse from New York State. Inspired to make a more feminine version of the dreaded hospital gown, Cindy used her knowledge of the delivery process to create a graceful, versatile alternative for women. What a sweet and knowledgeable lady she is!
During the course of the four days at the KY Expo Center, Belevation bonded with our other neighbor Kemi, the designer of a new line of diaper bags inspired by African textiles, called House of Botori, based in Maryland. Kemi discovered that "although functional", existing baby products "always seemed to lack individuality." House of Botori is her response to that quest, as it honors her Nigerian heritage. Judging from the visitors at ABC, Kemi's colorful diaper bags will take their place among the most coveted baby shower gifts.
Then there was Dr. Jane of Tortle, mother of 4, who makes adorable baby hats in the most fashionable colors, but in her role as a neonatal pediatrician she educates parents about Flat Head Syndrome.
Positional Plagiocephaly, will effect "a staggering 40% of babies before age six months. Beyond the cosmetic issues, there can be trouble with binocular vision and long-term developmental issues."
According to Dr. Jane: "Positional plagiocephaly increased 600% in the last 20 yrs. due to 2 changes:" "1) In 1992 The American Academy of Pediatrics began its “Back to Sleep” program to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome .(Incidence of SIDS have plummeted by almost 40%.)" "2) Infants are being placed in reclining carrying devices more than ever. Families on the go keep their babies in carriers, car seats, and swings for an extended time—frequently up to 20 hours per day."
Explore the Tortle site and google Plagiocephaly. Boy, this sure makes a case for more baby wearing; slings etc ... in your child's early months. Four amazing innovative mothers, each clearly with a lot to share for the benefit of others. If you want to fix a problem, definitely go ask a mom!
A network of online and community resources including a blog by Director Deb Flashenberg, a Nanny and Doctor Exchange, and the Ask the Experts column plus more can be found on the Prenatal Yoga Center website. Each month a vendor is selected to be featured at the Prenatal Yoga Center with extensive raffle and discount programs. Belevation was busy last month getting ready for this event, scheduled many months ago, so the anticipation added to this honor!
With fabulous facilities and highly trained instructors in convenient locations in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, the New York Prenatal Center offers an impressive and nurturing support-network for New York based mom-to-be. Check out a review of the center from last September by Dr. Carrie McCulloch, FITiST expert and Mom-to-Be. She supplies a terrific Mom-to-Be Rx: including critical tips on "Speaking Up and Making Friends". Watch the Center's recently posted You Tube video tour and don't forget to ask about Belevation Maternity Supports awesome March 2012 give-aways on the Belevation Support Briefs, and Belly Bands .
Last night on Netflix, hubby and I watched the 1991 Australian film, The Efficiency Expert. Set in a small town in 1966, Anthony Hopkins plays efficiency expert Errol Wallace. Charged with closing an under-performing moccasin plant, Hopkins emotionless character has a change of heart after he assists workers at a slot car race.
Along with modern classics like Tommy Boy, The Efficiency Expert falls in a special genre of films about saving small businesses. When actor Chris Farley's father Big Tom dies, Tommy goes on the road with side-kick David Spade trying to help their brake-pad company. With unforgettable scenes like the pair driving with a buck in the back-seat and Tommy setting a fire on a clients desk, the laughs are numerous. In a last minute cliff hanger, Spade and Farley prevail and the factory is saved.
Similar messages replay in other favorites from this genre including 2005 British-made Kinky Boots. After inheriting his families manufacturing business, Charles Price learns that Price & Sons Shoes is failing. While in despair about his many unsuccessful attempts to save the company, a chance encounter with a drag-queen, cabaret singer named Lola, helps Charles take the firm in a new direction.
Then there's Renee Zellweger in the 2009 flick New In Town. Like Hopkins, in The Efficiency Expert, Zellweger thinks she understands business until she is captivated by life in this Minnesota town. While corporate sees the workers of Munck Foods only as numbers, Zellweger finds a way to turn Munck around.
Make a resolution that 2012 will be the year you join the movement supporting local businesses. Shift Your Shopping maps out organizations throughout the US and Canada dedicated to re-energizing our retail and manufacturing economy. American Express got on board publicizing their 2nd annual small business Saturday, the day after Black Friday. Make this a year-round effort & bring back jobs to America. Why not buy some American-made maternity apparel today?
Just in time to ring in the New Year in style, I couldn't wait to preview our Facebook book give-away for February - Preggatinis, Mixology for the Mom-to-Be. Author, Natalie Bovis-Nelsen is a Los Angeles mixologist and is the spokesperson for several household-name spirits and wine companies, including Fre, a division of Sutter Wines. Published in 2009, Bovis-Nelsen's book has definitely made a big hit on the mommy scene, with it's fun cocktails and great photographs.
The recipes center around healthful fresh juices and herbs and are especially great for baby showers. Cleverly organized by trimester, there's something for everyone in this pocket size manual, with a few alcohol cocktails offered to keep things interesting for Dad.
Perfect for those expecting on this New Years Eve, if you still want to enjoy the festive holiday atmosphere and great if you're currently breast feeding too.
Many of Natalie's (aka The Liquid Muse) wonderful recipes can be found on the Fre Wine website. Too late to turn back now, 2012 is definitely right around the corner. So, how about enjoying a Merry Berry Basil Mojito? Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, author of Preggatinis, Mixology for the Mom-to-Be
This afternoon I spent some quiet time researching our Belevation mom-to-be give-away for December, The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg. I first learned about Wattenberg's book and accompanying website while listening to an NPR program on baby naming.
Her impressive research and groundbreaking computer models examine name usage and popularity over the last hundred years in the 2005 book. Quoted in recent articles in both the New York Times and Time Magazine, Wattenberg, once a name-searching mom herself, said that people hunger to be different these days.
A result of the internet, a 2010 survey on the pop-culture website Lil-Sugar indicated that 64% of new parents Google their baby name picks before making final choices. Makes sense to see what unknowns may be lurking on your child's "domain" prior to taking the leap.
If you are in a name shopping mode, it's important to enjoy the process, even though it is one of your life's most important decisions. With tools like Wattenberg's Baby Name Wizard, there are now amazing resources to help you with the search. While reading the Times article, I learned about Kick to Pick - a newly released iphone app that claims to let your child pick their own name. Also available for iPod Touches, the app " generates names while monitoring the baby's movements. Any kick detected will then stop the generator at the baby's chosen name, ready for the parents to accept their child's choice or dismiss the name and start their search again." Available for .99 cents, it's definitely a game-changer to think of your baby participating in picking their own name.
If you are interested in upholding more parental control, here's a simple method. You and hubby can make separate favorite lists from a baby name book, narrowing the search to a few alphabet letters that honor loved ones (deceased or alive depending on your tradition). Hopefully there will be at least one name in common on each of your lists. No matter how you do it, possibly combining several of these methods - have fun!
I don't know about you, but I believe in divine intervention. It was that kind of moment, when Monique from Fort Bragg, NC wrote to me on our Belevation Facebook page. Several months ago, we decided to add a XL size to our line of Belevation Maternity garments.
We began making Support Bands and PettiPants in the new Plus, pre-pregnancy 16-18 size. Everything was going well, but two problems dragged out the process of adding the new size range. For one thing, my husband/our technical director - is a perfectionist. Months had gone by while he continued to perfect our seamless Belevation Support Brief.
I began to wonder if we would ever be ready to add our new XL sizing? Finally, after much attention - perfecting the brief, it was time to find a fit model to give them a test run. And then that evening, out of the blue - I received a note from Monique.
"Are you going to add plus sizes ever" she asked? Monique is herself an army veteran, a military wife and the mother of six boys ranging in age from 21 to 1! Twenty-four weeks pregnant with her seventh, Monique explained "that depending on if something runs large or small", she wears anywhere "from an 18-20 to a 22-24 (or 2x/3x)".
Unsure how our new Belevation XL size would measure-up, we sent a package to Monique, in Fort Bragg. One of the largest and busiest military complexes in the world, Bragg is home to almost 10 percent of the Army's active component forces. We were glad to help Monique and were hopeful that she would like what she received. An email arrived from her in my inbox around noon time the next day. "I received the package and I love them! I will say that its definitely NOT a 16-18. Its more like a 20-26 That is my normal size for most maternity clothes, and I fit in these just fine with room to grow the belly and no pinching etc. These are sooo comfortable! I am really impressed!"
Monique's feedback was an affirmation that our new Belevation XL size will be comfortable for a wide range of larger women. I guess all that special attention to detail paid off. And our other problem, our X-large labels had gotten lost on their way to us and had to be remade. Well - finally they arrived today! With patience and a bit of divine intervention, all things are possible. Just ask Monique about patience, as she is soon to be the mother of her seventh boy! Please give our new Belevation Plus size a try. We definitely know you'll like it!