Teana McDonald used to dress her precious baby girl, Elise, in pink every day, but people would take one look at the infant’s short curly hair and assume she was a boy. "I used to think 'Are you kidding me?' " said McDonald, a Margate mom of two. After spending hundreds of dollars on girly headbands and hair bows for Elise, now 3, McDonald began making hair accessories, eventually turning the hobby into a
business, My Little Diva Accessories.
The big idea
Girly hair bows, clips, scarves, lunch totes and accessories for newborns through tweens. Prices range from $12 for hand-crafted hair bows to $25 for lunch totes.
With a penchant for design, McDonald had earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and a master’s in eCommerce from the University of Phoenix. She worked in retail management at stores such as the Children’s Place, Origins and DKNY before entering the financial industry and working with prepaid gift cards at Fidelity and MasterCard. McDonald started The Instyle Diva, a personal shopping and wardrobe consulting business in 2006, and My Little Diva Accessories in 2009.
Two years ago, McDonald was buying pricey hair bows for her infant daughter when she decided to save some cash and make her own. She headed to JoAnn Fabrics for cloth, headbands and clips. By that weekend, she had her first prototype. Friends saw Elise’s elaborate hair accessories and asked McDonald to make them some, too. That’s when she, at the suggestion of an aunt in the fashion industry, saw business potential.
At first, McDonald made only what she liked. That was her first mistake, she said.
"That was where I failed, because it’s not about what looks cute on my daughter, but what’s going to sell."
There were no formal research or market studies. Instead, McDonald began keeping a "Book of Dreams" with pictures ripped from current magazines of the latest colors and patterns, to keep up with trends when introducing new lines. She jobs out the bow-making, to get a more uniform product, then assembles or embellishes herself.
Instead of focus groups, McDonald looked at her own experience with her daughter. When Elise started pulling out her headbands at about 10 months, McDonald knew she had to move to snap clips, then to hinged alligator clips, as infants grow into toddlers and they begin resisting hair accessories.
"I looked at what was happening in my own household, because the everyday struggles of moms are the same," she said.
McDonald spent about $10,000 on supplies, memberships to networking organizations, such as the National Association of Women Business Owners, and for website costs.
In the beginning
For about eight months, beginning in late 2009, McDonald and her husband, Carl, worked craft shows every weekend to sell the products that she had assembled, one by one, in their home.
"I looked at similar businesses to see what’s working," she said.
After numerous shows, McDonald decided to head in a different direction.
"I started to think, I didn’t want to be known as the crafty person. I didn’t want to just sell homemade products from home. I wanted to build a brand."
In April 2010, McDonald did her last craft show.
"I didn’t want people to think of me as the lady at the craft festival. I wanted to be the lady in Macy’s," she said.
In mid-2010, she began renting office space walking distance from her home.
"Renting an office allows you to free yourself of home distractions," she said.
McDonald started a simple website in late 2009, essentially a listing of products and an email address to place orders. From December 2010 to April 2011, she hired a Los Angeles-based business coach for $100 a month, who used phone calls and email to advise on logistics such as pricing, packaging, supply costs, shipping, importing and exporting. A public relations consultant, also at $100 a month,
gave her advice on building brand awareness.
McDonald found companies who wanted to charge $2,800 to $8,000 to rebuild her website, so she decided to save money and do it herself. "I looked at other websites I liked, ones that gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling, to see what they did," she said.
She has advertised in some Coral Springs print publications, but markets the products mainly through Facebook, Twitter, email newsletters and a birthday club, in which the birthday child gets a free gift. She also has written articles for HybridMom.com, and appeared on South Florida Today. That appearance led to a spot as a co-host on Miami Moms, a show on NBC’s Miami Nonstop channel.
"The more you’re out there, the more you’ll get back," she said.
"Hand-crafted" can be interpreted as either dowdy or high end, depending on where your product is sold, McDonald said. Vendors who learn that her products are handmade often ask if she works out of her home, the turnaround time and if she is insured.
Another roadblock was getting the product on the shelves. In May, McDonald hired sales teams in Florida, Dallas and Los Angeles to display her products in market showrooms and to show samples to retailers. The sales reps will be paid 10 to 15 percent of a sale.
Current sales are 80 to 100 pieces a month. McDonald has not yet turned a profit and draws no salary.
Balancing work and family
The McDonalds handle their kids, Elijah, 4, and Elise as a team. Carl readies the kids for school in the morning. Teana rises at 6:45 a.m. and drops the kids off by 8 a.m., before heading to the gym. She’s in the office by 9:45 a.m., where she’ll spend the day assembling products, checking or filling orders and emails. Carl picks up the kids most days, and Teana is home by 6 p.m. After homework, dinner, baths and bedtime for the kids, Teana will do a quick email or Facebook check, then it’s couple time.
Advice for other moms?
"Women who open their own businesses can rely on their great sense of caregiving and running a household, but you do need to surround yourself with people who know how to run a business," she said. "Do your due diligence and find out what licensing your city needs in terms of running a home-based business."