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!
As essential part of the development of all of Belevation's maternity support garments has been real life product testing done by moms-to-be. I was on just such a mission yesterday, when I arranged to meet Kacie before her prenatal exam at SEOB/GYN in Presbyterian Hospital in beautiful Matthews, North Carolina.
Earlier in her pregnancy, Kacie purchased our Boyshorts upon the recommendation of SEOB/GYN physician Dr. Salvemini, who used our products during her own pregnancy (I just learned this yesterday). Dr. Sal has also sent many of her patients to Belevation as well. Word of Belevation's prenatal support products was brought to SE OB/GYN by their ultrasound tech Heather, who joined the staff after a stint at my own GYN's office, (where Heather had done our product testing during her first pregnancy).
An added bonus of meeting Kacie in the waiting room of Southeast was that I finally got to say thank you to Dr. Sal and her team. ( I missed seeing Heather unfortunately though, as she had yesterday off.)
With the US government poised to implement new rules requiring drug and medical device companies to disclose payments and gifts to doctors, (a very good new law for consumer protection), I had picked an odd day to shower SE OB/GYN with gifts. It wasn't really much, for full discloser - just some healthy granola bars, herbal teas bags, Decaf Chai from Stash and a musical snowglobe with Belevation photos. A long overdue thank you after several years recommending Belevation to their patients at SE OB/GYN. So glad you love our products!
Thank you Dr. Sal, Heather & Kacie for being Belevation Prenatal Underwear fans!
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?