Tori Swaim shares with The Huffington Post some insight in to starting your own business and the challenges you may face along the way. Article by Laura Dunn.
Tori Swaim is CEO & Founder of New Arrivals, Inc. and My Baby Sam, Inc., both manufacturers of baby and children's bedding and room décor. New Arrivals, Inc. started 15 years ago in the garage of Tori's home. In 2001 Tori launched My Baby Sam, Inc., named for her three children Sawyer, Austin and Macy. This gave Tori the opportunity to not only design for two companies, but to reach an even broader consumer base with her nursery décor, gifts and accessories.
Tori's career began at IBM Corp, in sales, where she won numerous awards including Marketing Director of the Year, IBM's Eagle Award and IBM Leadership Award among others. After leaving IBM to start a family, Tori launched New Arrivals, Inc., where she oversees operations and product design. She has 3 grown children, and resides in Atlantic Beach, Florida with her husband, Steve.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Early on, I learned to have a strong work ethic from my parents. Education was very important to them, and they made sacrifices in order that my siblings and I could receive a first rate education. They were very supportive and strong advocates of my business and always happy to pitch in. I am also surrounded by 3 successful siblings ~ 3 out of the 4 of us are entrepreneurs!
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at New Arrivals/My Baby Sam?
My first job out of college was teaching computer classes for a computer training company, which boosted my confidence in public speaking. As a marketing representative for IBM, I sharpened my skills in sales, marketing and customer service. My 8 years at IBM, gave me a good business foundation and helped to prepare me for the years to come. From sales training to marketing, IBM was a wonderful place to get professional on the job training.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at New Arrivals/My Baby Sam?
I think the biggest highlight has to be my first trade show ~ the first time I showed the world my invention. Even better was the overwhelming response to it. I left the trade show with a bag full of orders, and thus began my journey into entrepreneurship. Working with celebrity clients is always memorable. It is always fun for my company to show up in a major magazine or have a celebrity tweet or instagram about our company or product.
One of our toughest challenges is working with overseas manufacturers. From quality control, to production lead times, overseas manufacturing can at times be difficult to manage, but often necessary in order to be competitive. All of the products made for My Baby Sam are made overseas, where as the production for New Arrivals products are mostly made in the USA. Quality control and lead times are much easier to manage when production is done in the USA. Our other challenges include, the shift in consumer purchasing from traditional brick and mortar stores to online etailers, keeping product prices competitive, staying innovative when your competition is copying you and reaching the online consumer.
What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Make sure your business idea is unique. Competition in today's business world is strong. One of the best business books I have read is The Purple Cow by Seth Godin. In his book, he says that cows, after you've seen one, or two, or ten, are boring. But a Purple Cow, now that's different! The book discusses how your company/product should be something extraordinary, exciting and flat out sensational. If your business or product is not unique, it will be invisible to the marketplace. With a "me too" product or service, you will struggle marketing your 'invisible' business against other successful competitors.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
That nothing stays the same. Owning a business is full of peaks and valleys. You can never assume what is successful today, will be successful tomorrow. Always look ahead at trends and consumer purchasing habits. Many large multimillion dollar successful companies in the juvenile products industry have closed their doors for a variety of reasons. I think one of the most prevalent causes is not preparing/planning for changes in the consumer marketplace.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
When I first started my company, I struggled with balancing my work life and spending quality with my family. My kids were very young, and my business required my attention 24 hours a day/7 days a week. It was one of the biggest challenges I faced in the early years of my company. Luckily, I was able to do a lot of the work from home, and I had a very supportive husband. He pitched in where ever help was needed with either the business or the kids. As my kids got older and in school, things became less stressful and easier to manage. I still do a lot of work from home, and am thankful for hard working employees that I trust to manage the business when I am away. One of the struggles for all business owners is to turn it off after hours. Realistically that is hard to do, but when you love what you are doing, it doesn't feel like work. There is no secret formula to balancing work/life, but I strive to put my family first and make them my top priority.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Despite significant milestones, I think the pay delta between men and women is still an issue. In corporate America, many women are still getting paid less than their male counterparts. All the more reason to start your own business, and control your own destiny and pay.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
After my business was off the ground, I made it a point to take the time to mentor other aspiring entrepreneurs. I often receive emails from people asking my opinion on how to get a product idea launched, or help with marketing ideas. Before I started my company, I reached out to several other female entrepreneurs for advice. I remember that several of them took the time to take my call, and answer my questions. I enjoy sharing what I have learned along the way, if it can help someone else on their road to success.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The baby/family industry has seen the success of many women in a variety of areas: blogging, baby product inventions, nursery and kid's room décor design. I don't know of a better industry for females to get involved in than the juvenile products industry. Since women spend the bulk of the revenue in that industry, it makes sense for them to be at the forefront of product development for babies and kids. Today there are women heading up some of the biggest businesses in America today including Ginni Rometty (IBM), Mary Barra (GM) and Indra Nooyi (Pepsico). Then there are the successful women entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely (Spanx) and Tory Burch ~ both starting their business from scratch. These and many more serve as inspiration and as role models for all women in business today.
What do you want New Arrivals/ My Baby Sam to accomplish in the next year?
The retail marketplace has changed tremendously since the onset of the internet. Consumers are now shopping online more now than ever. Our traditional business model was selling to brick and mortar retailers. However, local businesses are struggling to compete with online stores. My goal this year is to continue to grow our companies by coming up with new and creative ways to market to consumers. Gone are the days waiting for a customer to walk in the door looking to buy something. We have to find those consumers that would be interested in our product, and we are leveraging our social media platforms to accomplish this. Today, social media is playing a significant role in helping that to happen.