Susan Petersen didn’t let a shoestring budget stop her from chasing a big dream.
The Utah mom sold scrap aluminum from her brother’s window installation company to raise startup capital for her business, Freshly Picked. Working from home, she crafted simple leather soft-sole baby moccasins and began selling them online in late 2009, utilizing social media to spread the word.
By the end of 2013, Freshly Picked’s sales topped the million-dollar mark, and its Instagram followers swelled to nearly 300,000. “We’ve been able to do what a lot of brands can’t do: get to our customers directly,” Petersen said. “The great thing about building a business online is you don’t need to raise as much money as companies that take the traditional route.”
Petersen’s fledgling business got an even bigger boost when she appeared on “Shark Tank,” the ABC reality series in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch to a panel of investors. During the episode, aired in January, Petersen was offered a deal with shark Daymond John, but she eventually opted to maintain exclusive ownership.
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Soon after, Nordstrom came calling. The retail giant added Freshly Picked to its roster this summer. “We were waiting for a big, top-tier retailer to kick off [our move into] wholesale,” Petersen said. This year’s sales are expected to quadruple.
While continuing to focus on e-commerce, the brand is now building its wholesale business.
Petersen said a large number of retailers are clamoring to carry her shoes, priced from $45 to $60. “It’s a great position to be in, but we’re trying to go slow and not rush into things,” she said.
Here, Petersen talks about diving into the “Shark Tank” and the tremendous power of social media.
Was there a moment when you knew you’d made it — that Freshly Picked would be a success?
SP: I wish I felt that way. We’re still so young and trying to find our footing. There is always a chance a big company could come along and rip us off and that would be it. So we’re hustling as hard as we can. We like to feel we’re the underdog because it makes us work twice as hard. Also, I’ve found that being a woman entrepreneur in e-commerce, people don’t always take me seriously, which is fine — I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. I’m really comfortable working from a place where people underestimate me. [What matters is that] I know where I’m going.
Would your growth have been possible prior to the online boom?
SP: We’re a business the Internet built, no question. That’s where we’ve had our biggest success; that’s where our supporters live. We’ve been able to organically grow this amazing community of moms through social media. Last year, we did $1.2 million in sales without any advertising [investment]. We’ve had a lot of success on Instagram especially. Instagram lends itself to a one-finger scroll. There are many moms doing late-night feedings with their babies while surfing their iPhones, and they find us.
How did your “Shark Tank” appearance boost business?
SP: “Shark Tank” has been incredible for our brand. Even though it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Immediately after the episode aired, we picked up 34,000 new followers across our social media platforms. And we’ve had a ton of new opportunities come about. The sharks were amazing. They’re obviously looking out for their own businesses, but they’ve all been on the other side of that table. They’ve been the scrappy entrepreneur, so they want to help others make it.
You’ve built your brand around a single silhouette. How do you keep the collection fresh?
SP: We try to tell a story each season with color. And we’ve just started printing our own leathers, which is a fun process. It allows us to get creative. So that’s how we’re keeping the product fresh. We actually tried to change up the silhouette a bit, but we found people love it the way it is.
What’s next for Freshly Picked?
SP: We want to continue to expand into more stores and different countries. We’re getting some international distributors in place, [and we’re planning to add] apparel and other products. We often say we’re not in the shoe business, we’re in the memories business. When babies wear our moccasins, their footprint becomes imprinted on the bottom. And there might be scuff marks from when they were learning to walk. The moccasins capture that brief, magical window in time. That’s what we want to sell: products that capture those memories for parents.