Summer Harris – Founder & CEO, Baby Bling Bows

Summer is a native Utahan, mother of four, wife of one, and founder and CEO of Baby Bling. Baby Bling is a manufacturer and seller of children’s hair accessories. Sales channels includes Nordstrom, Buy Buy Baby, 950+ specialty boutiques, Amazon, a monthly subscription program, and their own retail website. Baby Bling continues its thirteen year-long tradition of manufacturing products locally by women in our community. Baby Bling was recently ranked #8 of Utah’s fastest-growing companies and #876 in the Inc. 5000.

How did the concept for Baby Bling come about?
After having my first daughter, and while enjoying all the accessories that are available for baby girls, I noticed a void in the market. Hair accessories came in two sizes, tiny or massive, and only a handful of colors. I also quickly learned that many fathers were sympathetic to their daughters when they noticed that most headbands left red marks on their baby’s head and were most likely uncomfortable. Baby Bling evolved when my mother and I developed solutions for all of these issues! Using a soft nylon for the headband, this allowed for softness and stretch that prevents any discomfort. Innovating plenty of styles and colors offers something for every taste and occasion.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year of business was a lot of educating ourselves! Having gained most of our knowledge from our collective retail experience, it was a bit of an adjustment to become the manufacturer. That first year, we were really doing every single thing ourselves. We sewed each and every headband, we were the sales reps reaching out to retailers, as we were also fulfilling every order. We kept all of our books and spent hours and hours trying to source materials for suppliers that we were still too small for.

What was your marketing strategy?
I feel fortunate that we began our business 13 1/2 years ago, before the time that it was really easy/inexpensive to develop a website. In the first years of our business, we focused only on wholesale. We spent months trying to find independent sales reps that would take our products to trade shows and present in their own showrooms. Most of our “marketing efforts,” which were actually emails and very crafty Word docs, attempted to paint a picture of us being bigger than we really were. Something about that worked and we became a vendor at Nordstrom after just four years in business!

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I would describe our growth as slow and steady. We grew our portfolio by a handful of retailers at every trade show we participated in (4-5 per year). Opening the Nordstrom account in 2009, while a definite ego-boost and jump in sales, didn’t significantly impact our bottom line for a few more years. It did, however, ensure our credibility within the marketplace. We grew steadily and comfortably every year, even though the recession of 2008, doubling sales YOY.

How do you define success?
I define success as being happy with what you are doing and positively impacting your community, however you personally define those two things. For me, I am happy to go to work every day. I get to be creative, developing new products and seeing via social media how my products are making people happy. I sincerely enjoy all of the people I work with, as we get to collaborate and laugh together. I am very proud of our manufacturing model that contracts the services of 100 local women to handmake all of our products. Knowing that I am impacting 100 families, allowing the women to supplement their family income while still being at home and having a flexible schedule, makes me feel that I am making an important contribution to my community.

What is the key to success?
I believe it is to clearly define your core values – what are you doing and why. If you have those keys to consistently refer to, it will keep you on course. When you feel you have a set of guidelines, it makes you feel confident in your decisions and efficient with your time.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Not everything requires an immediate reaction. More often than not, allowing yourself to stop, wait, and let the universe take its course will yield the result you want. Sometimes that is a few hours, and sometimes it’s longer. The more often you implement the practice, the better you become at gauging how much time is needed.

What are some quotes that you live by?
Most recently, it is Brene Browns: “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” It’s often difficult to say the things that need to be said, but it is the quickest route to resolution.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
After having a tight month trying to cover payroll, I went to my bank and wanted to get a credit card that would act as overdraft for our business checking account. We had steady income flowing in and out of our account for years, but it was just difficult to manage cash flow at times as we had always bootstrapped our business. I asked for a $10,000 limit on a credit card and they wouldn’t give it to me without my husband’s signature. My husband is wonderful and supportive, but is not involved with Baby Bling in any way. THAT was a slap in the face. I refused and they agreed to give me a $2,500 limit. That limit was increased, automatically, to $10,000 within three months.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I am extremely stubborn. I was born with an “I’ll show you” attitude. As soon as someone tells me I can’t, I become determined to prove that I can. I believe there is a way, and never just one way, to do pretty much anything. This gene has gotten me very far in business, but has proven difficult as I watch it pass along to my children!

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
You can do it, and you can do it the way you want to do it. For most things, there is not just ONE right way. Don’t let anyone give you advice that you didn’t ask for, and when you do receive advice, just add it to the list of things to be considered. Just because that advice worked for them does not necessarily mean it will work for you.