image001JWalking Designs of Union, N.J., founded in 2012, offers fit, functional, fashionable and earth-friendly workout wear that gives women of all shapes and sizes the self-confidence to get out and get active.

‘Ah ha’ moment that led to launching this business:  After training for and completing multiple marathons – and not liking the workout wear ‘bottoms’ available on the market at the time – my pace partner and I finally realized we could and should make our own.

Ideal customer/target market: Is “all women” too broad?  We want the woman who wants to get out and get active – moms looking for “me time”; multi-taskers who want one clothing item that works for a walk in the park and lunch with friends; those beginning their fitness journey and those well on their way – and want to look fit, functional and fashionable doing so.

First customer or client: The first paying customer – our inaugural JWalker – was my cousin, Marilyn.  A supportive family member, this mother of three grown children now had time to carve out some space for herself, but didn’t feel confident enough in her body to get out and get active in short shorts or tight-fitting pants.  Our skirt spoke to her, she says, and that is a statement I couldn’t be happier to hear.

Measuring success: I’ve been measuring success in social media, charting which posts and tweets get responses and which bring followers. I also feel I won a hard-fought victory by being approved as an Amazon Seller. While I lose some money selling through their site, I see working with the world’s largest online retailer as a fantastic way to build a name for myself.

Surprise!:  How much fun it is to learn and grow and be part of something new.  I’m an old dog who likes routine and this has completely changed my view of the unknown.

Promoting business: I learned early that being active in social media is key to building a brand and being real in that message is tantamount. Every morning before work and marathons I make sure to tweet, post and respond to comments and follow-up questions.  I also believe strongly that a free skirt translates into future sales – upon seeing my usually colorful sneakers that mark me as a runner, my seatmate on a flight to Dallas said his daughter was a runner who didn’t like that her shorts didn’t have pockets. I told him to have his daughter email her size and address – I sent her a skirt asking only for feedback and photos of her putting the product through the test.  Her comments proved invaluable and photos were adorable – and now her friends are fellow JWalkers!

Two things you wish you would’ve known: 1. That not everyone you work well with in one environment will work well with you everywhere else.  2. How much time every step of building/running a business actually takes – especially when doing it all yourself.

What keeps you up at night (business-wise!)? I am about to introduce a men’s running kilt and button-down running shirt, as well as adding patterned-fabric options to our women’s skirts.  Besides spending nights counting outlay, not sheep, I worry about not reaching a potential audience correctly and in time before someone comes up with the same ideas.

Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job?  I am admittedly too darn stubborn to quit.  I put a lot of time and personal money into this venture and I am not going to go down without a fight.  That said, as a single woman with now-sporadic income (I’m also a freelance TV long form/documentary producer), I do have an exit plan.  But until that drop-dead-date, I will just keep moving forward.

Biggest goal in the next year:  I want to be featured in a national publication (not by buying ad space), sell out the original little-black-running-skirt inventory and raise $50,000.

Pricing/advice on getting it right: While it is my nature to give things away, I have to look at the numbers honestly and see how I can maximize profit without pricing myself out of the market.  I take the production cost for each skirt and double it, add in the cost of shipping (approximately $5) and that’s my total.  I also was told that people respond well to prices that end in 6 and 2 – so $56 is more appealing than $55 or $60.  I don’t quite understand it, but I’m trying.

Funding: Due to the changes in my business structure (changing from 50/50 partnership to sole proprietorship), I wanted to wait to pursue funding until that was settled.  Now, I am applying for grants – small and large – and will soon be applying for small business loans.  As a volunteer marathon coach and participant, I fundraise for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I’ve learned that every dollar counts in finding a cure for cancer and I’m applying that same mindset here.

A few tips: Our products are Made in the USA – from idea to inventory.  That to me is worth the extra expense than having it made overseas.  I also send all my skirts out in a drawstring, reusable, JWalking logo bag, which gives the customer an extra perk and me extra branding.
Must-read online resource for your industry: As a person new to both business and retail, I am finding everything related to entrepreneurship a “must-read”.  The websites “Project Eve”, “Women-Owned” and publications from the Small Business Administration are critical, as well as keeping up with the running and fitness publications.

The absolute best part of owning my business is: The excitement that comes from learning something new every day and seeing someone thoroughly enjoy the product that I’ve created.

If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout:  Do not let a fear of failure keep you from trying to succeed at your dream.