Monday, December 29, 2014

Celebrating A Year of Entrepreneurial-Ville: Part Two - Lessons & Highlights Along The Way.

January 2014
December 2014

What exactly has happened in this Great Year of Solopreneurhood?

Well here is a story of what I have learned.

First of all, I know why I waited.  I wanted to have the nest egg to take the leap.  You know, the Suze Orman Concept.  And the one thing I can say to anyone out there wanting to make the leap themselves…absolutely the Suze Orman Concept makes it easier…but ask yourself: how long will that take?

For me, no matter what job I took, part-time or full-time, assistant or manager, I never seemed to be able to do more than cover the month at hand.  I think this became a Catalyst in my Launching.  If working as diligently as I was, especially in New York where I didn't have the luxury of space or gorgeousness of Maui, well, if all I am going to do is barely survive then why not attempt to survive off of me?

I prayed long about this.  I kept waiting to hear God’s voice in my ideas.  And I did hear God.  Ever so subtly I felt a voice saying: “I keep telling you to trust Me…why won’t you trust Me?”

I am a Taurus as well as an Irish/Mexican.  So yes, I am, indeed, quite stubborn.  This can be a good thing and a curse as well.  I felt strong in my conviction…The Market NYC was the perfect place for me to Launch.  I didn't get completely positive feedback from others who were in the Market, even some who sold the same things as I was going to sell.  I finally got in and then got feedback that my prices were too high.  But they weren't.  After 2+ years working inside a hat shop in the city I knew my prices were competitive, if not a little lower as the setting was not an actual “shop”.

But I trusted that I knew how to sell hats.  I am actually quite great at selling handmade hats.  And yet there was truth in the feedback I had received.  Unfortunately the Market itself had numerous vendors underselling themselves.  I then joined that club.

**Note: this is a Key Lesson in what NOT to do.

But I did it.  I spent the winter hand-sewing roses out of felt, hand appliquéing wool cherry blossoms onto more wool for ear warmers and then hawking these time consuming items for $35 and under.  They weren't flying off the shelf like a hot cake.  But they did sell, however, they didn't help me at all.

I found myself selling high quality fur felt hats for $100…when the supplies themselves cost me $45!  I was getting depressed, scared, and so frustrated.  I was blocking hats at night at home after an 8 hour day and 2 hour commute, then sewing them in the morning before leaving, and then “cheaping” myself out along the way.

**Note: Key Lesson – TRUST YOUR VALUE!  If you don’t no one will.

Spring came and I put out my new collection and I priced them where they “should” be.  Crazy me in the so-called basement of the Market with hats at $225-$250 for Spring.  But guess what?  They sold and they sold well!  The people could see the quality, appreciated the whimsy, and bottom line…they were My Peeps!  When My Peeps showed up, it was never a question about price.  However, I was still downstairs, and as quaint as I had made my shop, I wasn't seeing all My Peeps.

I did however, at this point decide to bring the sewing machine to the shop.  Brilliant move!  Next came the steamer and within weeks I was doing ALL the production on site and my bedroom became a bedroom for the first time in many years.

Summer came and I was offered an Opportunity.  The front space of the Market at the Front Door! 

My "shop" on the left half...about the size of a twin bed. 

This was a teensy space but was the very first space seen to everyone who walked in.  Also it was a window into the Market giving me a NYC store front exposure.  This opportunity also came with a large price tag, larger than any tag I have ever paid for in a month.  But I leaped nevertheless.

This was a great decision in hindsight, though it was the most stressful thing I did all this year.  On the positive I streamlined everything.  I polished up everything I was doing.  I became uber organized and really did get an audience with anyone who loved hats.

I raised my prices.  They were still competitive with the prices of handmade millinery.    But I also lowered my value on a side line of hats and accessories to be competitive with the ever present $20 crowd at the market.  I “thought” that this was a good move, purchasing in bulk some hair accessories, changing them up into little party style hats and then putting them out for $20 and into a little box when then sold.

**Truly again one of the bigger lessons I learned.  What NOT to do!

It didn't matter that the “supplies” to make these were so low, or that I was doing them production style, the bottom line was I was doing these and my time and value are worth more.  Hats aren't hot cakes.  They aren’t.  They are a specific taste for a specific person.  They are not jewelry.  So these $20 items did sell but it was just as much effort to sell them as it was to sell a $200 hat.  Truly.  Because the person interested in the $20 item wasn’t really a hat person so I had to go through the entire list of where to wear a hat, how to wear it, and so on.  It was a lot of effort.  And how was I making any profit?  Offering a hat box that cost me about $2 was ridiculous.  And yet that was often the selling feature….again, because these were NOT hat peeps.


**The Most Important Lesson I Learned This Year:  FIND YOUR PEEPS!  Then it is a breeze!

I know the difference between this lower end line and my actual line of hats, but I also know that if I have created something, the value needs to be there.  They were and are worth more than I was letting them be.  I raised everything up to $40.  I doubled their value.  And yes, they still don’t fly off the shelf, but they were never going to.  However, the effort involved in selling them to a non-hat person (I consider these often starter hats for non-hat people who really want to be hat people)…well it’s worth $20 extra dollars.  And the value of these are absolutely worth what I have priced them at.

Sure it would be great to have a $20 item in my shop as most vendors do have something in the price range, but I cannot make something for $20 and I do not want to carry something that has no purpose besides being $20.  It has to make sense for my business and my shop.

As well, paying an exorbitant amount of rent to be front and center was a lesson in itself. When I looked at the numbers, yes, I made more sales, BUT I paid out so much money to be there I made no profit and completely sunk.   For me, for my type of business, paying that much in rent makes sense “if” it is a brick and mortar shop where it is a controlled environment specifically for handmade millinery, where I can have my price points match  what I do.  Paying that much to be in a craft fair setting where most vendors are underselling their wares, I simply couldn’t compete.  I totally sunk.

But the market itself offered me a new space.  Back downstairs to a space that no one ever made money in.  Right at the bottom of the stairs.  Remember, I had spent over half a year downstairs and watched this space turn over and over and each time be a big fail for the occupant.  Why?  Well, being at the foot of the stairs, you may draw people down but they would immediately walk past and go to the vendors farther in.  At least that was what I had seen.

I had mass reservations about this move.  But it was either make this move or move out of The Market NYC completely, and where would I go?  I had to look at all the possibilities here.  The factor that made this seem “okay” was a storage area under the staircase that came along with this odd store space.  I say odd because it was one long narrow wall of shelves with no real area for the vendor to sit and be, let alone work in.  And for me, I had to work while there.

Aaaaah….but I am amazing at taking unused small spaces and turning them into penthouses!  I’ve made bedrooms out of closets, lived a year and a half on a 36 foot boat with my BFF and a cat, turned a former wood workshop into a home and studio…I see space and  make it work!  And wow, oh wow, I made this one work!

Bam!  Studio!  It also helped my inner self as well.  Here I was moving from the front door, prime spot (because I couldn’t make it there), going back down to the so-called basement… I so could have felt like a total failure surrounded by a sea of vendors watching me.  But instead I was gaining a studio!  And I was saving over a $1000 a month!  This would prove to be the wisest decision I made for the year!

And guess what?  My business has soared since I made the move.  I am now doing better than I have ever done, getting repeat customers, continual custom orders, my prices have matched the quality of work I am doing, my peeps are finding me, I can be seen from all levels of the market floors, I have a wonderful studio where I have space to work and create, I feel balanced, and when I did my numbers for the year…my sales hit well into the 5 figure club.  That was amazing!

I end this first year of Entrepreneurship more savvy than when I started.  I know my peeps, I know my market, I know what people want, I have trust in myself and my taste, I know how I can  improve, and I definitely am trusting God much more.

I got this.

Goals for the New Year:

. Consider a wholesale line and if so, do a trade show in May with my first collection being a Fall/Winter collection.
. Move into my own apartment sans housemates. 
. Come up with a great marketing plan to get my Peeps to know I am here.
. Really tap into the Horse Race Circuit because, Darling, THOSE ARE MY PEEPS!
. Take a trip to London and France… because those are my Peeps too!

Happy Brand New Year! 

To YOUR Dreams!!! 



  1. Hooray for your fantastic goals! I see them all! Hoping your new home manifests very, very soon!

  2. I loved reading every word of your amazing adventure, Katherine. It has been an honor to be on the sidelines witnessing your daring adventurous growth. Now you are inspiring others. And maybe someday I will be a hat person too, and when that happens, I know where to go.

    1. Thank you Donna. Yes indeed, you have been there from the start! It has always been a goal to inspire beyond just making of a hat. I am so glad I can now share parts of my journey that can helps others. More than a Milliner I am a Believer of Dreams. xoxo Much love to you.

  3. This is a FABULOUS post Katherine! Love all the lessons you've shared here, especially the 'low cost' lesson. Watching others price their goods low enough to sell is FRUSTRATING! Don't get me started on my 'people being cut off from the production process' soapbox ;) Looking forward to watching you reach all the goals you've set for 2015!

    1. Oh yes! Indeed! One vendor I was talking to said something to the like of,"Well we can't sell full retail price because we are not really a shop." To which I replied,"Well, that is actually crap because we pay NYC retail rents for our spaces here." To which she said,"Oh yeah, I hadn't thought of that. You're right."

      Eye opening! hahaha