Even if Erin Hooley weren't an entrepreneur, she'd have her hands full. "I got married at 19, became a mom at 20, and had six kids by the age of 28," says the now 34-year-old founder of Bailey's Blossoms, a Rhome, Texas-based children's apparel company that she founded out of her garage in 2008.
Yet she doesn't just make time to run her company. She has managed to grow it into a brand that's quickly becoming a midpriced kids' fashion mainstay with $6 million in sales in 2018, up 205 percent from 2016. That growth landed Bailey's Blossoms at No. 74 on the inaugural Inc. 5000 Series: Texas list, a ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the Lone Star State. Bailey's joins a number of women-owned, consumer-focused companies on the list that are showing impressive growth, such as Everlywell, a health company that offers at-home testing kits, and Maggie Louise Confections, a maker of high-end chocolates.
What's more, Bailey's Blossoms is thriving in an increasingly crowded market. It's a considerable feat, given the lack of room for growth in the kids' clothing market, according to Alexis DeSalva, a Chicago-based analyst for retail and e-commerce with market-research firm Mintel. Bailey's price points--many shirts fetch less than $15 and dresses typically go for less than $30--give the company a competitive advantage.
Here's how Hooley grew her business from a few handmade items sold on Etsy to the 30-person operation it is today.
Identify areas for improvement and adapt--quickly.
While Hooley had begun selling handmade kids' accessories and costumes on Etsy, in 2011, a change in her husband's career forced her to retool. Her husband, who was an executive for a large multinational corporation, was assigned to work in Brazil. The move forced Hooley to give up her business, but it also gave her two years to reconceive it. Upon returning to Texas in 2013, she revived the company--this time, selling craft kits and making videos showing people how to assemble them. She cleaned out the couple's savings--$35,000--so she could buy in bulk from the Chinese suppliers she found through Alibaba. In three months, as promised, she restored their savings.
Meanwhile, she kept getting inquiries from people who loved her designs but didn't want to make them themselves. By 2015, Hooley had switched to ready-to-wear kids clothes and had about $600,000 in annual sales, making her Etsy store one of the largest children's shops on the e-commerce platform for handmade and vintage items and craft supplies. Half of her garage was an office, the other half was a playroom, and a handful of other moms would come by to work during the day, bringing their kids with them. She had six kids, a fast-growing company, and no nanny. "I didn't think life could get any better," says Hooley.
Build your own brand, not someone else's.
In 2015, Hooley learned--the hard way--that she'd been building the Etsy brand at the expense of her own. In 2015, Etsy changed its handmade policy, redefining the allowable relationships between sellers and their manufacturing partners. Hooley was no longer able to sell on the site. At the time, 85 percent of her company's sales had originated from Etsy. "There was no going back," says Hooley. She went to tell her staff that the company couldn't go on. Hooley remembers her customer-service manager, who was then eight months pregnant, saying: "Are you telling me that after I have this baby, I'm not going to have a job?"
Hooley couldn't do it. Instead, she asked her staff to message everyone who had ever bought anything from the company and explain that the company's products would now be available exclusively on the Bailey's Blossoms website. While the company was no longer on Etsy, Bailey's staffers could still--for a time--send messages to customers by replying to their orders. So instead of messages that said "Thank you for your order," the staff wrote to everyone saying that Bailey's Blossoms would be available exclusively on its own site. By the end of the second day, sales on the Bailey's site quadrupled, easily beating her best day ever on Etsy.
When she started digging into the results, she noticed that on social media, influencers had been showing off her clothes and tagging Etsy as the source. "The light bulb went off: We had been building someone else's brand," she says. She promptly made sure everything she did was branded Bailey's Blossoms, including the packaging used to ship products.
She encouraged customers to tag Bailey's site and started watching social media more closely. The first year after she left Etsy, Hooley says sales were up 233 percent over the prior year. By 2017, her husband had quit his corporate job to become her chief financial officer.
Keep customer feedback top of mind.
Hooley has been aggressive about responding to requests from customers and from the marketplace, which she says have been instrumental in driving her recent growth. Bailey's Blossoms started selling wholesale--mostly to small boutiques--about three years ago. When they asked for a boys' line, Hooley quickly obliged. Hooley launched a second company, Peyton Bre, in 2019, to appeal to tweens, and in eight months, Peyton Bre brought in more than $1 million in sales. She says a clothing line for women is next. The company also launched a subscription box for infants and children in January. Says Hooley: "It's been fast and furious."