This event is locked
Post a new topic
24 Replies Latest reply: May 12, 2009 3:01 PM by babyboom RSS

Event:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO

CommunityTeam Novice
Currently Being Moderated
Have you ever wanted to take your home based business and turn it into a profitable and growing business? Michelle Buelow will be sharing her story and lessons learned on how she put a twist on traditional baby items to create a fast-growing line of fancy, fresh and fun children's accessories. Four years ago she was a stay at home mom looking to fulfill creative voids and hoping to work with drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. With a little time on her hands and an unyielding commitment to philanthropy, a product line was launched in July of 2005.

Michelle began ‘raising' her company, Bella Tunno....using many of the same principles she used to raise her children - love unconditionally, communicate creatively, set expectations, realize your own limitations, grow with them, and lastly, raise them with morals and values. Bella Tunno is now sold in over 4,000 boutiques and nationally at retailers like Baby Gap and Nordstrom.

 

ABOUT BELLA TUNNO
Founded in 2005, Bella Tunno is a fashionably functional and philanthropic baby and children's accessory line. Proving that fashion, function and philanthropy can co-exist; Bella Tunno has created highly coveted designs for trendy tots and charity-conscious moms. With benevolence at the core of their brand, Bella Tunno donates a portion of all proceeds to drug-rehabilitation related organizations in memory of Matt Tunno, founder's Michelle Tunno Buelow's late brother. Trend-setting tots can now flaunt funky and fun baby basics - including bibs, burp cloths, diaper changing pads, binkers, play smocks, headscarfs and designer diners - while parents can feel good about purchasing items that contribute to a larger cause. Bella Tunno products can be found in BabyGap, Nordstrom, and more than 4,000 upscale boutiques and department stores internationally, as well as online at http://www.bellatunno.com/.

The fashion-forward tot accessory line has been included in the Oscar Gift Baskets, Golden Globe Awards baby gift bags and the MTV Style Lounge. Bella Tunno has been featured in People Magazines Holiday Gift Guide (2008), The TVGN Gifts and Gadgets Segment, Everyday with Rachael Ray, ABC, NBC, Fox, Parenting, Kids Today, Gifts and Decorative Accessories, Daily Candy, American Baby, babytalk, Pregnancy Magazine, and Earnshaw's.

The line of fancy, fresh and fun ‘NECCESSITIES' has generated a celebrity following including: Courteney Cox & Baby Coco; Nicole Richie, Joel Madden & Baby Harlow; Gavin Rossdale, Gwen Stefani, Kingston & Zuma; Elisabeth Hasselback, Grace & Taylor; Spice Girl Mel B & Baby Angel Murphy Brown; Marcia Cross & Babies Eden & Savannah; Adam & Jackie Sandler; Dustin & Lisa Hoffman; Robert Downey Jr.; Nancy O'Dell & Baby Ashby

The Founder, Michelle Tunno Buelow, lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, Todd and two sweet girls - Riley Rose (4) and Ella Grace (1).

 


Post a question now, and then join us on May 12 at 2:00 p.m. EST for a response. Or join us during the event and post a question. Michelle will try to answer as many questions as possible, but may not get to all of them. Note, you do not need to register for the event. You simply need to be a member of SBOC to post a question. If you don't have a user ID, join now, it's free.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    floridacoast Newbie
    Currently Being Moderated
    Michelle: I'm inspired at how you saw a gap in the marketplace and took action. Can you tell us more about how your kids inspired you? And can you share with us how you made your first baby accessory/prototype?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated
      Hello - thanks for your question.

      I've always had clear sense of my own style. I never seem to waiver on what I like and what I don't. When I started the baby registry process for my first daughter, I saw so much that I didn't like and struggled to find things I did. I started to wonder if other people felt the same way. After an exhausting search to find items that represented my style for my ‘mini me' I came up pretty empty-handed. So, with a little free time on my hands and a new sewing machine (Christmas gift from my mom) I started buying fabric and making things for my daughter. I didn't have a vision of a company at this point, but the overwhelming response to the look I was creating made me wonder if I was overlooking a sizable opportunity.

       

       


      As soon as my patterns got more detailed than mere rectangles (burp cloths and changing pads), I found home seamstresses for my prototypes. Sometimes I even sent ‘stapled' ideas instead of sewing to quickly get them to my manufactures (still do at times). You don't have to be a master seamstress to make a prototype - you just have to have the product vision.

      As for gauging the market, here's my best advice :

       

      Know your target audience well and know your competitors even better. If you are ready to ‘bet the farm' on your idea, make sure that it is:

       


      Differentiated- you have a distinct selling point from products that already exist in the market

       

      Compelling - your product will attract the attention of your target audience

       

      Sustainable - you have an idea with ‘staying power.'
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    simon07 Novice
    Currently Being Moderated
    How did you identify a reputable manufacture? Any advice on how to identify and work with one?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated

      This is one of the most difficult barriers of entry in the soft goods market. 4 years ago, I started with home seamstresses, then mostly through word of mouth, I heard about some small manufacturing shops - as I started to outgrow those, I found larger manufacturers. We now work with a few domestic factories and 3 abroad. The path to get to this point has NOT been easy. It's been costly both in terms of time and dollars to find the right manufacturing partners. At the end of the day, you can have a great idea / design, but if they are not making a quality product and not delivering on time, your company will never make it.

       

       

       

       

      There are websites like http://www.thomasnet.com/ and http://www.fashiondex.com/ that list potential manufacturing partners, but always check references. Make sure you are picking a manufacturer that can meet your needs today and can grow with you. It's important to play out some growth scenarios with them and make sure they can handle the upswings and downturns.

       

       


      Attending my first market (purely to network) was a huge help in finding manufacturers - I met so many other women that had their own business in this industry. So many of them have become great knowledge sources and good friends. Building a network of people you can trust is a great way to find manufacturing sources.

       


  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    Bluesuit Apprentice
    Currently Being Moderated
    Can you talk about your decision making process to take the leap into being an entrepreneur and starting your own company?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated

      It never felt like a decision. It was just the next step in my life. There was an opportunity where my passions intersected with my talents and it just flowed into a company. I wasn't looking to start a company - I was looking to do philanthropy work in my late-brother's memory, have a creative outlet and stay home with my girls.

       

       


      I think my background in branding, business management consulting and internet strategy gave me the confidence to build a company while the thought of staying home with my daughters and giving philanthropically gave me the incentive to overcome the big challenges.

       

       


      In looking back, I'd offer this advice: If presented with an opportunity where your passions and your talents can intersect, don't let the chance to fully explore it pass you up. The gratification and feeling of accomplishment is amazing when you're doing what you know you're meant to do.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    VisionCapital Newbie
    Currently Being Moderated
    what were your resources?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated

      Very few when I first started. I really didn't know anything about design and even less about manufacturing. I stayed up late googling competitive products, asked everyone I knew if they knew anyone that could offer advice and attended markets to build knowledge and learn the industry. Through attending markets, I started to build a network of women with the same goals and we formed groups where we could share resources and help one another. I found that there are ‘launch pads portals' for most industries. For the baby and children's market, http://www.jamesgirone.com/ is a huge resource to scope out competition, find representation and review new products.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    doughboy Newbie
    Currently Being Moderated
    Michelle...I checked out your company's website and noticed that you have many celebrity moms backing your products. Congratulations. I'm sure they have their options. How you were able to get that opportunity? How has celebrity endorsements influenced your product's popularity?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated

      The celebrity following has been a huge win in terms of sales and press for our line. Just today, we saw a photo of Jennifer Gardner's new baby, Serephina, sporting our binker!

       

       


      Early on, we got a huge opportunity - an invitation only request to be part of the Golden Globes. At that point, these types of placement opportunities were not paid placements. The opportunity arose from a celebrity - focused boutique picking up our line. The owner was part of the board that picked products for the mom and mom-to-be gift bags at the Golden Globes. The response to our line at this event led to invitations at the MTV style lounge and inclusion in the Oscar's gift bags. I credit these celebrity-focused opportunities, as well as key boutiques in the LA area picking up our line with our celebrity following. Having celebrity names behind our line has been instrumental in securing many of our print and TV press opportunities.

       


  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    CommunityTeam Novice
    Currently Being Moderated
    Community,

    Please join me in welcoming Michelle Buelow, from Bella Tunno http://www.bellatunno.com. Michelle will be posting as user babyboom. Michelle will start by answering questions that we've collected prior. While she is doing this, we'll be collecting questions live too - so if you have a question for Michelle, simply login to your account and hit reply. The event is moderated so you may not see your question post right away. Also, don't forget to refresh your screens often so you can see Michelle's latest response. Michelle take it away!
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    franklinplace Newbie
    Currently Being Moderated
    How did you create such an expansive retail distribution - ranging from boutiques to large retailers? Did it just happen or is this what you set out to do?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated

      It all started with 10 appointments in local Charlotte boutiques 4 years ago. I took a bag of my products (hand sewn at the time) to these boutique owners and all but one store purchased the line. One of the owners was kind enough to tell me about a showroom in Atlanta that represented lines in my ‘sweet spot.' I contacted her with a reference with the boutique owner and showed at a summer market. The response to the line was very strong. As soon as we were ready to take on more business, I asked the showroom owner for recommendations of similar showrooms in other territories. I continued this model to get representation across the US. Our international distribution partners found us through our press placements and through some of our online retailers. Once we started to make a brand abroad in Japan then Europe, the world became a little smaller and the same viral marketing techniques kicked in. Word of mouth has been a really strong growth tool for us. The relationships with GAP and Nordstrom came about via good PR. They both contacted us after reading about us in the press.

       

       


      This was a long-term goal, but we've been really blessed in getting to build these relationships early-on.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    Tori Novice
    Currently Being Moderated

    Michelle, What role did your family play in helping you start your business? And what about now?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated

      Great Question - my family has played an enormous role in building Bella Tunno. It's truly a family business! It was my husband who saw what a great opportunity this could be and encouraged me to move forward. Back when EVERY SINGLE cent had to be split 6 ways, it was my mom who taught herself how to build a website and got ours up and running. It was my husband, Todd, that built our contact and order management system from scratch. When I was looking for the perfect philanthropy to partner with, it was my dad who provided a plane ticket and accompanied me on a trip to visit rehab centers out west. Aside from all that help, my girls are our product ‘testers' and models. It's been a family business from the start and continues to be! Anything that takes up this much time and effort requires support and I've had unconditional support!
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    Bluesuit Apprentice
    Currently Being Moderated
    Michelle - Can you tell us how you test or experiment with new designs/fabrics/colors? What type of research/testing do you do before deciding to manufacture a large volume?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated
      There are really two types of testing
      1. market research to determine if the product is needed, relevant, compelling and sustainable
      2. safety testing to ensure that the product is safe for the age-grade.

      The first type of testing (market readiness) is the fun part - at our company this is very unscientific. I'm a mom and most of our team and friends are, so by default, we're experts in this world. The product ideas either come from seeing a good product that we know we can make better (our laminated bibs, for example) or seeing a gap in the market that think it's important to fill (our binkers and designer diners). I'll make a few prototypes, hand them out, use them on my kids and gauge the response, make some changes and off we go!

      The second type of testing, safety testing, has ALWAYS been so very important to us! Just recently in the US, new CPSIA 2008 laws were instated limiting the level of lead and phthalates in children's products. These new laws also made once voluntary laws mandatory (the ASTM 963 laws). We outsource our testing to an accredited 3rd party and do not release our products until they are safety certified. The same safety testing process happens for each country we distribute to - we work with that country to understand thier laws (it's different everywhere) and ensure products are tested to meet the geographic standards.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    antiques4me Newbie
    Currently Being Moderated
    How do you market your products to boutiques? Do you have salespeople that solicit for you?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated

      We work through permanent showrooms in key areas of the country (Atlanta, LA, Dallas, Chicago, etc) where wholesale customers and department stores can view the product line at their convenience. We have worked with some independent representatives in the past as well. We also work with international distribution partners that represent our line and show it to potential buyers in their geographic territories.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    Howard Novice
    Currently Being Moderated

    Why do you work with multiple manufacturers vs. having one manufacturer do everything?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated
      Good Question - it doesn't seem to make sense, does it?
      We learned early on that it's important to diversify where we manufacture. State-side manufacturing is, unfortunately, a struggling industry. If you put all your eggs in one basket and that manufacturer either goes under or takes on a more 'important' client, you could essentially lose your business. It's important to build a few manufacturing relationships so that you can get competitive quotes, cross-train on products for times when you need extra manufacturing and just to keep yourself 'safe' in the event of a shut-down. In order to keep sourcing and raw material overhead costs manageable, we have one manufacturer make all our cotton goods, one make all our laminated goods, one make all our diaper bags, etc. but when possible (depending on thier machinery limitations) they have been cross-trained on other products and have filled in when we've needed them.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    Tori Novice
    Currently Being Moderated

    I read about how your business is tied to a philanthropic cause. Can you tell us more?
    • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
      babyboom Newbie
      Currently Being Moderated
      I would LOVE to tell you more - this is the heart of why we do what we do!!!

       

      First and foremost, Bella Tunno exists to give back. We have never sold a product without donating a portion of the sale to drug and alcohol prevention, rehabilitation and education programs, or programs that support struggling mothers and children. Some of the initiatives we support locally are the Charlotte Rescue Mission, Thompson Family Focus and Safe Journey.

       


      In 2003 my brother passed away after a long struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. This was a catalyst for Bella Tunno to focused its energy on helping others who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.

       


      Bella Tunno supports the Charlotte Rescue Mission as their key philanthropic focus. The Charlotte Rescue Mission (www.charlotterescuemission.org) is a program with a heart committed to meeting the needs; mind, body and soul; of those battling against addiction and homelessness. They want to break the cycle of destructive behavior that is passed from generation to generation. In doing so, they want to make our community a healthier, safer, happier place. It is a self-referring program, completely voluntary and privately funded.

       


      In 2007 Bella Tunno led an initiative for the Charlotte Rescue Mission called "Let's Make a Miracle" with the end goal of giving each individual client ‘Christmas.'

       

      In 2008 - 2009, Bella Tunno headed an initiative called EXTREME MISSION MAKEOVER at the Charlotte Rescue Mission. In just one day, from 8 AM to 5 PM, Bella Tunno joined 16 other companies (including the Gap, Lowes and Outback Steakhouse) and over 65 volunteers to aid in much needed renovations and improvements at the Charlotte Rescue Mission. The key goal at the end of the day was to turn an unused basement area into six dorm rooms and a bathroom area. Building these six new rooms will allow 32-40 more clients a year go through the program that may have not otherwise had the chance. Over the years, this in turn will offer hundreds of individuals the opportunity to participate in the program and start a new life for themselves. Volunteers also painted several rooms at the various Mission buildings, renovated the gymnasium, built a sand volleyball and horseshoe pit, organized and cleaned the food pantry, and landscaped and beautified the property.

       


      Bella Tunno also sponsored a Family Fun Fest at the Thompsons Family Focus residential children's home this spring with music, arts and crafts, a puppet show and a day of fun for the kids.

       


      Bella Tunno is the vehicle that funds our philanthropy work. The children's accessory business is great market to play in, but the Bella Tunno line is more a means to a charitable end.
  • Re: Event May 12:  From Stay at Home Mom to CEO
    CommunityTeam Novice
    Currently Being Moderated

    Michelle: Thanks so much for your time today. We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with SBOC and all the valuable advice you provided!

     

    Community: If you are interested in learning more about Michelle's line of fancy, fresh, and fun children accessories, please visit Bella Tunno at http://www.bellatunno.com.

More Like This

  • Retrieving data ...

Legend

  • Correct Answers - 100 points
  • Helpful Answers - 100 points