Tell me a little about your startup days. How did you differentiate between Kuhfs being a hobby versus a career choice?
AO- The idea for Kuhfs came to me when I was looking for a way to change the look of my boots. It was late in the winter season and I was tired of wearing my same black boots over and over again, but was not in a position to buy another pair of expensive boots. How could I make my boots different, new again?
One day it hit me to grab one of my scarves and wrap it around the top of my boot. That act instantly changed the look of my boots. No one had made a similar product, so I decided to make the product I was looking for myself. I spent the next 8 months working on the design and made a few prototypes for myself and my friends to wear. I got so much great feedback, I decided to test the market. Would strangers share in my vision for Kuhfs, or would they just think it was a cute idea and move on? It wasn’t until I had proof of concept, people actually buying my product that I decided to take Kuhfs from a hobby to an actual business.
My first big test was competing in, and winning, Thinker Profit’s PUSH competition. The team at Thinker developed Kuhfs’ branding, paved a path for success, and helped launch a plan of action. Because of the updated branding and logo, I realized Kuhfs could be a successful endeavor. It was then that I invested myself to developing Kuhfs into a full time career.
In what ways did you gain credibility and distinguish yourself from your competitors?
AO- After working with Thinker, I had the brand positioning, logo, name and credibility I needed to move forward. My product no longer looked homemade, crafty, or immature – It had a sleek and stylish feel to it, the appropriate marketing material, photography, etc. I also gained credibility with blogger reviews. Having well known bloggers in the fashion industry rave about Kuhfs gave me credibility in the consumer’s eye. Kuhfs went from an idea that was slowly gaining traction to a real fashion accessory that those in the industry were wearing and writing about.
Kuhfs does not have head to head competition, per se. There is not another product like Kuhfs on the market. We were really creating a new accessory category, not just a new accessory. Our biggest competition was brand and product awareness. We needed to distinguish Kuhfs as an entirely new way to style with the wardrobe you already owned. We needed consumers to know that this product existed first and then educated them on the benefits of it. Once people saw the product and how it worked to instantly change the look of their boots, they joined in my vision for Kuhfs. Our main goals were and still are to distinguish Kuhfs as not just another accessory, but a way to show off your personal style in a distinctive and dynamic way.
Because you’re the sole designer of Kuhfs, what was your mindset regarding developing key relationships to help you progress?
AO- Being a stay at home mom turned accessory designer, I knew I needed to reach out for help and guidance. I was entering a field I knew nothing about. Let’s simplify it by saying, I didn’t even know how to sew when I created this product. I knew nothing about how to get my product from idea to reality, how to market it or how to grow my business. If I was going to succeed, I needed help. I was open to reaching out to ask for help or networking to build relationships in this new field. I signed up for fashion events, went to networking events, reached out for professional help with projects that I did not have the skill set to complete (professional photography, website issues, social media etc). I needed to immerse myself in this new field and build relationships. There are a lot of people out there that will encourage you, teach you, help you and it is important to build those relationships. You can’t come at this thinking you know everything, you will never succeed. You have to be open to learning from those that have been down the path before you. It will save you a lot of time, effort and money.
2016 is already shaping up to be a great year: you just introduced a brand new line of scarf Kuhfs. What was your strategy of creating more than boot accessories?
AO- My vision for Kuhfs is to be a nationally recognized accessory line, not just a product, so I needed to offer more. I wanted to stay true to the original idea of Kuhfs which is to elevate your style effortlessly and increase the versatility of the pieces you already own. I also wanted a product that people would be familiar with and did not need explanation or demonstration like Kuhfs does. My husband actually said I should offer scarves to draw people in. A scarf is something people are familiar with, and it will draw people in to look around my website or my display booth so I built upon that idea. Everyone has a scarf and this new accessory would be a fun and fresh way to add a pop of color and texture to a wardrobe piece you already own. Scarf Kuhfs could be explained without demonstration: a single image could sell this line.
How did you get funded, or what creative strategies did you use to execute on minimal cash flow?
AO- Kuhfs is self-funded, and has been from the beginning. Every penny counts when you don’t have a lot of working capital; you really think before you spend. I reached out to fellow moms in my community to tap into their talents. I used my friends as my models, who will work in exchange for a glass of wine, and I used another local mom to be my photographer and another to help me write and edit. There is a wealth of talent, knowledge and experience within the stay-at-home mom community. All of these women had jobs outside of the home and they are so giving of their time and talent to help another mom succeed. You just need to reach out and ask.
What has been the most unexpected aspects of your entrepreneurial career?
AO- Oh gosh, where do I start? I would say the most unexpected aspect of being an entrepreneur would be dealing with the highs and lows that come with this career. I wasn’t prepared for how one day everything’s going great, you are headed in the right direction, you feel like you are unstoppable and then the next week you want to quit and give up because it seems like everything that could go wrong, is going wrong. I thought it would be more of a smooth ride, a slow and steady climb forward. The life of an entrepreneur is filled with great success that will fuel you, motivate you and keep you moving forward. It is also filled with big failures that can easily take you down if you let them. What I learned as an entrepreneur is to not let the inevitable failures take me down. I had to learn from them in order to continue to move forward.
What has been your biggest success so far?
AO- You would think I would say my biggest success so far would be measured by sales or some type of achievement that could be measured in numbers, it’s not. My biggest success so far has been in getting my product from idea to reality. For me, it’s not about sales, retail placement, appearing on Good Morning America, or building a social media following. For me it’s about the fact that I had an original idea and formed it into a reality. I faced so many challenges along the way that should have stopped me, but they didn’t. My biggests success is learning to overcome challenges, problem solving and keep moving forward. As Kuhfs continues to grow I am sure my biggest success will change in its definition, but for now, it’s the fact that my idea turned into a tangible product that turned into a real company.
What do you wish you knew before you started your business? What advice would you give to someone just starting their entrepreneurial career?
AO- I wish someone would have told me, introducing a new accessory concept into the fashion industry is going to be harder than you think. I didn’t realize how much consumer education goes into introducing a new concept and how many barriers you will run into that you will have to learn how to overcome. I foolishly thought I would show people my product, they would love it and then buy it. I wasn’t prepared for people to tell me how much they love my product and then turn around and walk away without making a purchase. That was so confusing to me. You love it, you are raving about what a great idea it is, but then you do not make a purchase…why? That was something I wish someone would have told me to be working on from day one. I would have been doing more focus groups, asking more questions and learning what those barriers to purchase were. Instead I just assumed everyone understood the product and how to use it, turns out they did not.
The best advice I would give to a new entrepreneur would be start small, grow organically and really spend time defining your target market and getting to know who they are. Sometimes entrepreneurs think everyone is a customer, but that isn’t true. My target market shrunk a little after I really spent time figuring out who they were and what need my product was solving. Spend the time to really nail down what your target market is struggling with and then figure out, how does your product solves those struggles.