Interview with Leslee Wilson from Nana & Co

Nana & COCristian: Hi Leslee and welcome. Tell us what kind of business you are running.

Leslee: Nana & Co. specializes in handmade and vintage items from all over.  We love eclectic and unique styles so many of our products tend to lean that direction.

Cristian: Is it run like a real business with business plans, sales targets, investments and so on?

Leslee:  When we started out, we just wanted to create and find amazing things.  After our first year selling on Etsy, we realized that in order to ever turn this into something larger, we would need to go through the proper steps to become official.  I took care of the paperwork side of things, while my sister and mom helped out with our branding, etc.  Slowly but surely we came up with what you see today.  Our shop, the blog, and our Facebook, and our business cards all show who we are.

We started out using what we had on hand.  After burning up two sewing machines, we invested in an industrial sewing machine.  It is hard to describe what a joy it was for the first time to sew through projects so quickly and smoothly.   There have been other smaller investment along the way but as with any operation, it is important to have the right tools for the job.

We started in September, 2009.  Being so new to the online business world our only goal was to sell things.  After that first year we have shifted our focus.  We realized marketing is vital.  In creative and cost effective ways, we have worked on improving the marketing side of our company.

Our goal for 2011 is much grander than it was in 2010.  We are working on a wholesale plan and getting a couple of our products in several shops.  This combined with increasing our Etsy sales should keep us busy.

Cristian: Buying that industrial sewing machine must have been expensive. Most small business entrepreneurs are afraid of doing investments, so how do you know when it’s time to use some money to grow the business?

Leslee:Yes, it was an expensive purchase.  The bottom line, though, was we wouldn’t be able to produce anymore burlap items.  Burlap is very hard on a standard home machine so we located a wonderful machine expert who has helped us immensely.  It’s funny, he said, “once you use an industrial machine, you’ll never want to go back.”  He was right.  Our new machine goes through multiple layers like butter.

Investing in costly equipment has got to be the scariest part starting a business.  We have decided that we will only pay cash for equipment.  Due to the nature of our operation, we are able to keep our overhead low.  We work from home so we have no extra facility costs.  We exercise our creativity when finding and purchasing supplies and materials.  So far we have been successful in staying away from credit purchases.

Cristian: So you started back in 2009. How did you come up with the idea?

Leslee: My mom had mentioned several times in the past how fun and financially helpful it would be to make things and sell them.  The only place we could think of to sell online was Ebay.  I used to be an Ebay seller but quit because of the pricey fees, ineffective policies, and the hassle.  We set the idea on the back burner for a long time.  One day, I heard about Etsy so I checked into it.  It is similar to Ebay but for handmade items.  The fees are incredibly reasonable and most of the time Etsy shoppers appreciate the time and effort that goes into a handmade item.  I told my Mom about it and we decided to give it a try.  She has always thought it would be fun to own a brick and mortar shop named “Nana & Co.”  so that is where the name came from.  Vickie (our mom) is Nana, my sister, my daughter, and myself are “the Co.”

Cristian: Who takes part at creating the items and who’s running the business?

Leslee: We all are part of the creative process. We love using unusual materials in our products.  Emails and phone calls constantly fly back and forth between California and Arizona with ideas for new items, places to get supplies, etc.

Cristian: Who is your usual customer?

Leslee:  A typical customer is someone who is gift shopping.    We’ve sold to husbands trying to find an unusual but useful Christmas present.  We have sold to Grandparents shopping for grandkids.  We’ve sold to women who wanted something for themselves.  We are still studying who our target market really is.  Our goal is to have a variety large enough to appeal to a broad spectrum, yet narrow enough that we can keep up with the demand.

Cristian: And what are the best selling products?

Leslee: We have a line of messenger bags and purses made from re-purposed coffee bean sacks.  During the holiday season, these were good sellers.  People who appreciate coffee really enjoy seeing where the sacks originate from.   Burlap is also very attractive to customers.

Cristian: How do you sell the products? How does Etsy work?

Leslee: Currently, we have an Etsy shop.  Etsy.com has graciously made it possible for small operations like ours, to have a presence on the web.  We created Nana & Co.   Using the tools which Etsy provides, along with help from other Etsy sellers, it is possible to have a successful online store.   Next we are working on a wholesale plan which will enable stores to carry our line of products.

Cristian: Do you need to be technical to run an Etsy store, have the Facebook page done and so on?

Leslee:No.  That is the beauty of Etsy.  Anyone can set up an account and shop as long as they follow the prompts and instructions.  As for Facebook, it seems everyone knows about or has an account. We try to keep up on the technical side of business but honestly, it doesn’t come easily.  Nowadays, regardless, it is an important side to just about any operation.

Cristian: When you first started, did you make any plans?

Leslee:  To be honest, no.  We wanted to make things people would appreciate and buy.   Since then, we have learned a lot and are continuing to receive a business education.  I guess you could call it “trial and error”.

Cristian: Do you believe doing what you like to do and then turning it into a business?

Leslee: Truly, doing something a person loves will help keep the fire and passion burning longer.  If someone does something strictly to earn a paycheck, it is easy to burn out.  This isn’t saying though, that there is burn out and discouragement even when doing something we love.  It’s plain old hard work to run a company.  There are highs and lows but don’t give up.  For instance, with the economy being the way it is and then the time of year it is, people just aren’t buying like they were during  the holiday season.  We have had to come up with creative ways to generate publicity and sales.  It is all part of the game.

Cristian: How small is too small to start something? Most people don’t start a business because they are afraid there is too little money to be made out of their idea.

Leslee: I don’t think there is such a thing as “to small”.  Businesses have started from people working on the  weekend, after they were done with there day jobs, etc.  Sometimes there ideas take off and sometimes they don’t.  Either way, the only way they were to know is by taking that first step.  We live in a wonderful country that was built on hard work and great ideas.  This spirit still lives on today.  The spirit of entrepreneurialism is in all of us.  Some of us are just a braver that others.

Cristian: How did it influence your family?

Leslee: Nana & Co, has taken a healthy chunk of time, as with any start-up, I have two children which I home-school.  We have been able to use the whole process as a learning tool for the kids.  They have learned about start-up costs, capitol, investments, pricing, etc.  It goes along great with math and economics.  My 10 yr. old earns money when he helps prep some of the materials.  It save me time and helps his grow his savings account.  My daughter makes things which have been listed in our Etsy shop.  She is learning a lot about entrepreneurialism.

My mom, my sister, and I have spent many late nights preparing and making items.  Deadlines never let up so after the kids are asleep, the Nana & Co. elves get to work.  It has all been worth it.  We are still in the infant stage of our venture.  We can’t wait to see where the future will lead.

Cristian: So what about the future? Any plans?

Leslee: We are creating new bag designs.  My sister is working on an education in graphic design.  We would love to someday open a party and wedding supply shop with Nana & Co. as the umbrella company. If all goes as planned, this will be in the next year or two.

My husband is in the USMC, so there is a chance we might be stationed abroad in the next 6 months or so.  If this happens, we’ll have to adjust our plans but we don’t plan on allowing Nana & Co. to die.

If any of your readers are in the Gilbert, AZ area on April 15 & 16, please stop by the Urban Spice Spring Boutique at 2451 E. Desert Ln. Gilbert, AZ 85234.  We try to participate in several boutiques throughout the year and this will be one of them.  Come by on Friday to see our amazing booth.  We are going all out on the design.  No pop-up canopies this time around.