Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, it’s smart to launch a lemonade business. Just ask Sarah Baldwin, of Highland Park, Ill.
In November 2009 her husband, Jack Weissman, then 61, was told his position as a vice president and corporate officer at a medical devices and services firm was being eliminated. Baldwin, then 52, started racking up sleepless nights, stressed by her husband's job loss as well as her menopause night sweats. Wide awake way too often, Baldwin started searching online for solutions.
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That’s how she came across Goodnighties, a pajama company that claims its ionized fabric helps you sleep better by wicking away moisture. She ordered a pair online — and had her first good night’s sleep in two months.
What Goodnighties Needed
Baldwin, who previously had a career building and promoting brands like NutraSweet and Ice Capades, then began to research other cooling, moisture-wicking pajamas, a new category in the sleepwear business. She ordered various brands, but nothing worked as well as Goodnighties. Baldwin noticed, however, that the Goodnighties website was rudimentary and its logo looked dated.
So she began sending the company’s founders, Marcia and David Bacon, marketing and product ideas. Within a few weeks, the Bacons agreed to turn over Goodnighties’ sales and marketing to Baldwin and Weissman, who then created the marketing company Bodacious Enterprises to handle the job.
Baldwin and Weissman then made an upfront investment “in the mid-five figures,” Baldwin says. In exchange, Bodacious would earn a percentage of Goodnighties’ sales. “We risked everything," she says. "We had to make this work.”
How She Grew Sales
After overhauling the Goodnighties site, Baldwin began approaching retailers about carrying the line. To publicize the PJs she rang up her public relations agency contacts as well as national media outlets.
Wellness retailers, boutiques and sites like ProHealth and As We Change have since begun carrying the line, which has developed a loyal following. Baldwin and Weissman are now working with the Bacons to create new styles and colors, with plans to target lingerie stores. They also intend to produce a sleepwear collection for men.
Over the past two years, Baldwin has cold-called editors, landing articles with CNN.com, the Tribune Syndicate, Woman’s World and others. In April, "The Dr. Oz Show" featured Goodnighties, which sent orders soaring.
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Bodacious Enterprises’ efforts have led to a 69 percent increase in Goodnighties' sales year-to-date over 2011, and the company is now filling orders internationally.
Baldwin is quick to point out that she and Weissman are making less than half what her husband received in salary and stock at his corporate job. But, she adds, they expect to earn more over time.
Baldwin's 3 Tips for Entrepreneurs
Baldwin loves helping aspiring boomer entrepreneurs and offers these three tips if you’re thinking about launching a business:
Take advantage of free resources. Baldwin recommends tapping into SCORE, a nonprofit whose retired executives offer advice to entrepreneurs, and the Small Business Administration’s local Small Business Development Centers. Next Avenue has loads of SCORE articles with practical advice. (In an earlier blog post, I noted the best free stuff for small business owners.)
Don’t blindly delegate to others. It’s important to educate yourself before hiring professional help, she says.
Her first Web designer created a Goodnighties site without a shopping cart system or social media integration — both critical for e-commerce companies. Baldwin didn’t realize they were missing until it was too late. That misstep cost thousands of dollars to correct.
Learn from your mistakes. Baldwin says you’ll often hear romanticized versions of startups that had immediate success — but, in reality, the road for entrepreneurs is always bumpy. So you've got to work hard and not let setbacks get you down. “If you find doors are shut to you," she says, "there’s always a way around them.”