When the economy got rough, these five women got tough by creating their own successful companies. Feel free to steal their secrets.
By Ellen Parlapiano
At a time when most people are busy trying to weather the worst recession since the Great You-Know-What, starting a business may seem counterintuitive, even risky. But the fact is, entrepreneurs can thrive wherever and whenever, as long as they have a solid grasp of what consumers will spend money on and why, says Gwen Martin, PhD, of the Center for Women's Business Research. Those niches are the difference between merely possible and nicely profitable. And when women match a need in the marketplace with what's best for them and their families—while devising smart strategies to make it all happen—everyone wins.
Smart Strategy: Examine Success
Tammy Nelson, 36
Nycole Pederson, 39
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Business: Sassy Signs (sassysigns.com), publicity for yard sales and celebrations, launched February 2006
Investment: $25,000 for initial manufacturing
2009 earnings: Around $220,000 in sales
Sisters Tammy and Nycole, both stay-at-home moms, were feeling the pinch of rising prices and falling incomes. "My husband Kyle's bonuses and raises were cut, but our taxes increased," says Tammy, mother of Jake, 11, Abby, 7, and Isabella, 4. "The kids' extracurricular activities were costing a fortune," adds Nycole, mom of Emily, 10, Jack, 8, and twins Nathan and Tommy, 5.
Launch time: The two women were already hosting two garage sales a year, earning as much as $1,500 each time. They attributed the successes to their handmade signs, which said things like, "Your Treasure Awaits" and "UpScale ReSale." Tammy started thinking. "I had the idea, 'What if we marketed the signs?'" she says. The sisters took turns cold-calling manufacturers until they found one they felt they could work with. To put in the first order, they had to deplete savings and max out credit cards. "It was terrifying," says Tammy, "but we believed we'd get our investment back and then some." They sold signs on their Web site, advertised through YardSaleQueen.com, and also posted samples, with ordering instructions, first at their local Party City, then Lowe's, Michaels, and Hobby Lobby.
Payoffs: At first the sisters sent out orders from their basements, but the business grew so much that they now use a fulfillment center. The chain stores take a hefty commission for promoting the signs, so Tammy and Nycole began targeting catalogs and smaller shops, which demand less of a cut. Profits took a while. "In the beginning, nearly every penny of sales went toward production, advertising, and paying down debt," says Tammy. But by devising new lines for special occasions and landing a big catalog deal Tammy and Nycole were finally able to pocket $10,000 each in 2009. With more people holding yard sales because of the economy, the sisters expect that 2010 will be a banner year.