From Concept To Customer

By Sakina P. Spruell & James C. Johnson

Most people have at least one idea for a business they’d like to start. The challenge is turning that great idea into an actual product and getting that product to a customer.

Many entrepreneurs have bested that challenge and successfully navigated the twists and turns involved with getting their product to market. Among them are sisters Emily and Helena McHugh, who started Casauri (www.casauri.com), a Fort Pierce, Florida-based company that designs a line of fashionable laptop bags and other travel accessories. Emily, a former Columbia Business School student, and Helena, a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, started selling their bags in 2001. Helena sewed a sample bag at home on her sewing machine and went door-to-door to boutiques in New York City’s Greenwich Village to find stores that would buy them. Today, the Casauri line is sold internationally through more than 100 venues, including Sam Flax, the MOMA Design Store, Fred Segal, Flight 001, and J&R Music and Computer World. Items retail for $50 to $150.

Like most entrepreneurs, the McHugh sisters initially identified all of the places their product could be sold. They thought big at first, considering large retailers, but then changed their angle. “As you figure out your marketing position, you realize that you don’t necessarily fit everywhere. So we narrowed it down to where our customer would most likely go to shop,” explains Emily. The sisters didn’t invest in complicated market research, either. They just used their keen observation skills to figure out how to reach hip, trendy dressers. “With that in mind, we approached local boutiques in New York,” says Emily.

In its first year of business, Casauri sold more than 4,000 laptop bags to four boutiques that agreed to carry them. “When you are starting out, you want to be in a place that you can handle,” says Emily. The company has managed to double its sales numbers each year since 2003, and now that revenues are growing steadily, the sisters are revisiting the idea of doing business with major department stores.

For every entrepreneur like the McHughs, there are hundreds who are unsuccessful at bringing their product to market. There are myriad reasons these ventures fail. Many entrepreneurs spend too much too early, rely too heavily on a major outlet to sell their product, or underestimate the importance of savvy marketing.

One resource entrepreneurs can tap to help them turn their idea into reality is the Black Retail Action Group (www.bragusa.org), a not-for-profit retail organization based in New York City that promotes the acceptance and participation of minorities at all levels of retail and related industries. BRAG President Gail Monroe-Perry says she sees a tremendous opportunity for black retailers to use their winning concepts to gain a greater market share of ethnic households: “As a result of fast growth, the buying power of people of color has been and will continue to be significant. The economic clout of our nation’s minorities will be one to be reckoned with and we should take full advantage.”

BRAG offers entrepreneurs six

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