Back in 2014, the week that Jay-Z and Solange Knowles had their elevator fight, what was not being covered on the news in the US was 100’s of shoe/clothing factories being burned down in riots in Vietnam. As President of Clarks shoes at the time, I had my fall line go up in smoke. It seemed like a good time to investigate growing manufacturing here at home.
We launched in June 2018. The first three customers were easy- - our team was so excited about our go-live day that we told all of our friends and family just like you do when you announce any birth. Our very first customer was my former CTO at Clarks, Jarrod (wood cutting board), the second was my college roommate Darriel (earrings), and the third was Sheila, a colleague of my sister (dog treats).
How did you validate the idea?
I did a lot of research and consulted with trusted advisors with experience ranging from Retail to FInance to Consulting to someone at a huge online marketplace that-shall-not-be-named, to make sure this was the right idea. I found a BCG study which says 78% of people want to buy American, but they don’t know where to find it - that was a good starting point. But that can also be like saying most Americans report they go to the gym three days a week - oftentimes, people respond to surveys as the ideal version of themselves, not the real version. So it took more than just reading a few reports. I grabbed two former colleagues with merchant/buyer experience, and we began traveling the country, going to trade shows and large juried craft shows to talk to the seller community and see if this is something they were interested in. They certainly were. American makers are tired of being pushed around by large marketplace sites. They need a place where they can be seen, and not placed next to a cheap low quality import. And our customers want a site that they can trust! We always say, the next great marketplace will be trusted, not just huge.
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
I have had years of experience at the helm of omni-channel retailers, which included substantial online businesses. The most fun I had during my career was when I was creating and executing strategies to grow businesses. I’ve had the privilege of working on great teams with great brands like Godiva, Jell-O, Pepperidge Farm, and Avon, and growing them by $300 million or even $ 3 billion! I came up through the ranks in product marketing roles in U.S.-based businesses, and eventually took operating roles for international businesses.
Who is your target demographic?
We have two major target groups: First, adults 45 +, who like Made-in-USA quality, support jobs/the economy in the US/”Buy American”, often members of military families. Second, millennials, who like to “shop local,” buy unique items no one else owns, and support sustainably made products.
How did you fund the idea initially?
Before we raised our ~$800K from Friends & Family Round, I totally boot strapped my business with my own money. Once I had the idea for the business, we cut back at home, and I saved my last year of “corporate salary” in order to fund the launch. We are currently raising in a seed round.
Where did you meet your cofounder/founding team?
Our CTO Mark was at a firm that consulted to my e-commerce business when I was President of Avon North America. He and I started the company. Then we brought on Christine as VP of Customer/Seller Support, she comes out of the travel industry and is the sister of a friend of mine at Wharton. And Kerri, our VP of Operations is a process and site merchandising expert with start-up experience; we met in a community FB Group here in CT.
People ask me about hiring a lot. I always say, when you have a start-up, no matter how talented someone is, if they aren’t scrappy - - ready to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes the first few years, don’t hire them - - they will be miserable and won’t go the distance. Choose people you like spending time with, who have a passion for the business and have a “walk-through-walls-to-make-it-happen” work ethic.
Did you run any companies prior?
Prior to running my own business, I was President of : Godiva International, Avon North America, and then Clarks (shoes)North & South America.
I wanted to create and lead my own business instead of working in a slow moving corporate structure. I had an idea I was excited about - - a real retail “whitespace.” I loved the “double bottom line” aspect of my business - - that we could make money while helping small and medium businesses in the US grow, positively impacting communities across the USA.
My family has been great at supporting me and my start-up! Three family members invested in our Friends & Family round, and, my sister-in-law who writes for national magazines writes our blog, my brother-in-law (a former news producer for ABC TV and NY-1) produces our weekly podcast The American Made Marketplace, and my husband and 20-something children fan out and attend some juried craft shows for us to find makers for the site.
What has driven the most sales?
We’ve had the most success so far with targeted, paid ads on Instagram and Facebook. Now that the press has “found” us, we are seen as a trusted source of all sorts of made-in-USA product ideas/gift guides, and we are seeing our direct orders increase. Our customer file is growing all the time, and we get an increasing number of orders from our email campaigns.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
We offer a win-win business model for our Sellers - a full retail margin for them, and great flexibility in how they manage their business and product “shop” on our site, something other platforms don’t do. When they win, we win. And so while we don’t require exclusivity, our product assortment only overlaps about 20% with the established sites so we have a truly unique product offering. We are creating a genuine community of buyers and sellers, and we add unique benefits for both groups regularly.
We have 3 registered trademarks - - two logos and the phrase “The American Made Marketplace.” The Seller portal of our site (the non-consumer facing part) is proprietary custom coding.
What are the top 3-5 apps that AnytownUSA.com could not run without?
- Shopify Plus: Our site is built with a Shopify Plus front end, so that is how we interface with customers right now.
- Avalara: Avalara is how we calculate and remit Sales taxes to the many MANY state and municipal authorities.
- Facebook/Instagram: Facebook/Instagram helps us to easily spread the word about AnytownUSA.com.
- Slack: Our team works remotely quite frequently, so Slack is key for keeping us all on the same page and operating effectively. We even have a “random” channel for water-cooler talk, which is a nice way to keep the team spirit alive even when we’re in different places.
What are your favourite podcasts?
- Straighten Your Crown with Amy Jin and Andrea Minkow is great for women founders
- The Pitch is great for anyone raising money
- Office Ladies is great for when you need a laugh, which, trust me you will need.
What are the next products you’re working on?
We are serious about building a thriving maker community. Currently, we are building a suite of services of all types for our sellers. This is really exciting and will include incredible opportunities that are only available to sellers on AnytownUSA.com.
In 5 years, we’d like to get everyone thinking to “shop made-in-USA first,” before you jump to buy an import. If you keep 67 cents in a community when you shop at a local store filled with imports, you keep the whole $1.00 in our communities when you buy from a maker in the USA. Our team wants to grow our business enough to have an impact on communities coast-to-coast, and to build a business in Westport that will employ tons of talented people right here. CT already has strong media jobs via ESPN and NBC, how great would it be to have a major e-commerce company and grow technology jobs here as well?
What is current revenue? If you don’t mind sharing
We don’t share financial figures, but I can share that we have over 10,000 items, over 250 Sellers, customers in all 50 states, Sellers in 41 states, and our sales are doubling, tripling or more every month.
People ask if I’d ever sell the business. We are not a certified B-corp, but decisions will be made based on what is best for both our investors and our Seller community. I can envision several strategic buyers that would be a great fit for us. I can also envision this becoming a thriving, billion dollar business that we continue to nourish and grow.