After having our first child, I quickly realized that no one in the online retail market was catering to the fashionable mom who wanted to wear her favorite brands through every stage of motherhood, specifically for after the bump when real mom life legitimately kicks in. I needed on-trend, machine washable clothing with easy access for nursing (and maybe some forgiving silhouettes, too). After searching high and low for such an option with zero luck, I decided to start my own site, stocking designer pieces curated for modern motherhood—washable, versatile and fashion-forward to create a style resource for new moms.
Fast forward 5 years, and BURU has evolved A LOT! In fact, starting in early 2019, we will exclusively carry our own BURU Brands. As we learned more about the needs of our customers, we realized that they were in search of something not readily available on the market, in a price point they were comfortable with, so we created it ourselves! Our White Label is a collection of elevated, everyday styles priced from $38-128 and our Pink Label ( launched in Spring of 2018) features limited edition pieces made responsibly and locally in DTLA.
Below are a few of our big business moves – where we spent and where we saved – along the course of building our BURU brand…
Initially you want to open with a bang, but in our case, it may have been more of a fizzle. We started with a low tech, simple website because we couldn’t yet afford a fully custom site. We essentially used a Shopify template and tested various layouts and font families, which was actually a great way to determine what worked best for our customers. It was a slow and steady way to be sure that our concept really worked. The key to following through on this strategy is being comfortable doing it on your timeline, and not constantly comparing yourself to others who may be on a differently path.
When it came to building out our team, I sought advice from friends and enlisted the help of my husband, because quite frankly, we couldn’t afford to hire staff yet. My husband and I approached the launch of BURU as a partnership, and I leveraged his knowledge in finance, inventory buying, and accounting, which was invaluable—and free.
If you’ve been a BURU follower from the beginning, then you may have noticed that I’ve been in almost all of our photo shoots on the website. I can assure you that this is NOT a vanity play! I’m just free. Earlier this year, we committed to proper photo shoots with professional photographers and models in LA, but for five years we did it ourselves (and saved over $200,000 along the way!). Through that experience, my husband learned photography, I have documented by pregnancies through the years and we traveled to amazing places along the way to use as backdrops for the shoots. Win, win, win.
In our case, being scrappy allowed us to write our own rules and to create our own life without using anybody else’s playbook. There is certainly beauty in that.
One of the biggest moves we did make in the start-up phase was when we were less than a year old. We splurged on a SEO company who helped us with google ads and digital marketing. Although we saw some initial growth, we ultimately realized that the expense wasn’t worth it, and we were not gaining enough customers to sustain the fees. It was too soon for us. We needed our own labels to justify the ad spend and to gain real traction. The sentiment was right, but timing was wrong. It’s important to recognize that doing something too soon doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it at all. Revise. Revisit. Keep going.
When we were growing and ready to hire, a common business lesson says to hire talent, but I would say that having trust is more important. People can learn skills and evolve their knowledge in your business, but trust can’t be forced or even learned. Our early hires were people we trust implicitly and who were willing to do anything and take on any role – big or small – for the brand.
We also hired slowly, when the need was so obvious and overdue that we literally couldn’t go one more day without that person. You have to be ready to take on the responsibility of another human’s livelihood with every hire you make. It’s a heavy responsibility to bear. Don’t rush it.
Looking at financial statements can be a harsh reality check. I vividly remember Brett showing me BURU’s gross profit one year (let’s just say it was so “gross” that I almost puked). The initial realization that if we didn’t make big changes from our original business idea, our failure was imminent, was super scary. I remember feeling so defeated looking at those numbers. It was quit, or change. So within 6 months we launched our BURU White Label collection to supplement the designer brands we carried. This immediately helped our profit margins and brought new life and energy to our brand. It’s now the bulk of our business and where we put all our resources, though it wasn’t our initial idea AT ALL. In fact, we fought manufacturing like the plague, but sometimes a business has a mind of its own. Sort of like our children really—you have to learn to play to the strengths!
Digital marketing is now a critical piece to our brand awareness, but we needed to further define ourselves before investing in a team to handle this side of the business for us. Additionally, before we signed on for the cost of ads and a team to analyze the data and content, we knew we needed to invest in a new, custom website. For us, the two went hand in hand. This was a big financial play for us, and one we didn’t take lightly. It’s also sad (and hard) to admit that organic searches and social reach is not what it used to be. To survive, you must have your hand in all of it—paid, unpaid, editorial, influencer relations, in-person retail experiences. There is not one FREE thing that consistently moves the needle, so when your business is ready to be seen, you’re going to have to pay to play.
It’s been five years since we started BURU and I’m proud to say that we are still making our own playbook, although I’m sure we’ll have some missteps along the way! I hope you’ll follow along at @shopburu.