Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Niche Business Shows It's Bra Straps - Ooh La Bra!
While in Michigan last week I ran into a friend from college. Our Alma Mater, San Diego State, was playing football at "The Big House" (The University of Michigan's football stadium) and we had a great conversation at the alumni tailgate party. (Our team lost, but it was still fun).
Lisa Angelos McKenzie has launched a business, Ooh La Bra!, that makes decorative bra straps. Yes, today is a first on the "Some Assembly Required Blog" -- I am writing about bra straps!
I talked with Lisa about the company and her advice to other entrepreneurs who have unique ideas. Here is the interview:
Company Name: Because I Am Me Enterprises, LLC (dba Ooh La Bra!)
Founded: November 2010
Location: Covington, LA (near New Orleans)
The company designs and carries over 65 styles of bra straps, made of rhinestones, beads, pearls and shells, as well as a signature line of rhinestone headbands called "Chamillions".
Thom: You have run several successful companies, why start something new?
Lisa: I have been involved in several business ventures for over 20 years. One of the companies that I was running since 1991 started fizzling out due to the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the convention industry. In its hay-day, we had over 15 employees and were working 24/7 year round. But as the industry changed, the writing was on the wall that the effort that was being exerted to keep it afloat wasn't worth the reward. Plus, I was getting bored with it, which made it difficult to want to pour anything into the business (financial or creative). Even when it was at the end of its lifeline, I had a fear of shutting it down because it was my baby that I started way back when and it was hard to let go. However, once the decision was made to close it down, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I closed that company in January of 2010, and all of the sudden I found myself with a lot of free time, allowing me to explore some creative endeavors. I wrote a couple of screenplays, pitched a reality show, got involved with charities, designed websites, etc. It was amazing how getting rid of that other company freed my mind to allow me to try new things. The bra strap idea was one of those situations where I was sitting around a pool with friends and said, "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" -- and the idea was born.
Thom: Why colorful bra straps?
Lisa: Thanks to Britney Spears and Sarah Jessica Parker (in her role as Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex and the City"), they created a fashion trend where it was all the sudden acceptable to have bra straps showing. But not everyone agrees with that fashion trend. I get comments all the time from women (and even men) that they find that look to be unappealing and sloppy. The problem women face with their wardrobes is that it's often difficult to find the perfect bra to pull off a certain outfit. Strapless dresses, off the shoulder shirts, spaghetti straps, racer back t-shirts, etc. -- all of these come with what I call the "bra strap dilemma". And if you have to wear an outfit with a strapless bra, it's almost drudgery because the bra wants to slip down around the rib cage. So -- the idea here is that the bra strap becomes jewelry on the shoulder and is designed to not only be functional (in that it keeps the strapless bra "lifted"), but it's designed to show in a tasteful and beautiful way. They are really quite sexy and practical. (P.S. The straps must be worn with any strapless or convertible bra -- any bra where the old straps can be taken off and replaced with Ooh La Bra! straps).
Thom: Did the market exist when you started or did you blaze into a whole new world?
Lisa: The market existed but in a small way. I was actually surprised when I googled it and found companies already endeavoring in the business. But most (if not all) were internet based, and the more I asked around, the more I discovered that nobody had ever heard of the product, and that everyone thought it was a brilliant idea. I've tried to create styles that are completely unique, and that cover a wide range of styles (such as beach and resort wear, bridal and prom, girls night out, plus size, sports colors, etc.), and my objective was to create brand awareness and really cool packaging and displays that would appeal to boutique owners who could resell the product line. I currently have over 120 boutiques carrying the bra straps and headbands!
Thom: Where do you get your support? (yes, pun)
Lisa: My bra straps give me the lift I need everyday! :) Let's see...this is a hard question because support comes in so many forms. As far as keeping a clear head, the biggest source of support I get is from a friend of mine who was a sorority sister in college and has always been the yin of my yang. She keeps me on track with business concepts and growth ideas. Although she is not a partner, she is very much involved in the company and is helping me launch a home party business. I have a ton of friends who offer me emotional support. My 10-year old daughter, believe it or not, is amazing with creative ideas! And recently, I've had some assistance by a financial investor who is helping me take the business to the next level.
Thom: You have grown fast and are bootstrapping.. what is your biggest challenge?
Lisa: Absolutely hands down is the fact that I am a small business with no full-time staff. I was blessed with various skills such as web design, graphic design etc. that helps save me a lot of money (without having to outsource) but is also a HUGE detriment because it slows me down on moving the company forward at the pace it needs to. I spend hours and hours on web design, catalog design and I'm at that phase in the business where I MUST involve some other talent to move this quicker. The financial inflow from the investor will ultimately allow me to pay for help in those areas that are serious time wasters for me!
Thom: You home school your kids? How do you find balance?
Lisa: My son is in 9th grade and goes to a private Christian school, so I am only home schooling my 10-year old daughter. My decision to home school was to initial save on the tuition, but to also have some quality time with my daughter. However, it is a HUGE commitment and I'm pretty sure I'll be putting her back in school next year. With that said, though, it really has been great having her around and she is learning a lot about the business. The other day, I had a customer who called with a bra strap emergency and I told that customer she could meet me at my house to try on different straps. I was running late so I called my daughter and asked her to pitch hit for me until I got home. By the time I arrived, my daughter had chosen four styles that were absolutely PERFECT for the long, strapless dress the woman was wearing. When the customer left, my daughter asked how much commission she would get from the sale. I promptly paid her and she got a valuable lesson in what results when you provide excellent customer service! You can't learn that at school!
Thom: What advice do you have for someone with an idea who wants to launch it into the world?
Lisa: My advice? STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND DO IT! I have so many friends who just talk and talk and talk about all their ideas and never act upon them. If you believe in something, be brave, act smart and put a plan in motion. Keep your overhead low in the beginning and rely on help wherever you can get it. And then be ready for a wild ride. Everyday is a learning experience, and it is so fun to see watch an idea blossom. Also, give the new business/idea about three years to take shape. The first three years you will probably be putting any money earned right back in the business. Accept this as part of the reality. And finally -- take advantage of social media. It is PROFOUND how it can help you grow your business.
Thom: How can someone order your product.
Lisa: I have 120 boutiques listed on my website if you happen to be in an area where the straps are sold. However, they are also available on-line at www.oohlabra.com Additionally, we are launching the home party business and if women are interested in becoming a sales consultant and member of TEAM OLB, there is a link to that business opportunity on my website.
So now we have talked about bra straps. Who knows what will be discussed in my next blog post!!!
Have A Great Day
PS - Full disclosure - The links in the post to Ooh La Bra! are "affiliate links". You can access the main site at www.oohlabra.com