Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Erin Hornyak and I’m the Founder of navyBLEU. navyBLEU is an online boutique dedicated to everything navy. I have been navy-obsessed for just about my entire life. Twenty years ago, I searched for the perfect navy bridesmaids dresses to coordinate with our groomsmen's classic navy blazers. I am always on the hunt for all things navy. Navy is a color that represents sophistication, style, and class. Everyone looks beautiful in navy so I thought it was time to create a one-stop shopping experience for all of the navy lovers out there.
Approximately ten years ago, we said goodbye to our family retail/manufacturing business, Anna William. I have often missed those days. It was a time filled with boundless energy, ups, and downs, juggling motherhood and work, but most of all, JOY. I was so blessed to be working alongside my mom, sister, and sister-in-law. I am so excited to be doing it all over again with something that I am passionate about. I’ve been busy curating a brand that represents my preppy style and I will continue to be on the hunt for all things navy so that I can share my finds with all of you. I have a true passion for preppy, navy fashion!
At navyBLEU we carry several brands such as Draper James, Southern Tide, Joules, Sail to Sable, Persifor, Roller Rabbit, Lisi Lerch, Velvet, Mar Y Sol and private label, navyBLEU! To date, I have had approximately 250 orders from 210 customers.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I am 46 years old and I am married with 4 teenage children. I have spent the last 10 years raising my family. Over the last few years, I had been searching for my next career move. I explored many different options. Since I had 9+ years of experience with owning my own retail and manufacturing company, it felt right jumping back into entrepreneurship!
There is no perfect time to start a business. You have to be willing to take a risk.
I have always been a huge fan of preppy, classic clothing and accessories! One morning while flipping through my Instagram feed, this idea for navyBLEU popped into my head! Why not create a site with all of the things that I LOVE with the color navy! I called my husband immediately and pitched my idea to him. He was supportive from day one. I quickly booked a ticket for my first apparel market trip and began plugging away at my business plan. I knew I did not want to get back into brick and mortar (I had two retail locations in the Boston area with my last company). With eCommerce moving at lighting speed, I felt this was the right business model for navyBLEU.
What I did discover along the way is that it is so much easier to create a business than it was 18 years ago. Technology has made the process extremely streamlined and efficient. Don’t get me wrong, it still takes countless hours with some frustrations along the way, but overall running a business in 2019 has been a game-changer.
As I was developing my idea and plan, I sought advice from some close friends and family who share a similar style and vision as me. It’s reassuring and certainly makes it more fun! I have even brought some of them along for the buying trips. There are days that I miss running my business with a partner(s), but for now, it works. I wear many hats every day…customer service, shipping, and fulfillment, accounting, buyer, social media manager, and mom/wife. It can be exhausting but I love it! I am meeting new people in the retail/influencer space every day. They are encouraging and inspiring!
Describe the process of launching the business.
I began designing my website on my own but quickly ran into too many roadblocks. Although it would cost me, I chose Webinopoly to design my Shopify site. They were easy to work with and it didn’t take long to get the site design to match my vision for shopnavybleu.com. When I launched navyBLEU, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of sales. I often asked myself, will I be selling one item per week or 20? I was pleasantly surprised by the momentum within the first few months. With the help of social media and word of mouth, I have had a solid stream of business. I am so grateful for my followers, friends, and family for supporting navyBLEU. My hope is that I continue to reach new customers every month.
My biggest obstacle prior to launching was on the buying end. I was a brand new online retailer and I had to convince brands to believe in my concept. My website was not complete when I started buying merchandise for navyBLEU. Therefore, I had to send screenshots of the site and give them a good reason to partner with shopnavybleu.com. I was also unsure of what quantities to purchase. I started with a few XS, S, M, and L sizes in each product, a bit of a guessing game but the formula proved to work. I will be forever grateful to those first few manufacturers that believed in me and my concept.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I have been collaborating with several influencers who share my style and love for navy blue. They have been posting products from navyBLEU and sharing my business with their followers. I have also hired a boutique PR firm that is helping pitch my story to the media and reaching out to additional influencers in hopes to spread the word and help grow my business. I am also working on setting up the Instagram Shopping feature to make it quick and easy for someone to order directly from my Instagram post.
Below are a few influencers sharing their finds from navyBLEU.
Google AdWords and Facebook Advertising haven’t seemed to benefit navyBLEU. Perhaps I need some consulting in these areas. For now, I don’t plan on spending my marketing dollars on expensive ad placements. Instead, I’d rather focus on Instagram where I can grow my following organically and target customers who love navy blue as much as I do.
I believe email marketing is important too, so I send an email every two weeks via Constant Contact. I have watched a few webinars on how to create a strong email campaign and I plan on continuing this form of marketing, especially to reach those that are not on social media.
I do not plan on selling navyBLEU on third party sites. I have assured my vendors that I will not be doing that. I want to support small businesses and most importantly, control my packaging.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now, all of the revenue goes right back into my business. It is important for me to keep the website fresh with new products. I am purchasing 6 months ahead for each season. As I mentioned, it’s a bit of a guessing game in terms of how much to order for each season but so far my inventory has been just enough to meet the demands of the season. I stock all products at my home office, which is currently bursting at the seams. For now, it works since I am the one shipping everything.
I am doing several pop-ups in the Northeast during the holiday season and then I plan to continue doing a pop-up every month. Getting out there and networking is key to growing my business.
I will always be looking for new manufacturers to add to navyBLEU.
I am currently looking for a new manufacturer for my private label, navyBLEU as well.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I learned so much from my first business, Anna William. We made several mistakes along the way. We grew too quickly, took on too many fixed monthly expenses like rent and machinery and spent too much on print marketing. This time, I’m doing things differently. I’m being very cautious, not paying myself and slowly growing the business one day at a time. I’d love to see it explode someday but for now, this works for me, simply because I am running navyBLEU solo.
Eventually, I’d love to have a team. A team of people that I can trust and have fun with. A team that brings sales & marketing, financial, and operations expertise to navyBLEU. For now, I am building relationships via social media and networking with like-minded female entrepreneurs that inspire me everyday.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Shopify is my platform of choice! I love it. It is user-friendly and provides really cool analytics to help grow my business. When I am stumped, I simply reach out to Shopify or Google the issue and Shopify always has the answers. I have also hired a PR firm to help market navyBLEU.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice is to do something you are passionate about! Without passion, you will lose steam. Also, there is no perfect time to start a business. You have to be willing to take a risk.
I once read, if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re too small. Be prepared to work. You have to put the time in to be successful. Solicit advice from people that you trust. Network!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
If you are a manufacturer that works with private labels, I’d love to hear from you.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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