Claire Theobald and Marcus Woolcott know the power of celebrity. The pair, who started their company, Beatrix New York in 2007, now sell to stores in 30 states and 32 countries around the world. The company's backpacks, lunchboxes and water bottles are used by celebrity parents including Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meg Ryan, Halle Berry, Ashlee Simpson and Britney Spears.
BusinessNewsDaily spoke with Beatrix co-founder Theobald to find out how a company with just three employees pulled it off.
BusinessNewsDaily: Tell us about what your business?
Claire Theobald: Beatrix New York is devoted to creating cool, contemporary stuff for kids, everything from backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles and suitcases to stuffed toys. Our products are based on characters from the magical world of the Maakun Forest, where talking ice-cream cones and robots co-exist with ladybugs, whales and more. The goods combine a childlike love of whimsy and imagination with a grown-up sense of modern design and style. There is a focus on simplicity, quality and fun, and we try to design products that kids will love and manufacture them so the love lasts.
BND: Why did you start your business? What opportunity did you see?
CT: Our company did not actually begin with its current mission. My business partner, Marcus Woolcott, and I joined a former third partner who had a company with a slightly different name, which was making women’s purses and diaper bags. At the time, my twins, Alexander and Juliane, just happened to be entering kindergarten. I noticed that my choices for purchasing backpacks for them were limited to the likes of Pokemon and Hello Kitty. I asked if we could try designing some backpacks for children. Marcus created three designs of a dinosaur (still one of our most popular sellers), a penguin and a pig. We took them along with our diaper bags and purses to the next trade show. There was no comparison in sales between the backpacks and the other products. Marcus and I were energized by the positive feedback and wanted to focus exclusively on kids. Our former business partner was interested in doing other things, so Marcus and I bought her out and changed the name to Beatrix New York.
BND: What was the one moment where you thought you had something on your hands?
CT: We have now been making children’s products for four years. Honestly, I can’t say there is one defining moment. I would say instead that there has been a series of moments as the business trajectory has grown upwards. Surely, that first trade show described above was a defining moment, but also I would include as defining moments when Kelly O’Connor, the children’s buyer at Barneys New York picked us up nationally, which opened up many other doors for us. Others included seeing our very first celebrity (Liv Tyler) carrying one of our products in 2009, getting the first call from an interested international distributor and fielding the first inquiry from an outside investor.
BND: How did you try to grow and handle that growth?
CT: Our biggest challenge has been running out of inventory, particularly during peak summer sales months. Given our business model, we could actually grow quite a bit without having to add much senior staff. Last year was particularly painful in terms of missed sales opportunities because of lack of stock. Marcus and I have been trying to keep the company private in order to increase its value before taking on outside investors. This year we have significantly increased our factory orders in an effort to keep products readily available. Even so, year-to-date sales are up 50 percent. Over the next year we will begin to give serious consideration to taking on investors to help take advantage of all of the interest, especially international, in the Beatrix brand.
BND: What can other businesses learn from your story?
CT: One thing I can’t stress enough, especially for design-focused companies, is to find your voice. The first year or two we definitely floundered as our look was a bit all over the place. Once we defined our style and brand more clearly, things started to come together much more. The other thing I would say is that your business partner does not need to be your best friend. In fact it is probably better not to go into business with a friend. We have witnessed several of the companies we have worked with dissolve because of a falling out between friends. Marcus and I would likely never even have met had it not been through our original business partner. We are very different people and lead very different lives yet we make fantastic business partners.
BND: What advice do you have for other businesses or entrepreneurs?
CT: Within reason, of course, don’t give up. We’ve had our rough patches and plenty of rejection, but we just kept trying to improve our products and brand vision and continued to knock on doors. I always tell people that I feel a bit like an actress who had to wait on tables, but then finally some supporting roles start to show up and then, eventually, that lead in the Broadway show comes along.