MAGIC Interview: Bungalow 360

Next in my notebook is a brief interview with Susie, DE and proprietress of Bungalow 360 (“happy handbags”), reversible totes and bags. I don’t think she was too sure about me coming in, commandeering a stool and plunking my butt down to ask her too many pointed questions so do me a favor and go visit her site! I figure the least we can do is give her a little link love and up her page ranking (pity-click if you haven’t done it already, thanks). Also check out her staff page. Having been in animal rescue, I’m a sucker for that stuff.

Susie was managing restaurants when she started this venture (part time) in 1998 with pillows at first but quickly gravitated to totes, having taught herself to sew. She says she did the craft show circuit on weekends for a couple of years and that she did quite well with it. Well, not entirely well, she says she got knocked off. This other operator copied not only her product line, but her booth. She wasn’t sure how to handle it -who does?- but did go to talk to them about it. She was stunned when they 1) denied it and 2) accused her of copying them! Wisely and retrospectively, she says she fought it by being more creative. She says she learned a lesson in that, always having to move forward is key.

Anyway, after three or four years of that, she quit her job (2001) and went into it full time. Five years ago she starting showing in the juniors section at MAGIC. By the way, she says traffic at MAGIC is really down. When she first started showing there, traffic was so backed up in the aisles that people couldn’t move. She says traffic is diluted due to the increase in trade shows but that she’s doing well sales wise. She says this most recent show was good for her. Most of her customers look for her or if they don’t meet up with her, they view the line over the web. She says she got her usual customers, a lot of reorders and some new customers this time around. I walked juniors, it didn’t look very busy so that’s great she got her cut.

But I digress; she says her big break was when Nordstrom’s picked up her line, they found her and approached her about carrying the line. The line is an easy sell; it’s fun, bright and cheery with price points ranging from $13.50-$16.00. She has only five styles (are you all listening?) in five colorways. Her booth is really cute, it looks like a little cottage or doll house. While I have nothing to compare it to, I’m guessing her booth design is a signature of sorts for her line too. She has two reps now, one in LA, another in the Midwest with a third starting up in NY soon. Otherwise, she’s a one woman show working out of her home. If you check her press pages, you can see she’s gotten a lot of ink. I asked her who handled her PR and she said she’s done it all herself. Wow. She describes herself as “lucky” but I think it’s more than that.

I asked her what was the best advice she could offer you and she said “research”. Do your homework. Go to the marts and talk to people who can help you. Cover the back end of the business and find out what you’re up against.

Then I asked her what her most expensive lesson was. She said “importing”. Her first contractor was in India. She says they told her exactly what she wanted to hear, the samples looked good but she got burnt on the deal because they substituted a lower grade buckle between sampling and production and that due to humid shipping conditions, the buckles rusted. On top of all that, the product was eight weeks late. She had to call all of her stores and it was a fiasco in all respects. She says she found a contractor she likes in China, that if you show at market, they’ll cruise the booths and pitch you. She said she checked them all out and that these guys ran a clean operation. She says you should visit a shop if you can, don’t take anyone’s word for it. She says that “there are no sweatshops in China anymore”, that the government owns them all so they’re all cleaned up. I don’t know about that -and I don’t– but she’s happy with the performance and standards of the facility she’s hired. She also said all the shops in LA are sweatshops but I don’t know about that either. Really, I don’t.

Thanks Susie, I appreciate your time and the advice you offer my visitors.

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