Every so often I have the pleasure of meeting small business owners who dazzle me with the inventiveness of their products, passion, business know-how, and their desire to share that know-how with other small business owners. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the winners of OnDeck’s Seal of Approval contest; Rachelle and Paul Baron founders of Beau & Belle Littles. The Barons have the perfect storm of a great product, great marketing, and sales skills, and that type of determination only entrepreneurs possess to make their business successful.
About Rachelle and Paul
Paul is a born entrepreneur, with over a half dozen businesses under his belt starting from childhood when he would take his drawing to the grocery store and sell them. “My sales pitch was pretty great, I would ask, “would you like this?” and if they said yes, then I would say, “then that’ll be $0.05.” Most of the time it would work!” Since his first endeavor, he’s been a landscaper, a videographer, and he ran a full-service digital marketing shop doing web development, design, and marketing… just to name a few.
Rachelle received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado in French, which believe it or not, she has actually used to communicate with some of their Canadian customers. (Side note: my dad was also a French major, but he never used it to do anything productive. I love you, dad!) Most of Rachelle’s professional background is in retail, and her experience with running a customer service based business has helped her immensely.
Together, their backgrounds make them a great team and have been extremely beneficial in helping Paul and Rachelle grow Beau and Belle Littles to what it is today.
Ariele Krantzow, OnDeck: How did the idea of Beau & Belle Littles begin?
Paul Baron, Beau & Belle Littles: The idea for Beau & Belle Littles came from wanting to have a business so we could help Rachelle make her own schedule because she wanted to be able to stay home with Beau. The idea is all Rachelle actually, I like to think that I’m the entrepreneur in this relationship but she’s really the smart one. When Beau was about 6 months old we were given our first reusable swim diaper, which was made by one of the biggest national brands in baby swimwear. At the time we didn’t even really know that reusable swim diapers existed, but being frugally-minded people we decided to give it a go. Rachelle hated it. HATED it. It was supposedly 6-12 month sized but it was SUPER tight around his little legs and we didn’t like how if he did end up pooping in it we’d have to pull it off like underwear, thus pulling the poop all down his legs. Because of this, we were basically forced to use disposable diapers, which neither of us really liked.
Our son, Beau loves water, if that kid could live in a pool or a bath, he would. Because he likes water so much we were blowing through disposable swim diaper and we got really, really tired of wasting money. So we decided to keep looking for reusable options. In our search, we really didn’t find any in the marketplace that we thought were good enough. We thought it would make much more sense to have a one-size-fits-all type swimming diaper rather than the single-sized reusable swim diaper we were given. Furthermore, we wanted it to be both cute and functional. Nothing like that really existed at the time so we decided to investigate making some ourselves.
One thing led to another and it went from just having a few cute swim diapers for Beau and his little friends to eventually manufacturing and selling reusable swim diapers. In July 2015, we launched our very first product on Amazon the Nageuret Swim Diaper. The word Nageuret (pronounced nah-jour-ay) is French and roughly means small/little swimmer. We were absolutely blown away by the reception of our swim diapers, people LOVED them just as much as we did, and they started selling really, really well in a very short amount of time.
AK: What do you wish you knew before you started your business?
Paul: This is a good question. Since the bulk of my experience in running different businesses has always been the service-based business arena, I think one thing that I would have liked to have known is a little bit more about is inventory planning and inventory projections. For example, we were just recently out of stock for 12 days which represented a loss of about $6,000 for one specific product. Knowing how to balance income and revenue with inventory purchasing would be and still is crucial to our success.
Rachelle Baron, Beau & Belle Littles: I wish I knew how hard it would be to find capital for a business that has no history. That’s been our biggest setback and we have run out of inventory several times because we just didn’t have enough money to order in time.
AK: So, now you have a great product, how did you start getting people to buy it?
Rachelle: Initially we asked our friends to try it so that we could see if it was a good product and when they liked it we used Amazon as a launching platform. Using Amazon is nice because they have a lot of traffic already and you don’t have to find traffic you just have to know how to leverage it.
Paul: Amazon to validated that we had a good idea. And to be completely honest we were sort of blown away by the reception our products had. I remember thinking in September 2015, which is technically two months after we launched, that we would sort of plateau at about $8,000 per month in revenue from our two SKUs that we had selling. I was really wrong! By July 2015, with only two skews selling online we hit $50,000 in revenue for just that month. I was absolutely blown away!
AK: Besides Amazon, how did you start marketing your products? What tactics have you had the most success with?
Paul: Our Amazon traffic validated our idea, people really loved the Nageuret, so we knew that we had a hit. Our next task was then to begin really driving traffic and sales to our website and increase our brand exposure otherwise. We rely heavily on social media and great press. Because we have such a unique product and we have such a great brand with a good story we have been able to get in several blogs, in some pretty cool magazines, and on several “best of lists,” online and on a few different tv shows; and of course winning the OnDeck Seal of Approval Contest was huge for us!
Right now I’m really in love with influencer marketing, in fact, I’m in developing an app to help make that process a little bit more automated and easy for us, so that’s pretty cool. I’m excited to see how it turns out and I may even monetize that once it’s working for us. Another thing that’s actually pretty cool and has helped us is actually entering contests. There are all kinds of different business contests that you can enter and it’s amazing how many we’ve entered that we are either finalists in or actually one. Obviously, OnDeck is one shining example of a great contest that we won. Another that we were actually finalists for was “emerging business of the year,” presented by the US Chamber of Commerce. We just got back from Washington DC for that award ceremony and we recognized nationally as one of the top 3 emerging businesses in the nation out of hundreds of nominees. This award was cool because we had a chance to meet with our congressman, Jared Polis, who is himself an absolutely incredible entrepreneur. So to sum it up, those three things: influencer marketing, great press, and winning business contests all have a very symbiotic relationship in that they give us great exposure and great organic marketing and have done volumes for our brand.
Rachelle: To add to that, the people who buy our products primarily are mommies and they spend a lot of time on social media, especially Instagram. So we put a lot of effort in finding mommy bloggers and influencers on Instagram to get our word out. We grew our Facebook following from 400 people to 4,000 in a little over three months just using tools on Facebook and in addition to Facebook Ads.
AK: Many small businesses are family run, what do you do to keep business and family separate, or can you?
Paul: Oh man this is an absolutely great question! This is really, really difficult actually. One thing that Rachelle and I do is we have a rule that Sundays are our day off. We really do our best to make sure that we don’t do any business at all on Sunday. We try not to even look at our email and we really try not to even talk about the business. That’s more difficult than it may seem though. Since both she and I run the company together, we’re both very passionate about it, naturally we tend to talk a lot about it just in general even when we’re not actually “in business mode.” This is something that we’re still working on, and as the company grows and we had more processes and structure to it I feel like it’s getting a little bit easier than it has been in the past. But like all things in life, I think the key to this is intentionality and making sure that you have distinct boundaries and goals…goals I’m great at, boundaries I’m terrible with; it’s the rebel entrepreneur child in me, haha!
AK: You won the OnDeck Seal of Approval contest and spoke with Barbara Corcoran, What’s the best advice she gave you and how has your business grown or benefitted from her guidance?
Paul: For me, I think my biggest takeaway from the meeting with Barbara is just trusting our gut more. She really impressed me as just being extremely bright, she’s obviously an amazing businesswoman and one of my personal role models as an entrepreneur. What she’s accomplished is absolutely tremendous and I really value the input that she gave in regards to trusting our gut and making sure that we stay true to our vision. One really cool thing, for me anyway, is in watching shark tank she kind of has this look that she gives people when she’s about to invest in them or make them an offer. During the Forbes interview when Geri Stengel was interviewing her and Rachelle, there was a point where Rachelle was answering a question—I can’t remember which one exactly, but Barbara just kind of sat back and looked at Rachelle and had that “I’m going to make you an offer look,” and I could tell that she saw something in Rachelle. That made me extremely proud (did I mention how I married way above my pay grade?). It was funny actually because Barbara said something to the effect of how she would rather do business with Rachelle over me because Rachelle went with her gut instinct or something like that. I thought it was funny because I was sitting in the room listening to the interview & taking photos for Social and Barbara didn’t even realize that because I was just being quiet watching, I thought it was hilarious!
AK: How did you invest your $10k prize from OnDeck? Have you seen any ROI from that investment?
Paul: We put it straight in the inventory!
Rachelle: We launched a new pattern with the $10,000 that we got from the OnDeck contest and it’s actually our bestseller.
Paul: We have a pretty decent profit margin on our products so we saw about a $5,000 return on it when all was said and done.
AK: What metrics do you look at to assess your business growth? How often do you look at these numbers?
Paul: I was actually looking at these numbers last night and because we’ve just entered our third year of business we’re able to track our year-over-year and month-over-month growth. So, I look at it on a per SKU level as well as overall growth. Tracking it per SKU, I’m able to see which items are the hottest selling and which items need a little bit more love in terms of marketing efforts. One of the hardest things about that is sometimes a product may have reached the end of its life cycle, so to speak. Trying to figure out if you just need to market that product harder or to remove it and add in a different item is a little bit difficult sometimes when just analyzing raw data. But so far this year on average, we have grown 200% over last year. A lot of that we attribute to the amazing press we received from OnDeck and the advice that we’ve gotten from Barbara Corcoran.
AK: What are you most excited about when thinking about the future of Beau & Belle Littles?
Paul: I’m super stoked about being able to hire people and expand our product lines and product offerings. When we were in DC for the US Chamber of Commerce Emerging Business of the Year award I mentioned a few things that could really help grow our business. One of which, could actually be almost considered as a pivot for our company in terms of a product offering, which I’m really excited about.
Rachelle: We are hoping to launch a few new patterns for our swim diapers, a larger size that can even fit kids that have special needs and aren’t potty trained. There’s a huge gap in the market there for cute or fashionable products. We have been working with someone on getting a start in the Australia also.
At Beau & Belle Littles, our goal is to make the absolute best reusable baby products on the market. We have had absolutely amazing feedback from mommies (and daddies) all over the country that absolutely love our swim diapers. Because of this success, we plan to expand our product line to include different lines of baby and toddler swim and swim-related products between 2017 and 2019; all while keeping our Nageuret line of swim diaper as the cornerstone of our product lineup.
I want to leave you off with this inspirational thought Paul had when talking about all the businesses he’s started:
“Most of the businesses I started were failures, but the great thing about failures is that as long as you don’t let them identify you as a “failure,” and rather you look at them as learning experiences, then those experiences/lessons that you learn in those failures helping more on your path towards success than almost any other lesson would.”