Jennifer Lee and Kristal Lee, Best Friends, Accidental Business Owners
We became business owners quite by accident…
We recently did a little Q&A with The UPS Store for small business week May 5-9, 2014. I thought I would share some of the questions and answers with you so that you could learn a little more in-depth about us and our story.
Elan Lee, the inspiration for Atutudes
Why did you start your own business?
We became business owners quite by accident. My best friend, Jennifer Lee, and I were planning her daughter’s first birthday party. We purchased a tutu at a local shop, but it was not exactly the perfect one. We decided to do a little research and try our hand at making them ourselves. Once I made the first one, I was hooked! I quickly realized that it ignited a passion inside me. It was so much fun and a great outlet for my creativity. We decided to try our hand at a local flea market to see if anyone would be interested in them. The response was overwhelming! Everyone that walked by the booth, even if they did not purchase a tutu, remarked at how cute they were. Quickly, we knew we were onto something and realized that the flea market was not the perfect place to sell them. We tried our hand at starting our own website. It was very difficult to get the word out about the website and grow traffic without a large marketing budget to get started.
I was reading Martha Stewart Living and came across an article about Etsy. I decided to check it out. I opened our shop in 2010. Atutudes was born! The rest, as they say, is history. Etsy made it much easier to grow our business due to its built-in base of handmade fans and shoppers. It is the #1 retail site for handmade goods with literally millions of potential customers.
What obstacles did you encounter when deciding to start your business?
It was tough finding tulle that would be safe for children. We really took the time to ensure that our products were safe. We had tulle samples safety tested until we found the right brand. Our tulle is lead-free, flame-retardant and made in the USA.
What ultimately inspired you to take the leap of faith and start your business? We were really weary from making the tutus, storing them at our homes, taking them to the flea market early on Saturday to set up, finding we sold out of the size a customer was looking for before the day was over, packing everything up on Saturday night to take home, and doing it all over again on Sunday. I knew there had to be a better way! Etsy has been such a blessing to us. We are able to get paid for the item, order the supplies, make and ship it. There is no need to keep each size of each item we offer in stock.
What support was most critical to that decision to start your business? Did you seek the help of mentors? What support has been most critical to your success?
Our husbands and family are our biggest cheerleaders. They are always there to listen, help and encourage. I am also blessed at the enormous online community of business owners that are always willing to help me figure out a solution to a problem or bounce an idea around with. I have made many amazing friends through networking.
If you didn’t own your business today, would you start it all over again?
Absolutely! And much sooner. It has been an amazing journey and I am grateful for the way it blesses my life daily.
The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden poses with Atutudes tutu
The Bachelorette and E! News Correspondent Ali Fedotowsky poses with Atutudes tutu
What is your favorite part of owning your business today?
We have been able to do some pretty amazing things with Atutudes. One of the best ways we increased our audience was by participating with The Artisan Group to have our products featured at the GBK Luxury Celebrity Gift Lounges honoring the nominees and presenters of Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes. Our participation proved to be very effective in generating a buzz for our business. Through The Artisan Group, we also got our tutus into the hands of such A-list celebrities as Beyonce, Jessica Alba, and Jessica Simpson, just to name a few.
The Sutter’s at Blakesley’s birthday party
In 2013 we were chosen to create a custom mermaid themed tutu for the original Bachelorette, Trista Sutter, for her daughter Blakesley’s birthday celebration. I have followed Trista and Ryan’s love story from their first date on the Bachelorette. We worked closely with Natalie Klein of Hollywood Hot Moms to create the perfect outfit for Blakesley’s special day. Natalie and Trista were kind enough to let is use the photos from the party in our Etsy shop. The best day was the day my OK Magazine arrive in the mail with a photo of Trista hugging Blakesley who was wearing an outfit I created. I was beyond thrilled!
Miss Iowa, Nicole Kelly
This past year we were also selected by Miss Iowa USA, Nicole Kelly, to create a custom accessory for her appearance in the Miss America Pageant’s Annual Show Us Your Shoes Parade. I was thrilled to collaborate with Miss Iowa to create something special for her big day. She is one of the most inspiring ladies I have ever had the opportunity to collaborate with. Iowa’s official state flower is the wild rose. She asked me to create a hot pink rosette necklace/headband and pin to coordinate with her gorgeous outfit. I was over the moon to see her on television. She was kind enough to be thank us on her Facebook fan page along with allowing us to use a photo in our shop! Her photo in our creation also appears on the Miss America Website and Facebook page.
Each time such amazing opportunities present themselves I just look back and can’t believe that a small-town Alabama girl could do such unbelievable things. Someone pinch me!
What has been the greatest benefit to you starting your company?
In March 2013 I lost my full-time job of 17 years at a local print shop. If it were not for my Etsy shop, I could not have paid my bills. I was able to support our family and not have to draw unemployment. I recently started another “day” job in November of 2013. I love my new job and am so happy there. Both jobs are a blessing in my life. I get to work with wonderful, supportive people every day. The peace of mind knowing that I always have the freedom of a backup plan is invaluable.
What is the most difficult part of owning your business today?
Knowing when to take a break. I am so passionate about it. I am constantly on social media or returning emails into the wee hours of the night. I absolutely love learning new things and connecting with people. I am getting better at allowing myself down-time.
Would you ever consider mentoring someone else interested in starting their own business?
Absolutely! I love to help others with the knowledge I have gained through the years. I am a member of a couple of small business groups and help anytime I can. I think it is especially important for women to be supportive of one another. We are the only ones who can truly understand the challenges women face in such a fast-paced society.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone considering starting their own small business?
Don’t be afraid! Just go for it. I was personally terrified of taxes. Look for mentors to help you through the things you don’t know. Build a team of supportive friends and fellow business people. Community is key to making it. Be original. Be social. Be supportive of others’ dreams. Make new friends. Let your light shine! Only you can share your unique and exquisite gift with this world. Be YOU-tiful!
So what’s next for you and your business?
We are always looking for new and exciting opportunities. We are submitting one of our items for consideration to The Bachelorette television show on ABC. I also will have one of my recipes published in a cookbook releasing this Spring called The Sisterhood of The Traveling Apron. It is written by a good friend of mine, Aimee Broussard, of Aimee Broussard & Co., who I met and bonded with through social media. I am honored to be chosen to be included and considered her friend because I think she’s pretty awesome herself!