Interview with Anita Crook – Owner & CEO of Pouchee
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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.
I wasn’t looking for something to do with my time. I had a very full and active life. My children were grown, my husband had a successful business and I was very active with church, and public speaking opportunities (still waiting for grandchildren though). Two things happened to change all this. First, my husband’s business was embezzled and we ended up losing the business, the building, machinery, all of our assets, including any retirement funds. All they left us was the roof over our heads. HE is the entrepreneur of the family so he immediately started thinking of what new business he could start. I, on the other hand was quite eager to help him with ideas on how HE could move forward.
One Christmas morning however my life took an unexpected turn. I received a gift from my son. It was a great, trendy shoulder bag. Immediately I fell in love with it, but as soon as I looked inside I knew I would never use it… no pockets. I was an organizer bag fanatic. I had to have pockets… a place for everything. I sadly put the bag aside but couldn’t stop thinking about it. I began to search stores and the Internet for an organizer that had all the right pockets, making my essentials easy to find. Unsuccessful in this I set out to design an organizer that would fill the need. One thing lead to another and the next thing I knew I had 2,000 Pouchees® coming in from China.
Once again my husband had the sales talent in the family so the closer it came to my first delivery the more frightened I became. “What was I going to do with these things?” Amazingly as I went about showing them to local boutiques and gift shops, everyone loved them. Literally every store I went to ordered and reordered. Very quickly my 2,000 Pouchees® were gone and I ordered 5,000 more. We were off and running.
What did you do before launching your own business?
In 1969 I graduated from VCU as a fashion art major, immediately got married and began our family. I worked for my husband (who is the serial entrepreneur of the family) off and on through the years but mostly was happy to be a stay-at-home mom.
How did you fund your business?
I had $15,000 left in my savings and unlike me (not a gambler…don’t even play the lottery scratch off), I took every penny and invested it in Pouchees®. Of course my overhead was low since I was doing everything myself from my home office and was shipping out of my garage. Through the last 6 ½ years I have continued to operate mostly debt free. I have taken out a line of credit, but as my banker tells me, “we don’t make any money from you.” I have only used it once. I prefer to operate my business by investing my profits back into the business.
How many hours do you work a week and how much is spent is your home office?
I generally work a full work week, but my office computer is accessible from my home so often I do a good bit of computer work at home where the phone isn’t ringing. As a matter of fact I am writing this from my home computer now. My employees are capable of handling most things at the office which affords me the freedom to work at home.
How would you rate your success?
Surprisingly very good! We now have a warehouse with around 80,000 Pouchee products in stock which enables us to make customer service our priority. We ship to over 2,000 stores around the world as well as from our website.
What has been your biggest business struggle as an entrepreneur?
Wow! As we continue to grow each level has its own challenges. In the beginning we had very little competition, so it was just learning the basics. From our success has come the myriad of knock-offs, which we have continued to litigate (successfully I might add). Inventory control has been a very big challenge, how to buy not too much, but enough to satisfy our customers. I am always keeping an eye on our cash flow so we can continue to grow without debt.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Be fearless, but wise. In other words, don’t be afraid to take chances, and don’t be afraid of failure. Some things work and some things don’t. You learn, you grow and you move on to the next idea. The key is to LEARN. I was almost 60 years old when I began Pouchee® and am now 65. I am still learning every day. Never think you know it all. Listen to your customers, advisors and employees…even incrementally empowering your employees, teaching them if necessary to make decisions that are wise as well.
How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?
I rely on my Outlook Calendar to keep my schedule both personal and professional. The busier and crazier things get I can’t rely on my memory or I would be constantly overlapping. My calendar fusses with me when I try to do that.
All in all it’s a crazy life. I now have 4 grandchildren that are musts to fit into the schedule. Who would have thought that at this stage of my life I would be having this much fun!!
Connect with Anita Crook and Pouchee…
Website: Pouchee Purse Organizers
Blog: Pouchee Blog
Facebook Fan Page: Pouchee Facebook Page