Each month we feature a woman in business who personifies what it means to be a Business Betty- she is confident, smart, stylish and successful. Do you know a woman that you consider a Betty? Tell us about her by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We recently attended the Wayfair Heart Home Conference in Boston where we met Alexandra Ferguson. It was inspiring to hear her story of turning a part-time Etsy shop into a thriving manufacturing company, who just happens to make incredibly stylish pillows, travel cases, tote bags and table linens that say what everyone else is thinking.
We enjoyed visiting her studio space in Brooklyn, NY to see firsthand her manufacturing process and super sassy products. Oh, and don’t forget to see how you can connect with her at the end of this post.
Your business started as an Etsy shop. What were you doing before that?
My background is in the fashion industry, specifically in technical design and sample room management. So I spent my career working closely with designers, pattern makers, sewers and factories to turn sketches into clothes that fit.
How did you know it was time to move beyond Etsy?
We still are very active on Etsy today. In fact, I also sit on their Manufacturing Advisory Board. However, I recognized very early on – within 3-4 months – that if I wanted this company to be my full time job that I would have to diversify my distribution, so we started selling wholesale to local boutiques.
What skills did you learn early in your career that have helped you in your business?
Clear and simple communication is a unique skill I learned working with factories overseas. For a decade, I explained detailed fit comments and sampling instructions to someone who’s English was their second language. I realize now that organizing information so that it is foolproof is an art-form that is just as important no matter who you are working with.
Is there a particular obstacle or challenge that stands out when you were transitioning out of your at-home business?
I worked full time for the first three years that I had my company, with a small team helping me with manufacturing and day-to-day management. Eventually though, the company grew too big for me to only work on it nights and weekends. The first six months that I was working full time were the hardest – not only did I no longer have my regular salary, but I also had to define my role now that I had 40 hours a week to spend in it. I remember sitting at my desk that first day, and thinking to myself, ‘well now what do I do??’
What are some key lessons you’ve learned during the growth of your company?
You can’t always solve a problem by hiring more staff. It’s easy to think when things get really busy that you should just hire to pick up the slack, but now you have more people to train and to manage and often that just slows you down even further. Sometimes you are better off looking at the process and seeing where you can find inefficiencies.
Your husband has recently joined your company. How has this changed your business?
His background is sales in the tech startup world, and he has degrees in engineering, computer science and an MBA. So he now functions as the CFO, and is also responsible for all legal, HR and e-commerce. Add that to my background in design and manufacturing, along with 7 years of sales experience and general company management and things start to get cool. I’m generally really bad at delegating – but with my husband, not only can I trust him in a unique way, I also know that he is caring for the company as much as I am.
What is the one tool you couldn’t live without?
My iPhone. I’ve done an hour of work before I’ve even gotten out of bed in the morning.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m a total introvert. It doesn’t hold me back from putting myself out there, but at the end of a day when I’ve had to be “on” I definitely crash out on the couch and need a lot of quiet re-charging time.
What do you do when you’re having a bad day?
When I’m frustrated, I’ll channel it into a well-controlled temper tantrum (the control part is key). It’s often an effective tool to get the results I need but I always hold the line of being respectful. For someone who naturally is totally averse to confrontation, getting to the place where I could assert myself like that was huge.
What advice do you have for young women entrepreneurs?
Make sure you are solving problems in the right order. For example, I see a lot of new entrepreneurs trying to solve supply chain issues in case they get a really large order, but they haven’t proven their concept yet by selling even a few.
Connect with Alexandra: