Behind the Scenes of Alison + Aubrey: Five Big Mistakes We Made and What We Learned

In case you didn’t know, in addition to Get Your Pretty On, I also have a jewelry and accessories brand that I started with my college daughter Aubrey last year.  This month we’re celebrating a relaunch of Alison + Aubrey along with a new web site and some really cool new custom products that we’re both super excited about! I thought it would be fun today to go through some of the challenges and biggest lessons of our first year and share some of the changes we have coming up.

(Psst…we’ve got a pretty sweet giveaway later in this post. Don’t leave without entering!)

As we all know, social media is often flooded with unrealistic portrayals of success coming easily. It’s rare to get a glimpse into the messy stuff that really goes on behind the scenes. In one of my recent Coffee Chats, I made a commitment to you that I’m going to be more open about real life stuff. As much as I love seeing (and celebrating) what makes others successful, I usually learn even more from reading about their mistakes and missteps. That’s what this post is all about.

Starting any business is HARD but I’ve had even more challenges with this one for a variety of reasons – most of which were my own unrealistic expectations. I entered into this thinking “hey, I’ve started businesses before, this will be a piece of cake!” In some ways, it was easier but in others it was way more complicated than I could’ve ever dreamed.

The first nine months were a constant uphill struggle through the learning curve. This product-based business is a totally different animal from GYPO. There were so many new things to learn – everything from setting margins to tracking inventory and finding reliable suppliers for products and packaging while balancing quality with affordability.

But before we dive into the mistakes and lessons I think it’s important to know WHY we started this business because that’s what’s kept us going when the going got tough. Aubrey and I have always loved fashion and shopping. It’s been one of our favorite shared experiences ever since she was a toddler. I’ll never forget pushing her in the stroller through the shoe department while she was instinctively kicking off her shoes so she could try on new ones. She was a natural born shopper! We always wanted to collaborate in some way over that bond. When we realized that we always borrow jewelry from each other a lightbulb went off and the idea for Alison + Aubrey was born.

Our main goals with starting the line were to:

  1. Share our bond over fashion and jewelry in a bigger way and to help other mothers, daughters, sisters and friends do the same. Jewelry is one thing that crosses the generation gap and fits everyone. It’s so easy to borrow and bond over.
  2. Teach Aubrey what it’s really like to run a business. She’s been involved in every single step of the process. In her business course last fall, her professor was blown away by her thorough understanding of what it takes to start and run a business. She’s already had so much real-world experience at such a young age.
  3. Lastly, to help cover her college costs. I’ve always told my kids that they need to have some “skin in the game” with their education costs because it gives them a greater appreciation for it. We do what we can to help but she didn’t want to come out of school with a ton of debt from loans so we agreed that a portion of the profits would go directly to her college account.

Now onto the juicy stuff…the mistakes we made and more importantly what we’ve learned.

Five Big Mistakes We Made in Year One

1. Finding Good Quality

Honestly, this was probably our biggest rookie mistake. We struggled to find good suppliers, especially in the beginning. Because we were flying blind we ended up with a few products with quality issues. A few items tarnished easily, especially in humid climates and some of them were really fragile or were just plain cheap looking. All of these things were impossible to distinguish without seeing and wearing the pieces in person. We now both wear every piece in real life to take it on a trial run and hopefully discover issues before our customers do. We’ve also been able to weed out the bad suppliers and recently started designing some of our own pieces. Now that we’re more involved in the manufacturing process we have greater control over the end product and quality issues have been few and far between!

2. Managing Inventory

When we started I almost felt like I needed a masterclass in inventory management. It’s an incredibly complicated game of numbers that can make or break a business. Not enough inventory? You get customers frustrated by sold out links. Too much inventory? You risk having unsold items taking up space in your warehouse and hurting your bottom line. Because we are a small business, we always erred on the side of stocking lower quantities. Now that business is growing and we’re more comfortable with managing our inventory, we’re able to stock more of it. We’re getting into a good groove now with supply and demand and running into far fewer issues with availability. Our biggest delay now is restocking products but we can almost always get more within 4 weeks if we sell out.

3. Calculating Pricing and Margins

Yes, this is Business 101 but again a totally new concept to me. Shipping, labor, packaging, jewelry cards and inserts – it all adds up! I’m embarrassed to admit this but until very recently I was not calculating labor costs into our pricing and margins. Now we have spreadsheets built out with all of our costs per unit in a formula so we know that our pricing is set to keep our products affordable while covering all of our costs.

4. Going it Alone

At first, we were a two woman operation – Alison and Aubrey! It didn’t take long for both of us to realize that we’d need to add in some extra man (and woman) power to keep us going. My husband Craig is now involved as much as he can be in just about every area. We have a part-time hire Amanda who handles order fulfillment and customer support. I also have an amazing marketing and social media girl who takes all of our ideas and makes them even better!

5. Going “Radio Silent”

OK, so this one was my hang up but I hate being sales-y so instead of talking about Alison + Aubrey I’ve kept mostly quiet. You haven’t heard much about it here on GYPO because I wanted the brand to stand on it’s own. The fact is, by not talking about it I’ve been keeping a significant part of my life and something I’m proud to have built with my daughter from some of the people who mean the most to me…YOU. I’m kind of proud of myself for doing this post because it’s time to share!

Now that we’ve talked about the mistakes there is one thing that we can toot our horn about and that’s this:

The ONE Thing We Got Right from Day One: Customer Service

With five years of Style Challenges under my belt, I’ve had more than enough opportunities to learn what makes really excellent customer service. Even through all of the challenges and missteps, we’ve always, always, always made sure we do what it takes to make our customers happy. Great customer service is one thing any business always has control over. You can’t always control quality or inventory but you can control how you treat your customers – 100% of the time. I like to think that we get that part right.

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It’s A Family Affair

Although it’s called Alison + Aubrey this is truly a family business. Our oldest son Devon steps in to help out with order fulfillment and our younger daughter Ava is happy to be a stand-in model for Aubrey while she’s off at college. Craig does everything from organizing and managing the warehouse to all of our photography. We all have our part in the success and we all take it personally. Even our husky Skye gets a piece of the action!

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New Product Announcement and $150 Giveaway!

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be launching our own line of branded wrap bracelets next week. To celebrate this new product launch, we’re giving away a $150 product credit to Alison + Aubrey. There are two easy ways to enter:

  1. Visit Alison + Aubrey and leave a comment below telling us your favorite piece. (each comment counts as one entry)
  2. Follow us on Instagram and leave a comment on any of our photos. (each comment counts as one entry)

Enter as many times as you’d like! One winner will be drawn and notified next Wednesday, August 21st. Good luck!

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