Well, welcome to this week’s program. You know, we know that entrepreneurs enter the market with the problem for which they cannot find a solution. In the case of my guest this week Melanie Love out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, her problem was finding professional boardroom-ready blouses and dresses for her hourglass figure. Working as a high profile International Oil & Gas Analyst in Canada’s largest independent broker firm, she increasingly found it frustrating to find clothing that fit her without pins and expensive alterations keeping her together.
This was particularly challenging given that the finance sector is known for its male peacocking, you know, the truly expensive suits, the fancy watches and the crazy socks. And to all this, Melanie was often the only woman in the room. And so this Economics graduate and chartered finance analyst decided to take the plunge from her well-paid corporate position to the entrepreneurial shark tank where she gave birth to “Frontroom”.
The elevator pitch for this organization is that it’s a Canadian made clothing line for your girlfriends with big boobs. This piece is multitasked to go from dusk to dinner to errands on the weekend. Now you can find her fashion line on www.morefrontroom.com—that’s M-O-R-E-F-R-O-N-T-R-O-O-M.com.
There you’ll find her marketing savvy expressed in the likes of style made for the top eluding to both the female body and the professional nature of her pieces. I wanted Melanie to take us through the challenging journey of her startup, given that she had absolutely no background in the field she was entering, other than being a customer and of course good with numbers.
Now regardless of the nature of the startup my audience may have experienced—you folks out there—or maybe anticipating the journey is universal. Don’t get caught up in the specifics of the fashion industry, but rather listen to her invaluable advice that applies to any startup. You will discover that often the advice of entrepreneurial titans found on dragon’s den and shark tank are out of sync for the realities of startups in today’s world.
You are not a failure if your product development takes three and a half years, nor is it practical for small business to do just in time production. My preference is to listen to those who are making it in today’s business arena, rather than those whose startups took place decades in vastly different circumstances.
So, let’s go into the studio with Melanie Love with one point or two of clarification. When Melanie refers to M&As she’s speaking of mergers and acquisitions. When she’s speaking of paper on the books she is referring to the amount of debt the company is holding.
Lesley: Well, hello, Melanie Love. And I’m so delighted to have a woman who takes lifelong learning to its full definition as mentioned in the introduction. And what I want to ask you is, what was it like being a woman in the financial arena? And did it help you or hurt you as you went about developing the credibility and professional achievement?
Melanie: Being a woman in the finance field, generally I was the only woman in the room who was a peer. So, it could be lonely at times in the sense of you’re the only one there but it played to my advantage. I always said that it was an advantage being a woman, that one of the sole women because I stood out. And so when I would be seeking to get a return phone call from one of the portfolio managers or a company, I was pretty much one who usually the only woman ever calling so it’s easier to stand out amongst the crowd. And I was fortunate enough to be….I was young-ish when I was doing it in my early to mid-30s. And I have the advantage of looking somewhat younger, and so people would assume they didn’t know what to think. So when I walked in with my male peers they didn’t know if I was a secretary. They didn’t know what I was. And so, it was my advantage to serve, play that out, keep my mouth shut for a period of time. And then by the time I got around to asking the harder questions, they were so shocked that they couldn’t do anything but other than telling us truth.
Lesley: What a great strategy! What an absolute great strategy!
Melanie: And so, it sort of played to my advantage. And then people were always, you know… There’s a lady in the UK that basically says that “We have the advantage of being persistently misunderestimated” and so that played to my advantage and I used it.
Lesley: How did you get into the mergers acquisitions field in the first place?
Melanie: So I started out, I had an undergrad in Economics and decided that I wanted to go to law school but it was hard to seem for me to go to law school. You know, I was only 21 and needed to fill the bank account for my undergrad degree, and I started working in finance. So I started literally in retail brokerage helping ma and pa with their retirement plan as an assistant to two senior brokers and then it just progressed from there. I started to do my chartered financial analyst designation and became a broker on my own. I decided that broker is just not a good fit for me and ended up as an internal M&A finance person, and helped a private company through an M&A and just ended up then as a portfolio manager and then as a sell side publishing analyst. So I worked for Canada’s largest independent brokerage firm as an International Oil & Gas Analyst up until the end of 2011.
Lesley: So definitely during the boom years of oil & gas and it must have been fairly rock as time to be in your particular field of financial analysis.
Melanie: Yeah. In that time there was booms, severe bust, 2008 was brutally for the oil industry. And you know, especially the credit crunch at that time, a lot of companies had commercial paper on the books. And so we had to phone them literally one by one to establish who is exposed and who wasn’t, and so it was pretty dicey. And then from there all the way back up to 125 dollar oil and massive exploration programs in places. And yeah, so we sort of solved the damage during that time.
Lesley: And what would you say was the skill that dominated for you that period? What was the tool that brought out of your arsenal and just seemed to be clearly the one or two skills that made you be so successful in that period?
Melanie: I think there’s lots of a good analyst out there, but I think I combined it with…and this will sound silly but almost the feminine… I used my intuition a lot to be truthful. So I would…If something just didn’t feel right I just listen to that and I gave myself permission somewhere along the line into my mid-30s of not needing to know what my, you know, not questioning my intuition and just trusting it. And if it was telling me, and so when I scan reports I literally get a physical sensation when something is not right. And I have ignored that to my perils part too many times, and so when something was off filter I just listen to that. And you know, sometimes I could find the rational reason and sometimes I couldn’t, but I trusted the rules side enough to just go with that and that served me well.
Lesley: That’s a tool of increasingly this show. We isolate as a premier gifted aspect of ourselves that we picked time and maturity to trust. You know, it takes us some time to sort of say “Yeah, this intuition of mine does know what it’s talking about,” because it comes from our subconscious where a deeper level of intelligence is actually operating.
Melanie: Yeah and it can be. You know, you think that in the financial field there would be no space for that but really it’s no different. And it’s sort you get into that sort of level and whether it’s sort of the tipping point type of thing where you’ve just amassed enough of the base knowledge. Yeah, so I found that served me well in more times than I can count actually.
Lesley: So let’s roll the camera forward a little bit. And you and your ongoing lifelong learning start to do some different programs and some different development processes, what’s underneath this quest for learning in you?
Melanie: I actually don’t know it and I didn’t realize how strong it was until did another one of my courses. And in that, she recommended reading “Now discover your strengths” is a book and “The strengths finder 2.0” is the follow-up to that. And it turned out that it’s just one of my core top 3 innate, it’s built-in and it’s just innate that I love learning. And I love learning about also to different thing. I’ve done everything from incaproving and shamanism to derivatives courses to the chartered financial analyst to naturopathy. I mean, it sort of covers the broad gamut of science to… So I’m always learning and it turns out it’s just a cord of who I am.
Lesley: So as you do this you’re acquiring more and more diverse perspective because the eclectic nature of your learning certainly opened your lenses to multiple factors. And as you do this, you start to discover that there’s a need in your life that’s not being satisfied by the market. Can you walk us through the birth of “Frontroom?”
Melanie: Sure. So, Frontroom was born from finance days when I was a publishing analyst, I needed to be taken seriously because like I said I was lucky to look to be youthful. But also people were sort of assuming that I was like 25-ish and just out of school, which is exactly germane to building lots of credibility that just sort of tap you on the head and say, “Oh aren’t you sweet?” So I had to look a part or sure and I’m surrounded by guys and ten thousand dollar suit, crazy watches and all the shoes and the socks, and this is before even the… So finance is an area where very much a lot of that. There’s a lot of peacocking going on amongst the men and I’m pretty much the only woman in the room so I felt the need to up my game. And so I happened to be very hourglassy, I’m built like a Kardashian although I’m older than they are so technically they’re built like me. And so they’ve put my curves somewhere, right, but not sure if it’s just sort of the standard and not conservative field. You know, if I bought a shirt I would have to spend more on alterations than I did the actual shirt. I would have to take things in and take off the collar, and readjust the shoulders and add extra buttons to prevent the gaping. And I thought, “This is dumb. There’s got to be something else there.” And there were some companies who were involved in that field but it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t elevated enough for the level that I was at. And so I got tired of basically complaining if there is no solution and decided to do it myself.
Lesley: So tell me, there you are, and this is what we find with most particularly female entrepreneurs but more and more male entrepreneurs are going this route where they have a personal need that they’re not seeing satisfied. And they decide that if nobody else is doing it and you wait long enough and see that nobody else is doing it, and in your case your husband say, “I know who is ready to do it and it’s you.” What was it that it took for you to finally go from the solutions out there to “I have the capacity to develop this solution”?
Melanie: I think that’s part of the training along the way that I’ve learned is that if they can do it I can do it. I might not understand the “how” but somebody else has figured this out before. I’m not in particularly with clothing; I wasn’t reinventing the wheel necessarily or even trying to have necessarily even a better mouse trap. It was somebody else that done this before, if they can do it I can do it. So I looked a lot and I still look to the success story of the Lady Bits started Spanx Sarah Blakelely. And so, you know, we actually have some similar background stories. I don’t have the successful self-made billionaire title to my name yet, I’m still inventive. But I looked a lot to her and her journey and thought if she could go from being an IBM saleslady and to helming her multi-billionaire company herself then I can do it.
Lesley: So role models are important. I mean, it’s good to have somebody particularly in the field such as you are and with this clothing, where you can say, “If this person could move from the corporate sector into this, then there’s at least some knowledge to that can be done.”
Melanie: Yeah for sure. And my biggest competitors have the similar story of starting in their basement and now there are multimillion dollar company based on the UK, for sure yeah. And I think it’s also the belief that I can, you know, we have to have that foundation of belief. Because I struggle with the impostors and they’re a lot like, “Who the hell am I to do this? Are you crazy?” And then you just have to take a step back, and say, “I can do this and here’s why, and somebody else has done this. If they can do it, I can do it.” You have to remind all the time that, you know, “I thought of this and if the seed was planted to my head it was given to me for a reason.”
Lesley: And so, just to clarify Frontroom , you design blouses and some dresses that are designed for double B to the double J?
Melanie: Yeah, for the full bust market.
Lesley: Okay, so walk us through how you went about just going from “Okay, I’m the one to do it” to actually getting dismayed getting online. Just give us sort of the 1, 2, 3 trip that you went through.
Melanie: I wish it was a 1, 2, 3. We need a stiff drink in our hands for this one, because it wasn’t until my seventh pattern maker that I finally got the fix. So I thought “Oh yeah, this will be not too difficult.” I knew somebody else who had been in product development for the better part of two years. And I thought, “Two years, what took so long?” It took me three and a half years of product development through multiple fittings and pattern makers that were just throw up their hands and go “You want this fabric to do this thing. You want a two dimensional fabric to do a three dimensional thing and it can’t be done using the rules that this is how garments are made.” I discovered that a lot of pattern makers are a lot like engineers, like, here’s the rules and they want to color within the lines and they don’t want to break the rules. And so, eventually I found someone who would break the rules and bend them to be more accurate so that we could get that shape. And all the pattern makers would all say the same thing, “Oh it’s…” They just didn’t know what they are talking about. “All that you sorted would be on our seventh fitting,” which typically in the industry if you get to about the third fitting it means the styles are working and you just need to chuck it and start over or just scrap the style entirely. So I was on getting to seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth fittings on a regular basis. And in the beginning it was fine because it was in Calgary, but then Calgary Alberta is not a…there’s a growing fashion hub but at the time there certainly wasn’t all the talent I was looking for. So, I was travelling to and from New York to find these pattern makers, and every time I needed a fitting I would be traveling back and forth, and it was a nightmare. So fast forward I get my fit. And then the other tricky thing in fashion is to find your factories because factories as ruled do not want to deal with little people. They want big ten, hundred thousand piece orders that they can just do the same thing over and over again – highly profitable. So, and I discovered with factories that if you can call them till the cows come home, they’re not going to answer. If you show up in person they still may or may not meet you. And I’ve learned that with the factories that are in the industrial areas you always ring the bell at the back door. Because if you ring the front door they think it’s a salesperson or something, or they think it’s designers looking for something. You ring the back door because that’s where the deliveries go. And so when they opened the door I literally jam, I put in the door, and say, “Hi, I traveled from Calgary to see you” and drop a name of somebody that they know otherwise you’re not getting in.
Lesley: So how many factories did you find yourself having to go through the back door until you found the one that you ended up with?
Melanie: Oh God, fifteen, twenty at least.
Lesley: Yes. And so, what was the nature of the factory that where the fit came? They were able to do low volume runs. They were able to obviously produce the pattern in the material that you were working with.
Melanie: So, I had the pattern makers separate from the factories, so the factory I just give them the blueprints that the pattern makers…So as it turned out the lady that I worked with for my patterns is based in Calgary, and she would came from Montreal in the garments sector here. So she just moved here, moved her husband as it turned out. And I was turning over every rock looking for somebody local again and I found her and she just moved relatively recently. So by the time it goes to the factory they’re not involved in the fit. They more or less read the blue prints, cut them out and make them.
Lesley: Right. So just to clarify, did this woman travel to come to Calgary because of the fact that you are now going to be establishing this relationship or is she coming anyway?
Melanie: She is coming anyway with her husband does it turned out. He was coming to work in the oil and duct sector. And so she left her a job in the garment business in Montreal and was teaching in one of the local colleges. There’s an up and coming fashion program at one of the local colleges. So I called the college to say, “Please do have anyone local who can help me that can take this on,” and they gave me her name.
Lesley: So, you did find… So nobody in New York actually satisfied your needs, in the end it was somebody from Canada.
Melanie: Yeah. Ultimately it was somebody from Canada. But five of the seven were from New York.
Lesley: Okay. So now you’ve got your factory, you’ve got your pattern maker, now what do you do?
Melanie: So, the other part of it is all the way just takes in getting all the fabrics in from all over…and that fabric suppliers also don’t like dealing with small people so you have to deal with, there are factories that have lower minimum orders in order to get the volume and so it gets all shipped. To the factories, samples need to get made. The samples are more or less visual contract which me and myself and the factory, or the manufacturer and the factory. And so, it’s to show that they understand how it’s supposed to be made and troubleshoot any problems with the pattern, there shouldn’t be any by that point. And also it’s that’s where you actually the first time you get your true cost is when the factory runs the sample, which is crazy for me as a financial person to be that for a long process and still have not cost like it blows my mind but that’s how it goes.
Lesley: Because now you’re knee deep, right?
Melanie: Oh yeah, up to your neck already. Well, and maybe for a fashion insider or somebody who is going to school to do that, they know how to cost better. You know, and certainly now, I have a much better ability to cost but in the beginning you have no idea until the factory says. And even within Canada and in New York the factory pricing can vary wildly both on combination of minimum orders, how busy they are, which Canada is talk a block right now. It’s really tough for us Canadians to compete because our dollar is so low, so Canadian factories particularly in Vancouver are full of American orders. And so it’s tough for us to get the attention of the factories.
Lesley: Do you have multiyear contracts or do you find that you have to initiate different relationships depending on the year you’re in?
Melanie: Um, I found that you can’t rely on just one factory in case they’re late which a lot of them are. So this fall, I heard of designers that these factories who are not arguably used to dealing with this sort of figure American orders were all of a sudden sort of a little bit overrun. And I was told there was no seamstress for hire anywhere in the lower mainland of Vancouver, and so they were all running at full capacity. And some of the orders from the smaller designers they just got phone call, saying, “We’re behind on our big order. We’re not doing yours.” So you’ve ordered all your fabrics, you’ve got all your stuff, it’s sitting on the factory floor and they just call you, and say, “Oh by the way, you’re not getting your orders or we’re going to deliver six weeks late.” But if your main strategy is to wholesale, if you’re even one day late delivering, the wholesale customers can cancel your orders, so that’s a big problem for a lot of these designers. And so, I was quite happy that I was selling online and that my stuff was also late but not nearly that late, but it was just part of being a small fish is that you have no power or place. So you have to be a combination of nice enough that they want to deal with you and firm enough, because if you’re too nice they’ll just walk all over you because they know you’re not going to raise a sink. And yeah, so it’s a fine line of being as cordial and as firm as you absolutely can.
Lesley: So negotiating these relationships can take a lot of time, obviously this is a big investment.
Melanie: Yeah. And it doesn’t need to be done in person.
Lesley: So it’s face to face which is absolutely critical. So you’re going from place to place negotiating, and meanwhile have decided that you’re going to distribute through an online presence. What was it about online that attracted you?
Melanie: Well I hate shopping for once so I’m an online shopper; for sure there is a personal bias. And I also thought that a lot of us have to go in the full bust market. A lot of us already buy our bras online. You know, depending in where you live, you may or may not have access or even excellent access to your size. You know, if you’re a 38, you know, certainly your local Canadian department store carry it, nor it sounds pretty good now that they’re here in Canada. But you may or may not, you can’t just rock up….certainly Victoria’s Secret doesn’t carry it. So, you know, you’re either at a special boutique already or you’re already buying online. So that was my theory. And the vast majority of the “I’ll be at small clothes.” I have less than ten competitors globally as far as the niche goes, which is sort of crazy when you figure that there’s more than 200 D-plus bra manufacturers, there’s very little on the clothing side. And so there’s less than ten of us in the clothing space. As far as my direct competitors there’s maybe one or two that would sort of have that elevated order ready clothing. And so, yeah, it was people who are online for the bras, they’re probably online. But what I found is that my target, my ideal customer is…She’s Jenner actually, she’s a 35 to 45. She’s pretty cynical, right? We’re known for being the cynical generation and a lot of them are shoppers. They do want to see it, and feel it and try it on. So I’ve had some good success. I’ve actually been wholesaling more than I thought I would. And so when I have a popup event where I show up and were talking one on one and they get to see, and feel and try, those are pretty successful.
Lesley: Where have you done your popups? Because I’ve done popups and they are really, really successful but obviously depending on the location and on the premarketing.
Melanie: Yeah. So that’s for sure key and it’s been all local so far, and unfortunately with my current bout of vertigo I haven’t been able to travel as much. So, my whole popup strategy has been car bashed because I can’t travel.
Lesley: Yes. But this too shall pass…
Melanie: Yes. I will be planning in large cities. I’ll be coming to Toronto. I’ll be coming to Ottawa. I’ll be even doing some potentially joint ventures in the States, in New York City in DC.
Lesley: So, when you do the elevator pitch on what is unique about Frontroom, what is it that you say?
Melanie: Really for me, I try to design pieces that were super versatile that if I wouldn’t pack it on one of my trips as a former business, as a financial analyst, I basically don’t make it. I want pieces that multitask and that are going to last from season to season and they just happen to fit a full busted lady.
Lesley: And what have you learned about going and distributing online? What are some of the lessons learned about how to or what not to do when you start to do this kind of distribution?
Melanie: Photography, photography, photography. I mean it’s online, it’s such really the visual. It’s all about the photography. And for us, in having the shipment of where I were late and not having those key samples already done, so I learned about the order of operations. You know, I was hoping to do more of adjusting time business. I thought, “Oh this year in advance business” like that’s crazy. Even though it is sort of fooling how they antiquated business model with the fabric industry and the whole garment industry runs on but there having them samples done a year in advance is very helpful for all of the photograph, and the marketing and all of that sort of pieces.
Lesley: So what’s your turnaround when somebody makes an order?
Melanie: So I produce to satisfy the wholesale orders, and then I produce a little bit extra on basically on… You know, the cardinal thing of business is you never know how many widgets to make. So, to a certain extent you’re getting a little bit, so I book factory time. You book a factory time, you give a factory purchase order and then we go from there and then the factory will tell you when they have the window. And as a small person I have no power to argue other than offering to pay more, which in Canada were already very expensive compared to the rest of the world. So there’s no wiggle room to pay them more, and it’s a matter of being nice enough to get the order on time. And then making sure that on my end all of my docs are in a row that they thought this. They’ve got a sample that’s exactly what they need to see to copy, but they’ve got all of the patterns, and the blueprints and everything that they have. You know, we would call them blueprints, they’re called “markers” in the finance industry… And so that they have all the pieces they need. I’ve learned to do everything in triple kit because they will lose whatever pieces of paper that I give them. So I’ve learned to just make them a triple kit because whatever I give them is going to get lost in the factory floor. I don’t think people really understand how messy the fabric business is like these factory floors are a disaster. There are fabrics everywhere, there are boxes everywhere, there are stuff unlabeled. You know, so I’ve learned I cover everything that I do for them in polka dot paint, bright packing tape. So that when I walk into a factory floor I can look and I see that paint dot and stuff and like, “There’s my stuff.” And otherwise it just goes into devour, into the void. You know, last spring I had three or four thousand dollar rolls of silk gold missing on the factory floor.
Lesley: …which is a big chunk in a small business inventory. Absolutely. So what’s the plan for Frontroom?
Melanie: Frontroom. Even we’re persisting and perhaps pivoting because I was surprised at the wholesale success. And wholesale really, you know, the key as a small business is being able to make the factory minimum. And it’s a big commitment for a small business to commit to a…. I doesn’t sound like a lot of hundred pieces per style, you think, “Oh that’s not very much for a small retailer. That’s actually enough to have sort of almost nationwide distribution.” So it’s meeting the factory minimums but getting the orders in advance. You know, as a “designer” I mean I sort of know what I like and I certainly have a style but I’m more driven. I view my as to build and to make what people want. It’s really what I want, it’s what people want. So as we roll forward, you know, this is going to evolve into a cool creation model where I will put out, here’s the samples that we have an ideas. Here’s the sketches and I will put it out to my tribe of women to say, “Okay here’s sort of what we’re thinking. Here’s two colors, let’s put it out there. Here’s the watches.” Put it out for feedback and give ladies great deals for being able to say early on what they want to see done, and it helps me meet my minimums. It helps them get exactly what they want, and I’m not guessing as far as what’s going to be popular, right? When you do a print you have no idea if it’s super awesome or if it’s not. The dress that you see online right now looks awesome on, but it’s very hard to sell online because the colors are chameleon. It’s like our version of that “Is it black or is it blue dress?” mean thing of last year. It’s such a chameleon under different lighting in it. It’s harder to sell online because people just don’t know what they’re getting, and it’s that sort of those factors so…
Lesley: So my question to wrap this up because we could talk forever because I love fashion and I love your designs. I mean, unfortunately, I’m never going to be a target market but I’m going to be the one who says, “Can you not do this in my size because it’s beautiful materials.”
Melanie: We may do that, we’ve had a lot of request for that actually so we may evolve to be in a work style brand that happens to have an extra fit range.
Lesley: Yeah. I mean, I just think that way in which you treat the woman’s body the way it needs to be treated which is as a showcase. And so, as we wrap this up my last question is, for women sitting out there who are teetering on living a very serious pain professional job in the corporate world and yet have this inkling of an entrepreneurial idea, what are couple of pieces of advice you’d like to leave them with?
Melanie: For sure it’s identifying exactly who your ideal customer is. And I’m a big believer and even if there is a hundred competitors in my space already, there’s only one you. And, you know, there’s always room for some, you know… you are going to connect entirely differently than your competitors. So, in part of that for me has been really learning to let myself show through because there is only one you. So really get a good solid handle on who that ideal customer is and figure out how you can delight them, what’s missing on their life and how can you be of service. And if you find a way to do that then you’re golden, really. I mean, you can analyze till the cows come home but there’s been lots of great ideas that are great on paper that just don’t really work. And then there’s lots of crazy ideas that shouldn’t work at all but do like that little book of empty pages, everything a man knows about a woman, right? You know, it’s just connected with… And so in this day and age, I think connection is just so keen and finding a way. And the hardest part as figuring out is the marketing aspect as how you are going to reach those people so that you can connect. And you know, I was so focused on the production side that, you know, I unfortunately applied too much of it. If you build it they will come and my marketing plan was not as developed as it needed to be simply because I was just stretched too thin honestly. There is only so many pieces I could hand to have a firm grip on it one time and that unfortunately enough of a focus. So, you know, having is a really good plan of where do your ideal customer hangout, and how can you reach them and how can you delight them.
Lesley: Well, brilliant advice. Absolutely brilliant advice. And I want to wish that you have in this next year a continued success of Frontroom. I wish you great health and great wellness as we move into 2016. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time, Melanie.
Melanie: Well, thank you. I appreciate it, I mean I have it. Marie Forleo has the best thing. She basically says, “Let’s take the shame out of shameless promotion.” If you are not doing everything in your power to get out there, and if you have a product that you truly believe serves people, if you’re not doing everything in your power to get out there and tell them about it you’re stealing from them.
Lesley: Oh! That’s an interesting quote.
Melanie: Yeah. So I basically every time before I have an event or that I need to go out and do that because I’m always like, you know, be that promotional person and just bla bla bla about other business and all about you. I mean, it wouldn’t be that way but I just never want to come across that way. So I read that quote before I lead to make sure, because I’m guilty of being out in crowds and never saying anything about my business which is worse, right? So, which is cardinal sin of marketing, right? So I read that and say, “Okay, if I truly believe I serve people which I do, I believe and I hear that from the ladies. Thank you for including me in the fashion conversation. I’ve been left out for so long.”
Lesley: I mean, I think that cool creation idea is absolutely brilliant. So just to clarify, your team includes your marketing and strategy person, your pattern maker?
Lesley: Your sounding board adviser.
Lesley: You have an accounting team. Who am I missing?
Melanie: I’ve got legal and trademark. I’ve also got a pattern and technical so the lady that creates all of the technical specs for the factory floors, so they’re grating in the markers and all of that. So she helps me up for sure.
Lesley: How did you gather this team?
Melanie: Part of it was, um, so at least three of them I’ve worked together before. Another couple I’ve met at networking events, and then the technical people just by referral and by asking around. And saying, “This is specifically what I’m looking for. Can you refer me and talking to as many people as I could?” And yeah, especially in the fashion business they don’t want to deal with up and comers because everyone has, you know, seems that everyone wants to be a fashion brand and so there’s a lot of stuff to meet through. So yeah it was a lot of referrals.
Lesley: Wonderful and obviously a story that they got attracted to so that’s how it works.
Melanie: Well, I think, you know, I’m a bit of novelty there as well because I’m not coming to them as a fashion school graduate with all the stuff. So I would say, “Look, you know, I want to be one of your better customers… You can tell me how to be your best customer.” And they’re like, “Wow.” Okay, so, you know, I ask a lot of questions and I I’m not trying to come in there like I know it all because if I know stretched imagination do. I have an idea of how what I’m trying to get done, and I let them sort of guide me as far as you get the best way is and that has worked so far.
Lesley: Wow. What great advice. I mean all of it from a small business development point of view it’s a fantastic story. So, thank you for staring at this screen as long as you have.
Melanie: Well, it’s all good.
Lesley: I pretty restricted myself with that. Yeah. Jumping around is not in my book at that moment. Anyway, I wish you all the best in your feeling journey as well, my friend. And I will send you a copy of the interview with the pre-impost once it’s all done and I’ll give you the airing date, okay?
Melanie: Oh thank you!
Lesley: No. It’s I have to thank you. Any pictures that you have of yourself obviously we’re going to direct people to Frontroom, anything else that you want to market then shamelessly said that to me. Because the more that we can twitter and the more that we can facebook, the more the exposure the program gets and the more exposure you get.
Melanie: I’ll do a virtual introduction for you and my social media cheeky manager which is Shelle. So I’ll put you in touch with Shelle, and Shelle makes sure that everything is bet. And so even today, Shelle say that, “Guess who we were talking to today” and Shelle start putting that up.
Lesley: Okay, brilliant. Okay my love. Well, God speed.
Melanie: Thank you. Take care.
Lesley: You too. Bye.
I think there’s a lot of insight that she can provide us about what startups really require in today’s marketplace. Now Melanie self-acclaims that she stretched herself too thin in the beginning, and she fell into the typical female entrepreneurial trap of trying to do everything herself. Her learning curve on the production site caused her marketing plan to fall behind and make no bones about it.
There is no such thing as a single personal operation in this small business arena. It indeed takes a virtual corporation. In Frontroom’s case, Melanie has established a comprehensive team of experts: a marketing and business strategist, an accounting team, legal and trademark specialists, social media support, a pattern maker, a technical specs specialist for the factory floor, and of course what every business needs a sounding board and adviser.
Of course there are the factories and the material suppliers she also has to deal with. She sourced three of her team from her own background and two from networking events, the technical people she found by referrals talking to as many people as she could in the fashion industry. She had to fight the up and comers notion in the fashion industry because nobody wants to deal with you. She had to overcome the whole notion that she was not in any way trying to do something that was not possible. She always felt that she was indeed the one to do this and that never left her mind. She approaches her suppliers by asking them how she can be their best customer and she uses her clients to help her design. Truly, this is an interactive and highly relationship building business orientation.
You can find out more about Melanie and her business by going to www.morefrontroom.com. She’s on twitter @morefrontroom that’s M-O-R-E-F-R-O-N-T-R-O-O-M, and of course look her up on Linkedin as Melanie Love. You can find out more about me and this show by going to my website www.Lesleysouthwicktrask.com and of course check us out on Facebook on the “Women who lead radio show.”
Don’t forget this is your show; I am your host Lesley Southwick-Trask. See you next time.