Renae James first started selling sleepwear at the Paddington markets in Sydney back in 2003.
Today, her sleepwear and lifestyle brand Papinelle has four retail stores and is stocked by 180 retailers, including department store David Jones. Papinelle has around 11 full-time staff and is on track to turn over around $4 million this financial year.
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We sat down with James to find out her advice for budding retailers and how she landed a deal with retail giant David Jones.
I started the business 10 years ago and there were either flannelette pyjamas, which were super masculine, or nighties, which were the opposite.
I thought there was a gap in the market and it turns out there was.
I thought it was a good business decision because sleepwear doesn’t go out of fashion. I wanted longevity and something that was print-focused, as I excelled at that while at uni.
I started with $9000 that I saved [while at uni] and season after season, every amount we made was invested back into the company.
We’ve never had a bank loan or external funding or something like that.
My uni degree was really good for the structure of a garment and how to make clothes, but I was horrendous at business knowledge.
I didn’t have any business subjects at all. I didn’t even know how to register a company name.
It was all very self-taught, but that’s also what’s given us a point of difference.
There was no one saying this is how you could do it, so we just did what we felt was right and what our customers wanted.
You’ve got to be so passionate about the product and what you’re selling.
My advice to others is to go out and find a customer before you make it.
Go to someone and say, ‘this is what I’m thinking, will you order it?’
I walked the streets and tried to sell, which is a harder path to walk.
Make your customers part of the decision-making process or the design. That way, you can tweak it to suit them.
I find business plans so inspiring when you’re writing them but for the long-term planning we have never been able to follow one.
Word of mouth has definitely been the most successful form of marketing for us but that’s not something we planned.
I know how important social media is but it’s not something we’ve had a lot of time and energy for in the past.
We have a lot more success from our email marketing.
When we send something out via email, our customers instantly respond and we haven’t had that success from social yet. But I know it’s not far away.
What’s the thing that keeps me awake at night? Definitely cash flow.
The arrow has always pointed north for us, but with things like paying for things upfront and not getting paid on time, every business faces that.
I do take the business home with me and I can’t switch off and it does wear you down at night. You’ve just got to be on top of it all the time and across it.
You can’t not know what’s going on in the financial side of the business. It’s the most crucial thing to be across.
You just have to back yourself and rely on the fact that everything is going to be fine.
As soon as you lose touch with the books, or you’re not budgeting what you’re buying and selling, it’s so easy to get yourself in trouble.
It says so much when you merchandise properly. We tell a story and you instantly know what the product is and what the price-point is.
About two years ago we were approached by David Jones.
You’ve got to be a need for them and then you can negotiate better terms that work for both of you.
In department stores, your sell-through is crucial and they have been so accommodating. But you have to be ready and have enough resources. You can’t just send an order to David Jones and hope it goes well.
With sleepwear, as far as clothing is concerned, it’s really easy to know your size and that’s the biggest hurdle with online shopping.
However, I think it’s still really important that the online store is a true reflection of your actual story.
Reflecting your product, who you are and your brand on your website is so important. It makes people trust it, and when they have trust, they will be willing to spend money with you.
Looking ahead, we’ll definitely be opening new retail stores. Not rapidly; it will be a controlled growth for us as everything is still funded within the company.
We’re also getting a lot of interest from overseas department stores.
The best advice I’ve ever been given is “work with your head, not with your hands”. My dad told me this and it’s served me very well.
Instead of physically fixing things that break, you should sit back and put systems in place so they don’t happen again.