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How I Made My Millions: Fashionably Fearless

My journey in entrepreneurship has been about self-discovery. There is no perfect road map – but for me it has helped to have a clear vision, passion for creativity, be decisive, and keep a sense of humor.

In the 11 years since starting SimplyShe, I have learned the greatest asset is to be truly fearless. Every assumption, every relationship, every conviction, has been tested and retested along the path to growing my company. And it is that internal compass that keeps me on track.

Source: Simplyshe.com

I credit my well-earned badge of courage to the fact that I never stopped to think, what if this didn’t work out? I just knew it had to be successful, and that’s how I’ve dealt with the many challenges that have confronted me as a business owner. I simply never gave up.

I started SimplyShe with the goal of being the next Martha Stewart, developing lifestyle products for women with unique, content driven items including greeting cards and message tees targeted to the high-end market. Our debut was at the National Stationery Show in May of 2000, where we inked deals with sales rep networks across the US. As distribution grew publishers took note, and we landed a book deal furthering our retail penetration both domestically and internationally.

While the high-end market yielded great PR and cache, it was always a means to an end. I had my eyes on a much larger goal—mass market growth. So when opportunity knocked, I seized the chance to form strategic partnerships, which opened new doors at Target (with photo frames) and QVC (with tees and handbags).

In 2004, after completing my third book, “SimplyDog – Life Lessons That Bark,” I was inspired by the pet world and identified a rare and potentially lucrative opportunity to bring pet fashion to the mass market. The niche—to develop a cohesive, stylish line of affordable dog-related products designed to mix and match.

My first major pet sale came in 2005 to Petco with a multi-product dog fashion program. I then set my sights on Wal-Mart and succeeded in growing my business from 6 million to 25 million to 45 million dollars within our first two years in the pet space. With Wal-Mart now firmly rooted as a key customer, others signed up quickly, and we became America’s leading pet fashion provider.

But with phenomenal growth also came significant challenges with funding, inventory and operations.

SimplyShe was initially funded by family and friends; when we needed additional capital to expand the business, we secured a line of credit from a major banking institution that required us to sign personal guarantees (typical for a fast growing company).

In those first two years, we made a number of operational mistakes. While the product was selling like hot cakes, we were in trouble trying to navigate unchartered waters.

The largest challenge was that as a new category to most retailers, pet fashion had no historical sales forecasts to align to, and we landed in an over-inventory position of several million dollars at wholesale.

There were also a host of supply chain issues—a result of the business scaling up fast without the proper knowledge or infrastructure to steer the ship.

Add to that, our first Chinese sourcing agent turned out to be a shady group; it felt like we were dealing with the manufacturing mafia. At one low point they held our samples hostage before a large customer meeting…talk about being Shanghaied!

In summer of 2008, with financial markets crashing and widespread retail panic, the pet category was proving recession proof. However the banks became less risk-tolerant, and we had our line called for failing to meet the over-bearing bank covenants.

We had six weeks to pay back our outstanding line of credit to the bank. Shipments of products were being held at port as our cash flow restricted.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle—just as the bank began freezing our assets. First, Walmart agreed to buy our outstanding inventory. Second, a dear friend led me to an investor, who within 48 hrs lent us three million dollars based on the friend’s personal endorsement of my character.

I have spent the last three years painstakingly rebuilding my business from the inside out—new people, new financing, reliable sourcing operations, transparent product costing and inventory controls.

We have had several consecutive seasons of profitable growth and positive ebitda, and our sights are now set on additional market channels and product offerings. The future is bright.

My experience with entrepreneurship has given me more than just learning about how to run a business. It has given me the chance to learn about myself, celebrate the highs and survive the lows. At the end of the day its greatest personal reward is the ability to put my head on the pillow at night and know that no matter what tomorrow brings – I have nothing to fear.

Tune in:

'How I Made My Millions' premieres Monday, July 18 9p | 12a ET


Maria Peevey is the founder of SimplyShe. Peevey launched SimplyShe, Inc. in 2000 as a boutique line of women’s apparel, books and stationery which quickly expanded into 8000 high-end retail outlets including Fred Segal and Henri Bendel in the U.S. as well as international distribution in 23 countries worldwide.

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