How can a woman remain active in the business world while staying at home with her children? For 42-year-old Tustin resident Wendy Navarro, the solution was launching online toddler and baby boutique Saige Nicole’s.
"After 13 years as an organizational development and training specialist with the Superior Court, I resigned my position to be home with my son and daughter," said Navarro.
However, three years later she wanted to get back to business. So, she and her husband Rick, an IT professional, put a tick list together for an ideal family business. With Navarro’s background in retail management, she and her husband agreed that establishing a small, online baby and toddler boutique was ideal. The boutique, named after her now 16-year-old daughter, first went online in 2006.
Over the years, Navarro has developed relationships with a number of independent designers, many of whom are moms who have also gone into business for themselves, and featured them on her site. She is pleased to sell products designed by "moms for moms."
"I started with a handful of vendors and bit by bit added more," said Navarro. Her most popular product line is Right Bank Babies a line of reversible clothing offering eight looks with four separate pieces.
When many small business owners are struggling to keep their businesses afloat, last year Saige Nicole’s sales increased 54 percent over the previous year.
"It confirmed what we knew in our hearts—that this was something we could do really well and be profitable," said Navarro.
Navarro attributes her success to keeping focused on her customers. She is always seeking customer feedback through Facebook and Twitter. She finds that people are usually willing to give their opinions on what they want and need for their children.
Opening a brick and mortar store was not a major priority for Navarro, but when she read about the OC Mart Mix and later visited the location, she was hooked. The OC Mart Mix provides independent boutiques an affordable location to showcase their unique merchandise to shoppers and designers. Navarro thought it was a perfect fit for Saige Nicole’s, but was it a good business move?
As she had in the past, she turned to the Institute for Women Entrepreneurs (IWE) for guidance. The IWE matched her up with business consultant Joe Kibbe with more than 25 years of hands-on fiscal management as a corporate financial professional.
It was Kibbe who guided Navarro through putting her expansion to paper in a business plan. What Navarro really wanted to know was whether opening a brick and mortar space was viable. Once the plan was complete, excitement for an actual store with a door grew because the numbers worked.
Saige Nicole’s opened for business at the OC Mart Mix on July 31—just in time to celebrate Navarro’s 43rd birthday. The store will be small—200 square feet—but plans are to pack a lot into a little package.
The boutique—both Saige Nicole’s online and its soon-to-be brick and mortar counterpart—is truly a family business. Fifteen-year-old son Quentin helps with the website, as does husband Rick; and their six-year-old son Vaughn occasionally models boys clothing for the website. When the store at the OC Mart Mix opens, Saige will work there after school and on weekends.
"We do everything together," said Navarro, who calls herself "owner and mom in charge." "It’s important for us to provide our children with a head start to understanding business."
Navarro is grateful that there are resources like the Institute for Women Entrepreneurs to help small business owners like herself. She discovered the IWE about a year ago when she worked with IWE business consultant and social media expert Eydie Stumpf.
"Eydie had great suggestions for Saige Nicole’s social media strategies," said Navarro. "She helped us understand how to interact with customers on a personal level and we got our Facebook likes up to 2,400!"
Navarro’s customer outreach also includes pulling together a catalog that showcases how to put her products together into a look, plus regular e-marketing linking customers to the latest find.
"Thanks to the IWE, our business plan really represents Saige Nicole’s and helps keep focus on where we want to be in the future," said Navarro.
About the Institute for Women Entrepreneurs
The Institute for Women Entrepreneurs (IWE), an economic development program of the Rancho Santiago Community College District Foundation, broadens the reach of business training and consulting to help women start, grow and expand their small businesses. The IWE supports local businesses through one-on-one business consulting services, key business workshops geared to the needs of women entrepreneurs and network-building opportunities. While welcoming men to its programs, the IWE caters to the needs of women entrepreneurs. The IWE is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
When Colin Burgos left the Marine Corps in 2005 after eight years of service as an infantryman, including a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he knew there was a need for the type of business he would later start in 2007. Camp Pendleton-based Marines were flocking to off-base retailers and online stores to purchase tactical equipment such as load bearing vests, ammunition pouches, slings, holsters, and hydration systems to help make their jobs easier, spending hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets on mission-specific gear that they feel is more customized to suit their needs than basic issue gear from the military supply system.
“Those that serve in the military during a time of war, like now, can undergo multiple combat deployments and have a better idea of the gear that works for them and the gear that doesn’t,” Colin elaborates. “The basic issued gear list is sufficient, but, on the other hand, it is what it is: basic, and not customized to suit each individual.”
Colin knew that the idea made good business sense, as the needs of these customers were not being fully addressed by the military surplus stores that pepper the vicinity around Camp Pendleton. Some of the gear was available online, but a common complaint was that there was no physical location to allow the Marines to handle the gear before making their purchase decision.
Armed with this knowledge, Colin spent nearly a year researching the business he wanted to form and about six months drafting a thorough business plan. Not knowing anyone who had gone through the start-up process, Colin went about it in typical Marine fashion, by doing everything himself – from branding the store to generating the financial pro-formas.
He readily admits that he didn’t know what to expect while trying to obtain financing for his start-up, having never applied for a loan other than for a vehicle. “Quite frankly, I didn’t know the ins and outs of running a retail operation, but I did learn how to set up and accurately fire a 60mm mortar as a 17 year-old “boot” Marine. I figured I could learn anything if it was something I was interested in.”
Though his first attempts at getting his start-up business financed were rejected by several lenders due to a lack of collateral, a call placed to the SBA’s Santa Ana District Office informed him of a then-new loan guaranty program, called Patriot Express. The next day he spoke with a small business loan officer at US Bank, and within two weeks he was approved for a $250,000 SBA-backed small business loan. Combat Ready USA (CRUSA) opened the doors to its first retail location in San Clemente, CA on December 16, 2007.
Three years later, he’s been pleased with the overall sales growth, having added three employees and a handful of independent contractors along the way, many of which were hired from the Wounded Warrior Battalion. “By working with Combat Ready they get to work with like-minded veterans and remain close to the brotherhood we all enjoyed while on active duty.”
“I’m a strong believer in allowing customers to influence how we do business,” Colin adds. It’s for that reason that he set up a sponsorship program to allow private donors to support individual troops and units. “There are a lot of patriotic organizations that send out food, hygiene products, and magazines to our front line troops, but our records show that each troop spends $200-$300 on new equipment within thirty days of their overseas tour. This program relieves troops that are financially challenged and allows them to attain the gear they need without sacrificing quality.” Twenty percent of the proceeds from this program are donated to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a 501c(3) dedicated to providing immediate financial support for injured members of the U.S. armed forces and their families.
With this focus on providing superior customer service, it’s no small wonder Colin’s company is flourishing.
“In five years I see Combat Ready USA becoming a bigger player in our industry, yet remaining a small business. I’ve been pursuing a few programs and certifications to enhance our eligibility for more government contracts, and I think those will be instrumental to our growth.”
SBA’s Patriot Express loan guaranty program has helped thousands of veterans like Colin to start or expand their business. Featuring one of SBA’s fastest turnaround times for loan approvals, Patriot Express loans are available for up to $500,000 and can be used for most business purposes, including start-up, expansion, equipment purchase, working capital, inventory or business-occupied real estate purchases. Eligible individuals include veterans, active-duty military members eligible for the Transition Assistance Program, Reservists and National Guard members, as well as the spouses of any of these groups. Established on a pilot basis, the popular program was recently extended for three more years. For a list of our participating lenders, please contact the Santa Ana District Office at (714) 560-7420.