October 15

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Baby Barn Co-Founder Jen Hochstadt on Creating an Online DTC Business

By Mimi MacLean

October 15, 2021


Baby Barn Founder Jen Hochstadt

Jen Hochstadt, the co-founder of Baby Barn, joins us to talk about how she created her online direct-to-consumer business during the pandemic. After listening to her customers, Jen pivoted her initial business plan and has grown a popular, minimal-inspired baby brand!

So many women don’t start their entrepreneurial dreams because they are focused on perfection. They stress over the perfect logo, social media posts, branding, funding, etc., but there is never going to be a “perfect” way to run your business. You need to start and adapt as you grow.

“You can stew on something and think of a million reasons why not to do something but if you truly love the venture then start!”- Jen

Find Jen and Baby Barn

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Episode Contents:

Pivoting and Lessons From the Start of Baby Barn

Baby Barn Sweaters
Baby Barn Offers Neutral Stylish Options for Kids

Mimi:
Okay, Jen, thank you so much for coming on today. Really appreciate it.

Jen:
My pleasure.

Mimi:
I'm excited because obviously I've been very aware of your company from the very beginning and so I've kind of seen it evolve. And I would love to just kind of start out today talking about how I think a lot of women, when they start companies, they're super nervous because they think everything has to be perfect, and every logo has to be perfect, and your mission and your vision and everything has to be perfect. And they don't realize that it evolves because you have to listen to your customer. 

Jen:
Right.

Mimi:
So I would love to dive into, because when we originally were thinking about starting this company, it was completely food related and everything was going to be about food. And we realized quickly that wasn't what the customer wanted. So can you dive into where you are right now and how you got there? 

Jen:
Sure. Well where we are right now, we're Baby Barn, and we are a clothing, accessories destination for parents who love the modern and minimal look. We're working on masterating the curated closet for your mini. So instead of overbuying all these different things, it's sort of a destination that you can go to and you can pick out different neutral outfits and you can seamlessly mix or match. So it's sort of like the minimalistic approach to dressing your baby, but still fun. 

Jen:
That's where we are now, but where we started, Mimi, if you remember, it was nutrition. Originally Baby Barn was a nutrition business and the same kind of idea that we have evolved into accessories and apparel, but we wanted a minimalistic approach to nutrition and also quick, easy staples that you could use for your baby. We set out on this venture, and we had experts on board, Brian Scott, the co-founder, he is amazing when it comes to nutrition and sourcing, he does primarily everything for that nature for Tone It Up. And he is just a mad scientist, as we call him.

He helped us formulate these really amazing blends and we also had a pediatric dietician on our board, but what we quickly realized is it is hard to get a nutrition brand up off the ground. It was a very slow roll, even for these people that have started these huge businesses, it was definitely a slow roll, and anybody that's going into nutrition, if you've looked into it, it's a very hard business to do because the quantities that they require you to buy, it's crazy.

I mean, in the thousands. And then you're also dealing with shelf life. So if you're not moving those units within a matter of time, then they have expired.

Mimi:
And also convincing the customer that like trusting who you are and making sure they're consuming that for their child. 

Jen:
Yes. And when it is a D2C, so direct to consumer, they can't like touch it. Even seeing it in the grocery store, it's a different experience. So you can see it, you can kind of feel it, you can look at it, but when you're looking at it online, it's a harder context. It's harder to make that leap like, "Okay, I don't really know what this is going to taste like. I don't really know much about it." So it's harder to actually purchase that, which we found out. I remember when we first launched, we're like, "Okay, here we go." And then it was like trickling in.

Mimi:
Right. There's also a lot of regulations too, right?

Jen:
Oh yeah. Totally. 

Mimi:
Under the age of one, I think you have to kind of jump through a lot of hoops in what you can claim.

Jen:
A lot of hoops. Yeah. So everything like it. It's an expensive, hard process to do. And we were excited about it, but at the same time we were quickly realizing, "Okay, if this doesn't take a turn soon, we do have to make a pivot because if something's not working, it's hard to just keep doing the same thing." I mean, that's kind of like the definition of insanity, right? 

Mimi:
Yeah.

Jen:
Like doing the same thing over, over, expecting different results. 

How A Bib Created The Baby Barn Aesthetic and Customer Base

Baby Barn bibs
The Classic Baby Barn Bib

Mimi:
But with the first item, we just started with was the baby bib?

Jen:
So we had the baby bib on our website and we noticed that the bib was outselling all of the nutrition products and we're like, "Wow, our customer loves, they're identifying with our aesthetic," because we were getting like a lot of followers and the bib was selling like crazy. So we were like, "Okay, something is working here." But also at the same time, I was curating a collection for my husband's brand, Legends.

We had at a little popup shop here, and I was curating a collection of kid items, baby wear, and working with a specific factory and did a little run of a tracksuit that sold really well. And I loved it. I was just obsessed with doing this and I kept talking my husband in or trying to talk my husband into it saying, "Legend should really have a kids line." And he's like, "No, I want to stay focused on men's apparel. I don't want to spread ourselves too thin. We can have this little kids line in the popup shop, but the brand itself is going to just be men's."

Jen:
So it was around the same time that we were struggling with the nutrition aspect of Baby Barn. And I told Brian, I was like, "Brian, something seems to be resonating with the bib. What if we just introduced a simple tracksuit to our customers"

Mimi:
It was right around Thanksgiving time. 

Jen:
And just see. Yes.

Mimi:
We're like, "Let's just try it for Christmas."

Jen:
Let's just see. Yeah, it's good timing. Our budgeting, we had a little left in the budget. It was sort of like a hail Mary. Like let's just see how this does. And we launched it and it outsold the nutrition. I mean, like 10X. And so there was a strong connection and we're like, "Okay. Our brand mission is still the same. We want easy, for the most part, like affordably priced for quality products."

And it makes parenting easier in a way because even when you're dressing your child, I remember getting my son dressed, he's five now, but when he was younger, and I'm pulling out all these stripes and these like loud prints and you know as a mom you're doing laundry all the time and you're going through so many clothes and you're like, "What matches?"

Jen:
So with our collection, we present a really streamlined version of neutral so you can easily mix and match. And they're what we call upscale basics. So it's very fashion forward. It's on the trend. We have the drop sleeve. We have slightly oversized, and also comfortable. So they're the type of clothing that your kids wants to wear and not that you're like having to squirm them into. So easy to dress them in and also like fun, easy to move for the child. 

Mimi:
So you have these great clothing, the clothing line now that you've kind of solidified. How did you sell it? Because obviously you didn't really have a base. Did you go out and seek influencers because you were going B2C and you were weren't selling through stores, was it ads, would you say? Or how did you figure that out? 

Jen:
So, okay. It was really a mix of different things. Brian has a strong relationship of influencers in his network like Brian and Cat. And I know some people as well. So we did rely on that. Also we gifted a lot of product in hope that if they loved it, they would post it. I mean, I'm really big on genuine posting. So if somebody doesn't love it, I feel like the consumer is very savvy now, and if somebody's just posting something like, "Oh, this is amazing." They could kind of see through it.

Mimi:
Yeah.

Jen:
So we were hoping to gift it and if they genuinely loved it they would share it in a genuine way. And we got very lucky with that. 

Mimi:
From what I hear, I don't know if it's true or not, that it's actually more of the micro-influencers that are selling.

Jen:
Yes.

Mimi:
Not the big, big ones. So people think, "Oh, I need to spend a $100,000 and advertise through one of the Kardashians." Don't get me wrong. They sell.

Jen:
Right.

Investing in Micro influencers and an Authentic Social Media Presence

Baby Barn Ad with mom and son

Mimi:
But is it worth spending that money or is it better off finding that five, 10, 15,000 follower influencer, like the micro-influencer, that actually has really engaged a community?

Jen:
Yeah. I mean, micro influencers have a huge impact. Even a lot of my best friends who, I mean, they have normal jobs and their moms, they're not social media influencers, but I've given them codes before. And codes are a great way to track how somebody converts too, if you're not wanting to invest right away into like affiliate software, you can give somebody a code. So, whatever it might be, Tracy 10. And so then like my friend Tracy could share with her followers 10% off and you can easily track that conversion so you can see how well they can convert. And micro influencers convert like crazy.

I mean, it's great. So you don't necessarily need to have the Hailey Bieber or the Kardashian necessarily. Those micro influencers are amazing as well.

Mimi:
Right.

Jen:
I think the main thing is that it comes off in a genuine way. You want them to not just hold up a product if it's like skincare, you don't want them just holding it up saying like, "Oh, this is so great." How do you use it? How do you incorporate it? What is genuine.

Mimi:
Well, for you guys it's easy. You have these cute little babies that they're putting it in.

Jen:
Yes, yes.

Mimi:
So it's like you have these cute models that are modeling new clothes and then they're tagging them because everyone wants to see their kid.

Jen:
Right. Right.

Mimi:
So it's easier when you have the cute little babies.

Jen:
Yeah. But influencers has have been huge for us and we're so grateful to all of our influencers for posting. Like it's just so sweet and we appreciate the support so much. Originally we did rely also in combination with that, Instagram ads, Instagram and Facebook ads, and that is a tricky field to navigate because if anybody is dealing with that right now, the landscape has changed tremendously, we've found. I think it's the iOS update? Brian is way more savvy with this than I am

Mimi:
Yeah. Why has it gotten trickier? Because it's more expensive? It's just not giving you the sales?

Jen:
It's both. It's both. So, again, Brian definitely handles more of this. He can speak to this a little bit better. But the way that they target or look for look alike customers has changed. So I believe this is correct, but the amount of time someone is shown an ad has changed also. So there's a lot of studies that show somebody needs to be shown X amount of times before it actually converts. But that number has gone down too. Everything has changed. You could be spending a lot of money on Facebook ads but not necessarily seeing conversions. I think it's smart for a business owner to sort of get out of that idea that that's the only way to convert. 

Mimi:
Because it's expensive. 

Jen:
It's expensive. 

Mimi:
Have you run any kind of contest for people who are followers like, "Hey, post this and tag us and we're going to send you anything." Did anything like that work for you guys? 

Jen:
We haven't really done that, but we have done giveaways and we've seen that help a ton actually. It helps just break in new followers. So a lot of times we'll do a giveaway like tag two mom friends, and you can win $100 gift card to our shop. And so just by tagging those new mom friends, it gets new eyes onto your page in a really natural way too, without it being too forced. And so we've done that and we we've seen success from that and we've seen our email list grow from that as well.

BTS of Baby Barn and How COVID Affects Production

baby barn founder and her kids
Jen and Her Beautiful Family

Mimi:
Oh, that's good. So I know you focus primarily on the Baby Barn product and the sourcing and all that. So I would love for you to touch, because unfortunately in the past, what 18 months, has been COVID, which you have been restricted on the front end because of the quarantines. And now there's, I don't know how many hundreds of ships off of LA? 

Jen:
Oh my gosh. 

Mimi:
Off of your coast. So how has that affected you and how have you been able to deal with your supply? 

Jen:
It's been really challenging. Actually right after this, I have a call with our, we have a third party sourcing team that helps us with all of our QC before shipment and then also with importing, and I have a call with them after this because we do have some delays, which a lot of business owners are experiencing right now. I'm even seeing alerts start your holiday shopping early.

Mimi:
That's what I've heard.

Jen:
Because we don't know what inventory is going to be here. So I just bought our family Christmas stockings in October because I'm like, "Okay, here we go."

Mimi:
No, it's true. I keep telling my kids, "What do you want for Christmas? " They're like, "What are you talking about?" I'm like, "if there's anything specific you want, tell me now, because it's probably going to be out of stock."

Jen:
And it's true, because I'm seeing it firsthand. It is absolutely insane, the delays. We didn't really notice it necessarily right at the beginning of COVID, there was some delays and it affected us in other ways. We were unable to have a warehouse so my house essentially became the warehouse. And, Mimi, I'm sure you remember.

Mimi:
Yeah.

Jen:
The pictures of that, it was crazy. I had a newborn strapped to my chest and we were filling orders with masks and gloves and it was crazy times. But as far as like the supply chain, we're really feeling it this year. So specifically for our summer drop, we had a huge order, I mean, done, down to the fabrics, the tech packs, everything was done and it was may and we were supposed to get the shipment at the end of the May, early June. And our factory told us that they had to drop the order. They said they couldn't execute on it. And we were just like, "We're four weeks out from launching all of our summer items. Is there anything you can do?"

Jen:
They were extremely short-staffed due to COVID and they were just unable to do it. I mean just everything. It was just unable to execute. So we had to let that one go, and it was definitely a moment of panic because we're like, "We have nothing for summer at this point. What could we possibly do?" Luckily we were able to find an amazing factory. They have a home base here in LA and they outsourced a different factory. So we were able to work directly with the home base in LA, which is great to have that direct communication, and we got some units done.

Definitely not what we wanted, but it affected us because everything that we thought as far as revenue that the summer was going to bring in was going to roll into fall, winter. And I mean it shrunk because we had to pay more for expedited production and then also limited quantities. And so it's been a domino effect and now we're dealing with delays.

Mimi:
Again, for Christmas. 

Jen:
For Christmas. Yes. 

Mimi:
Yeah. It's hard.

Jen:
Yeah, we've had to air ship.

Mimi:
I was just reading an article about Bed Bath and Beyond how they haven't hit their numbers and their stocks down and it's not because of anything they have done. It's just because their sales are off because they don't have the supplies. I mean, I went there in August and there was not like one sheet on the shelf. I was looking for the kids for school and you're like, "Okay. How many lost sales are there?" I mean, so for you guys too, it's like the sales you could have had this summer.

Jen:
100% and it really is affecting everyone from like the small business, I mean the small business are definitely being impacted more severely than I would say like a big box store, but it's hitting everyone. And yeah, I mean we had some of our summer items, like some of the ones that we were able to get, not only did we have to pay more for them, but they were delayed. We had some come in like September, beginning of September. We're like, "All of a sudden we have these sleeveless rompers in September." We're like, "Oh my gosh." And then now for winter we're finding that because of the uncertainty, especially if you boat anything in, we're having to air ship and the price for air shipping has gone up. 

Mimi:
Yeah. All of it.

Jen:
It's insane.

Mimi:
They even said it's gone up even for the boats too, they said. Is there still that much of a difference between air shipping now and the other price because they've increased the other one?

Jen:
There is. So, both are just off the charts right now. Even our sourcing group, they're like, "We've never seen anything like this." I mean it, to even air ship our knits it was almost 9X what we've paid in the past. And everybody's like, "Well, can you pass that on to your customer?" Yes and no. A main thing of our brand too is we want to stay as fairly priced as we possibly can.

Mimi:
Yeah, reasonable.

Jen:
Reasonable. We want to deliver a high quality item, but also be fairly priced. We don't want to sell a $80 sweater.

Mimi:
But if you increase the quantities, does the shipping go up the same percentage? Or can you cover it by just increasing the quantities? 

Jen:
Not right now. Yeah, no, I understand what you're saying. So, no, because they are just charging right now, like our air shipping was per a knit.

Mimi:
Oh, God. Okay.

Jen:
So are per an item. It's just kind of the landscape of the land right now. And it's been a day to day. 

Mimi:
Yeah. I can't imagine. And you've handled everything such in stride. I don't think I've ever seen you get mad. You're so even. And so that's my next question. I mean, you're a mom of two little kids. You're super talented. You do other things. You're also a photographer.

Jen:
Yes.

Mimi:
And for those who you are listening she is a beautiful photographer. She's actually done my photos for my Instagram and stuff like that. She did the back photo of my book. If you haven't checked out my book-

Jen:
Oh, I'm so excited to see it.

You Have To Just Start!

BABY BARN CO FOUNDER QUOTE

Mimi:
Yeah. And you're in the back. You're the one who took the photo for that, that we picked. So for anybody who hasn't checked out my book, it's How To Be A Badass Female CEO, which you can get on Amazon, but how do you keep it all going? How do you keep organized? Do you say no? Or have an app that does it all for you? Are there any secrets that you can tell us?

Jen:
My mom. My mom is such a big help. I mean, my family in general. When they say it takes a village, it takes a village. And I don't ever want to like glamorize entrepreneurship, like, "Oh, it's just this easy-breezy thing and blah, blah, blah." It's hard. And you need help. Especially if you have little kids on top of it like I have a 16-month-old and a five-year-old and I want to be present for everything in their life. My little one's starting soccer. I don't want to miss any soccer games and anything. 

Jen:
So I never want to say balance because I never completely feel balanced.

Mimi:
Never. You're always on your toes like a basketball player about to.

Jen:
Totally. But I think a key is batching certain things. So I know in the morning I try to wake up before the kids, I try to get up around 6:00 and check my emails and a lot of emails from our third party team come in overnight so I'm able to catch up on those. And if I kind of feel like I have a leg up on the day, then when the kids wake up, I feel like I can shut things off for a little bit so I can spend time with them and really focus on them. And then when my son's off to school and when my daughter goes down for a nap, then I can kind of open everything up and go back to work. 

Jen:
And then with the photography, too, that has really, it's a second career but it's also my hobby, my outlet in a way. So how a lot of people will speak about like exercise, that's almost what it is for me. I'm still doing shoots because I love it so much. That's kind of my hour of just being able to interact with different clients and be creative and shoot with them. And I also do the photography for Baby Barn.

So I have like a whole setup right now upstairs. I'm about to go shoot our new colors of our sweaters that came in. So I just love that. So I think when you love what you do too, it makes it a little bit easier. But there's never enough hours in the day. I mean, at the end of the day, I'm like, "I wish there was more time for X, Y, and Z," or, "I didn't get this done," or, "I don't feel like I got to do this." And I always feel like that. So I don't have like an answer, a solve-all answer. It's just a day by day.

Mimi:
Do you feel like you've had to give up things? Someone asked me the other day like, "Oh, do you play tennis?" And I'm like, "I used to, but once I started doing my podcast and getting more involved in companies, that was like the thing I gave up." Or I don't exercise as much as I probably should. So is there anything that you would say that like, "Ooh, I should be doing that I'm not doing." 

Jen:
I mean exercise.

Mimi:
Yeah.

Jen:
For sure. Yes, and I love it. I mean, I grew up playing sports but that is one thing that's kind of taken a backseat.  I would take my daughter out on walks. But now it's a little more difficult because she is, I mean, just the feistiest little girl and does not want to sit in her stroller.

Mimi:
She is the cutest thing. After me seeing her, she made me want to have another baby. 

Jen:
Oh, I know. She might trick into another one.

Mimi:
She's adorable.

Jen:
She's so adorable, but she will not sit in the stroller at all. So I run around after her and in a way, I'm like, "Okay, that's my workout for the day."

Mimi:
Yeah. 

Jen:
But yeah, no, working out has definitely taken a backseat. A lot of self-care has taken a backseat. I mean, I think I got used to it through quarantine, but even getting my hair done, all those little luxuries, they're far and few between. They've definitely taken a backseat. One day, one day.

Mimi:
I know. It's like even getting your nails done. It has to be like, "Okay, I'm going to do it when I have to sit and listen to a call." You almost fit it in.

Jen:
I do it myself with quick dry. Quick dry nail polish is the only way to go. 

Mimi:
Oh my goodness. That's crazy. Is there anything else, any other advice you would give to anybody else that's thinking about starting a business or that has started a business? Any other entrepreneurs out there trying to follow their dream? 

Jen:
Yeah. I mean, I think the main thing is to just start. You can sit and stew on something for so long and you could think of a million reasons why not to do something or, "Oh, this market's so saturated." But I think if you truly love the venture that you're setting out on start, start. And for me, I'm a very visual person, so I think a great place to start is with a logo. Because if you can like visualize it sort of coming to life, come up with a logo, come up with a color palette. What is the aesthetic of your brand?

Nowadays it's so easy to set up either a Squarespace or Shopify, depending on what kind of business you want. There are so many ways to set up LLCs that are easier now. It's a very accessible world for an entrepreneur. And I think the main thing is to just go and pivot along the way. I mean, we definitely have. You will learn your customers as you go. You will learn more about your brand identity also as you go, but you won't know unless you start. 

Mimi:
No, it's totally true. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Jen:
Thank you.

Mimi:
And I wish you the best successful Christmas and holiday season, that your products come in and off the boat.

Jen:
Thank you. 

Mimi:
Do you have any sitting there off of LA right now that you're waiting to? 

Jen:
We do. We do. Brian just texted me and said that he got a call that supposedly they are on their way to our warehouse.

Mimi:
Oh, good.

Jen:
But we won't know. We won't know until we actually hear from the warehouse that they're there. So, fingers crossed, but we'll have a lot more coming in this season that we're excited about. 

Mimi:
Oh, good. Well, good luck. Thank you so much.

Mimi:
Thank you for joining us as the Badass CEO. To get your copy of the top tips every entrepreneur should know, go to badassceo.com/tips. Also please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me at mimi@the badassceo.com. See you next week and thank you for listening.

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