I had originally planned to post this in honor of small business week, bit in typical small business fashion I got busy fulfilling quote requests, coordinating the production on a delicious leather bag collection, and enjoying life a bit. Luckily I do not need the excuse of small business week to talk to my client and friend, fearless founder of Wild June, Kim Ponniah.
In 2011 I said “bye-bye” to my corporate fashion job, and ventured into the wide world of freelance handbag and accessory design with Niche Design + Import. I had dappled a bit before, but flying solo full time was a big leap for me. Fortunately, I hit the jackpot with a string of wonderful clients – Kim was the first!
Kim wanted to make fashionable, functional belt bags and she came to me with a lot of GREAT designs, but was at a loss when it came to actually getting the product made. I was able to connect her with a solid factory to manufacture her first collection, and walk her thru the process …Since the day her first sample arrived this girl has been hustling.
Over the years I have watched her grow as a designer and as a business owner. She was able to evolve and find her own manufacturers that made sense with her growing business. She found success through wholesale channels and was able to grew a strong following through pop-up shops at popular music festivals. Our meetings now are much less about design and product development consultation and much more about a glass of wine and catching up as she has truly become the master of her business.
Unfortunately, I do not have a glass of wine now – but will commence with the catching up anyways.
Liz: Kim, do you remember our first meeting? I think we wore blazers!
Kim: Hah! Yes, no blazers, but I do remember being the most unfashionable thing in the world back then 🙂
Liz: If you could give that year one Kim (and all of our future business owners) 1 piece of advice, what would it be?
Kim: Don’t get discouraged if things aren’t perfect in the beginning, they will get better, just keep working at it, and prepare to spend all your free time and money on your business. If you think you need $10,000 to get started, you probably need 3x that. There are so many unexpected challenges and extra things to pay for in the first year, that you will never have even thought of, so having a good budget to begin with is key. The best advice that I was told and didn’t follow because I was so excited to just hurry up and be a designer already was, “Don’t quit your day job.” Quitting your day job gives you the advantage of working on your business full time, however in the beginning the business probably won’t be making much money, and you don’t want your beginning budget to get spent with your own personal expenses. I ended up needing to find extra work in the first couple years, and I found mindless work that I don’t take home with me, to be the best. If you’re in a full time job, that demands all your mental attention, you will never have time or mental capacity to work on your own business. However part time work, mindless work, or doing something that’s still within your industry and lets you continue to learn more, can be great ways to keep you financially afloat while you’re getting off the ground.
Liz: So true! Pursuing you own business not only takes money and time, it takes a lot of mental energy – you need to have space for that in your life! Tell us a bit about Wild June & why you decided to become an entrepreneur.
Kim: Wild June designs and produces belt bags, utility belts and holsters, made from the finest leathers, unique fabrics and recycled motorcycle and bicycle tires. That’s my one sentence summarization. My phone cutely knows this by heart now 🙂 I decided to start Wild June because I wanted a reason to go back to India and not be a traveling bum. I guess the larger reason is that I wanted to have control over my life. I wanted to travel with a purpose, have a way to visit my family in Asia every year, have a reason to go to festivals and interesting events, and an outlet for my creativity. Now that I think about it, I couldn’t see my life any other way.
Liz: What made you decide to design fashionable belt bags?
Kim: Originally my idea was to import cool stuff from India. I made a listing of everything I wanted to import, went around to see where those items were sold in the States. Then I figured out what my profit margins would be for those items. The belt bags had the best profit margins, and it’s a fairly niche item, which provides the extra benefit of less competition. Originally I wanted to buy them in India in the markets, however, my business advisor at the time suggested I design my own, which is when I met you Liz 🙂
Liz: Thank you business advisor!! What is your favorite style currently in the collection?
Kim: I love, love, LOVE, the new Lincoln holster with custom hardware. I had a customer tell me recently, “This is the Chanel of holsters,” to which I have been brimming with pride about ever since. It just makes getting dressed so easy, cause it goes with every outfit, and it has a ton of room in it. All of my products are like babies to me though, even the under performers have a special place in my heart.
Liz: That style is great, but I LOVE Topanga… Who doesn’t love some long fringe?
Liz: What were the biggest obstacles for you as a small business owner? Have you overcome them? How?
Kim: Price Points! And I’m too nice! I never want to charge people more than I would want to pay. However, that doesn’t translate into very good wholesale prices. Your wholesale customers want to be selling things for what you are selling things for. If you’re selling your products for cheaper, they will figure it out, and they won’t be too happy about it. I’m finally at a point where my wholesale prices and my retail prices are in line with each other. Meaning wholesale cost x2 equals the retail cost. However, most customers want the retail price to be a 2.5 markup above the wholesale cost, so they have room for discounts, sales, and more of a margin. I’m constantly working to make the prices better. Now I design with the manufacturing, wholesale, and retail costs in mind beforehand.
Liz: That advice is huge! I think pricing is a constant struggle. Finding your ideal target price point and subsequent cost is an important step that more often than not happens after the product is designed – it is smart that you are now able to design to meet your target price rather then forcing your price to meet you designs (and sacrificing your margins in the process!!) What is the biggest WIN/proudest moment you have had in the last 7 years?
Kim: I wrote orders with 14 wholesale clients on my first day of my first tradeshow, including SHOPBOP. Selling to a big store like SHOPBOP has the advantage of smaller boutiques learning about your company, however bigger clients ask for discounts for advertising, making the actual account and order, not the most profitable venture. Smaller proud moments, that I experience all the time: helping customers find their perfect piece in the perfect color, and seeing them years later still wearing it. Those moments push me to keep going.
Liz: I see these happy customers all over your instagram – @WildJuneDesigns – makes me smile every time! What were the biggest game changing moments/decisions you made as a small business owner?
Kim: Every year, I make one risky investment that has the potential to change my business. Examples of these have been entering new sales markets in different parts of the country, going to a tradeshow, purchasing a bulk order with a new and cheaper factory, and entering a showroom. The showroom taught me tons about the industry and how to take my business to the next level, it also encouraged me to change so much of my business that it became unrecognizable to me, and thus sent me into a funk myself. As a small business owner, your business becomes a part of you. When your business is doing good, you’re doing good. When your business is doing bad, you feel bad. So for me with the showroom, and the major changes that were occurring to my brand as a result of them, I felt in a state of flux myself. I think it is important to be clear and honest with yourself why you are doing this, and to what level you want to go with it. Always stay true to your brand, and make decisions that are in line with your brand.
Liz: How do you connect with your consumers? How do you know what they want?
Kim: I work at underground and club parties on the weekends, throughout California, and at festivals throughout the West Coast in the spring. I have a festival brand, so for me it works. By getting out and engaging with the public regularly, I’m able to gage what styles and colors are popular and which ones are starting to lose steam.
Liz: What is next for Wild June?
Kim: Hiring a social media manager. One of the biggest lessons that I can impart, and still haven’t fully learned from myself, is that you can not do everything by yourself. No one is wonder woman! As much as you might be on top of things one moment, it’s very easy to get distracted, lose motivation, or start working on other tasks more. Everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses. Figure out what your weaknesses are, and hire someone to do those things. You might not find your perfect employee the first time, but eventually you’ll find your match.
Liz: So true! I struggle with this as well. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! Any other advise for our readers?
Kim: Go to MAGIC in Las Vegas! And Liz is the best! She’s taught me everything I know about designing and continues to be a mentor for me within this ever changing industry 😉
To purchase one of Kim’s gorgeous belt bags visit her site http://www.wildjune.com – My personal favorite is the Topanga!
To learn more about her story read her Blog.