Moving from mummy hustle to international lifestyle brand: how we made the transition
Bit of an exciting blog post this week! How we went from little hobby business, to bringing on business partners and expanding internationally. I think a lot of small businesses struggle in this space. I certainly did. It's so sad to see businesses shut down when they reach the point of 'Can't do it all on my own, can't afford to hire staff'. I see it all the time. And it sucks! It is SO hard to move beyond this point. We almost sold Sunday Soldiers, because we just could NOT handle the volume alone anymore. I'm sure some of our customers are reading this thinking 'Yep, you took 3 weeks to send my order out once' (Sorry!).
I really hope this blog post shows these hustling business owners that you CAN do it. Don't give up! With a bit of strategy, a solid plan and some good connections, this is how Sunday Soldiers pushed through.
So - let me take you back to the very beginning. We started Sunday Soldiers back in March 2015. At this time, I was five months pregnant, Matt was working night shift and we had an almost 2 year old. We bought a desk from IKEA and set it up in the corner of our lounge room. I bought a machine online, dreamt up some designs and got to work. On our launch night, we had 4 orders and I thought that was AMAZING. I was like 'Hell yeah, we did it! I'm a fashion designer!' *insert laughing till you cry emoji here*
Sunday Soldiers quickly built momentum and it wasn't long until I was in WAY over my head. In our first month, we took over 300 orders. I quickly realised two things.
1) I had no idea how to effing screen print.
2) I needed to outsource. Quickly.
Thankfully - we crossed paths with the world's best screen printers and they came on board with us immediately. I'm so grateful that we just happened to find someone who really knew their shit, took us under their wing and helped our business grow & develop.
(If anyone ever needs a screen printer, The Fabric Printer are your guys. We're forever thankful for Anthony & the team. Tell them Sunday Soldiers sent you!)
We moved from a corner in our lounge room, to taking over a bedroom, to moving out into a studio, then a warehouse, and then back home again. At this stage, I had two toddlers, a marriage on the rocks, a business that was growing out of control and something had to give. I bought on employees who were absolutely amazing and I'm so grateful. But Sunday Soldiers demanded growth - I was spending way too much time working IN the business instead of working ON the business. And we all know what happens in this scenario. The business stagnates.
I had requests daily from retailers wanting to stock Sunday Soldiers. I dabbled in wholesale here & there but didn't have the infrastructure or manpower to execute it properly. It seemed so ridiculous that I had so many people approach me to stock our designs - but I couldn't do it? Like, shouldn't I WANT that kind of demand? It was completely backwards.
I made the decision to list Sunday Soldiers for sale. It had grown as big as it possibly could with me. I didn't have the time, the knowledge or the money to put into it to make it grow. As heartbreaking as the decision was, I knew it was the right thing to do. It would break my heart even more to see Sunday Soldiers die because I didn't have the ability to take it where it deserved to be.
I asked around on a few Facebook groups on advice around selling a business. I was lucky to have some genuine buyers quite quickly, but I didn't know how to do it. I'd never sold a business before.
I got a Snapchat from a lady in one of the Facebook groups I posted in. I had spoken to her on Snapchat a few times, she had a business too and she seemed lovely. She basically said 'What the fuck are you doing? You ARE Sunday Soldiers! You have put SO much into this brand, don't you dare sell it!'. I explained my situation to her and she said 'Let me talk to my husband about it, but would you consider working with us?'. Dominique & Magnus had their own online retail store and had worked in kid's fashion for years. Being a retailer themselves, they knew what stockists & stores wanted from a brand and they had the knowledge to help Sunday Soldiers become that. We probably talked back & forth for almost 6 months before making the decision. Yes, we were going to do this!
Sunday Soldiers moved from little old me working away as a sole trader, to a company with four full time employees. Our 'Sunday Soldiers room' at home on WA's coast turned into a two story warehouse in Sydney. The first couple months were intense. It was SUCH a mission moving everything to Sydney and changing the entire business practically overnight. I had to learn VERY quickly that I actually had to consult other people before making decisions about the business. We actually almost didn't make it through! It was really hard for Matt & I to get our heads around having other people on board. We were so used to just doing everything and making all the decisions ourselves.
On the flip side, I'm sure Dom and Mags were tearing their hair out with dealing with us (Okay, mostly me haha). What do you mean she just went and bought a car under the company name? Doesn't she know she needs to talk to us about that first? Did she just drop the F-bomb on Snapchat? What have we done? (I have never actually heard them say any of those things, bless their hearts. But I wouldn't blame them haha)
Slowly but surely, we ironed out the creases and became a kick ass, solid team. They excel in areas that we don't, and we can do things that they can't. The four of us together work so well together and our strengths completely compliment one another. It is so good to be able to call Dom, who has been an actual retailer, for 6 years and say 'Hey so I'm thinking about this. What do you think? Would that be useful as a retailer?' and get an honest opinion. We have ALWAYS said, we want Sunday Soldiers to be your favourite brand! And we want Sunday Soldiers to be the BEST selling brand for our retailers. Now we're actually on the road to becoming that. I feel like Sunday Soldiers has had years of growth in the last 9 months. We went interstate for our first trade fair, and we're heading off internationally for trade fairs in the next 12 months (better find my passport!)
You may be thinking 'Okay, well that's great. Where do I find people like this?'. I was SO lucky that Dom reached out to me in this instance. But once it happened, I had multiple people say to me 'Oh I didn't realise you would consider business partners. I would have come on board myself if I knew!'. USE YOUR EXISTING NETWORK. And even your network's network. I promise you that you can't possibly know what other people's situations are. You might already know the perfect business partner ;)
Failing that, there are dozens of investor sites online. I can't personally vouch for any, as I haven't used them. But get yo' google on, do your research and find your perfect investor.
What I've learned from bringing on business partners:
- Working with people who have an interest in the business. I absolutely could have hired a CEO, a finance manager or a wholesale specialist. Sure. But at the end of the day, once they collect their pay checks, why do they care about the brand? What does it mean to them if Sunday Soldiers makes it or not? They get paid either way. By bringing on partners who have a financial stake in the business, I KNOW that everyone is going to pull their weight. Because if they don't - we all fail and that serves no one. Working with a Sunday Soldiers TEAM works so well. I personally think that is it the best way forward. It's really worked for us.
- Working ON the business instead of IN it. I have done SO much more for the brand since bringing on Dom and Mags. Instead of staying up to midnight each night packing orders, I'm creating new designs, writing blog posts and press releases and finding new branding opportunities. We've come so far in a short amount of time because I'm actually having time to work ON the business, instead of in it.
- It is SO good to jump on the phone and be like 'Hey, Matt and I have this idea. But not sure about the timing. What do you think?' or 'Hey, I'm not feeling well today. Can you take over Instagram today?'. Now that we have 4 x people on board, I have NO idea how we did it all before! It's been so difficult to let go (hello control freak!) but now I've seen the benefits & we're all settled in our roles - we're such an efficient little team!
There are so many other little things, like being able to dispatch stock every single day. Instead of me doing everything, that is all taken care of and I can concentrate on really nailing the designs (Promise I don't just hang out on snapchat all day haha)
If your business isn't working for you and you can't keep up, the worst thing you can do is to try juggle it all yourself. Imagine if someone like Apple or Coca Cola had ONE person running it. It's impossible! In order to grow, you need to relinquish some control and bring in some good eggs to help expand your business. It's inevitable if you want to be successful.
It hasn't been smooth sailing the entire way and at the beginning, I really doubted if I made the right decision. But we have gone from strength to strength and I tell you what, watch this space. Sunday Soldiers and the four of us are heading for world domination ;)