Welcome to an extra special podcast episode. As you know, I’ve been running this podcast for almost 2 years now and we just hit episode 100! Can you believe it?
And to celebrate this very special milestone, I finally convinced my wife to be a guest on the show.
Now up until this point, you haven’t heard from her at all because she’s an introvert. She doesn’t like the spotlight and she hates public speaking.
So I can not tell you what a treat it is for me to have her come on the show.
Jennifer Chou is the better half of MyWifeQuitHerJob.com. We started our online store BumblebeeLinens.com so that she could quit her job and take care of our kids.
And what will be interesting about this episode is that you’ll hear her side of the story about running our business, about working together and how she felt during the entire process.
What You’ll Learn
- My wife’s version of how we got started with our business and her motivations for doing so
- Would she really have quit her job if our business flopped?
- How we came up with the name for our online store
- How we work together despite having completely opposite personalities
- How she decides what to carry in our shop
- How she deals with our Asian vendors
- How to know something will sell before it’s listed
- Her advice on office space versus running a business from home with kids
- Her recommendations on working with your spouse
- Her future plans for our business
Other Resources And Books
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Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family, and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast, today I have an extra special episode for you. Now as you know I have been running this podcast for almost two years now and we just hit episode 100, can you believe that? And to celebrate this very special milestone I finally convinced my wife to be a guest on the show. Now up until this point you haven’t heard from her at all, because she is an introvert. She doesn’t like the spotlight and she hates public speaking.
So I cannot tell you what a treat it is for me to finally have her on. And if incase you don’t know who she is, she is the better half mywifequitherjobjob.com. We started our online store Bumblebeelinens.com so that she could quit her job and take care of our kids. And what’s going to be interesting about today is to hear her side of the story about running our business, about working together and how she felt during the entire process. And with that welcome to the show Jen, how are you doing today?
Jen: I am good Steve.
Steve: So first of off it’s really weird calling you Jen since I normally call you by your nickname, is it okay if I tell people what your nickname is?
Steve: Okay, yes, so I call my wife little because she is a very petite Asian woman. So anyways, so how are you feeling about this, any second thoughts about coming on here today?
Jen: Of course I have second thoughts; you have been haunting me to do this for I don’t know how long. I have been trying to push off as long as possible, but I guess that today is the day.
Steve: Yeah too late we are live already, so I want to start it off, a lot of people out there have heard my version of how we got started, but it would be interesting because to get the story from your perspective. So give us your version of the story on how Bumblebee Linens got started, and kind of your motivations for starting this business?
Jen: Okay, well, I guess I don’t know what you want to know, how we came up with the idea or how we…?
Steve: I just want to hear your side of the story.
Jen: So I told Steve upfront way when we first started dating that I really wanted to stay at home with the kids when we got married. This is way before we were even talking about having kids even. I told him I don’t know why it was very important to me, both my parents worked when I was growing up, but for some reason I had this idea that I wanted to stay at home with the kids once I had them.
So I was working a pretty good job in finance, I had a couple of big companies and I didn’t ever have this desire to stay in that role. So it was almost bidding my time until we got married and had kids. But I guess one other thing that we talked about was we — I mean we tried a ton of different things. We tried the franchising; we looked into doing I don’t know…
Steve: We did, we wanted to do Kumons.
Jen: Well we looked into Kumons; we looked into dream dinners…
Steve: Dream dinners yeah, which is a place where, you basically — yeah.
Jen: You meal prep, it’s meal prepping. So we tried all these different things and then I was thinking, oh maybe we tutor, I don’t know I was just trying to think of anything. So Steve was like why don’t we try an online business and I was like, oh what does that mean? He is like, we can sell on eBay where we can do whatever, and I said, okay, let’s try it.
So then we were trying to think of what to sell, and at the time I was really into the embroidery, I guess machine embroidery that as my hobby. I was making baby bibs; I was embroidering baby blankets for friends. And I was thinking oh my gosh we should come up with the idea that we can personalize something, so then we can raise the price of it. And then I was like, okay, well what can we personalize?
And I thought back to when we got married, I looked everywhere for handkerchiefs. I looked everywhere, because I really wanted a name like my name, Steve’s name and the writing would be on the handkerchief, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. So finally back in the day there was no Etsy, so I looked online and I couldn’t find any place that would sell it locally, I mean you could find men’s handkerchief, but you couldn’t find women’s handkerchiefs.
And I found this place in Hong Kong and that’s actually where we found our first vendor. I bought a ton for our wedding, and then I embroidered our names on our wedding handkerchiefs, and I actually added beads to the handkerchief and everything. But the problem with buying in Hong Kong is you have to buy a lot of it.
And at the time we bought it for like as a wedding paper, so we actually bought it for all of our guests and also our bridesmaids. So we had this huge amount of handkerchiefs and then afterwards I was like what are going to do with these extra handkerchiefs after the wedding? So we actually sold them on eBay, and I guess the rest is history so when we were thinking about it…
Steve: See we’ve already differed a little bit in our recollections and this is pretty interesting. You had no intention of personalizing, and I just want to state that upfront because I kind of convinced you to do that for the business.
Jen: Okay, let’s take it back; let’s think back to when it started. I actually wanted to personalize it in the very-very beginning okay. But then once I started personalizing I realized this is a lot of work, and then I changed my mind.
Steve: Okay, see there you have it, see we got different versions, anyways okay, so that’s how we got started pretty much the story is the same as far as I can tell. So I want to — and a lot of people have already heard the story already, but I have always been curious and we’ve actually never really talked about this before. But had we not had the business any extra income, would you have still quit your job even if it meant that we had to cut back, live in a bad school district potentially, drastically come back and going out and that sort of thing. How serious were you about the whole stay at home thing?
Jen: I was very serious, but I think if push comes to shove and we couldn’t survive and we had our kids, obviously I would go back to work. If push comes to shove, but I wouldn’t have needed extravagant things, like I think we could have lived off of your income, but it would have changed our lifestyle greatly. And we didn’t really want to change our lifestyle, but if push comes to shove, and you didn’t have a job or we didn’t have any income of course I would work.
Steve: Okay because it didn’t sound like that, and I recall you actually said that you are going to quit your job while we were dating right? I remember that right?
Jen: Oh not when we were dating, but when we had kids.
Steve: No-no-no, but we were dating before we got married you said you know that I’m going to quit.
Jen: Yes absolutely.
Steve: In fact I think you said on our second date or something, oh easy…
Jen: No, I did tell you early on in our relationship that I was definitely going to quit my job when we had kids yes.
Steve: See I had a feeling this is going to happen, this podcast is going just turn to one big argument. Okay, so prior to Bumblebee did you personally have any experience running any other business?
Jen: Yes and no, so me personally I never ran a business, but I have worked ever since I was in I guess in high school. I worked at [inaudible 00:08:49].
Steve: But you never ran your own business?
Jen: I never ran a business but I managed people, right? So in college I ran a restaurant, or I helped ran a restaurant, so but me personally I did not own the restaurant. I never did anything of that sort if you are asking me.
Steve: And one question I always get asked and I have actually only told the story to a couple of people, but I thought it would be interesting to have you tell it. How did we come up with the name for Bumblebee Linens?
Jen: Well Bumblebee Linens was actually supposed to be Launder Linens at first.
Steve: Yes but someone stole our domain name.
Jen: Yes someone actually had that domain. So we brain stormed different ideas and we came up with the name Bumblebee, because Steve used to call me his little Bumblebee.
Steve: And why did I call — okay, so I’ll tell the story since — I’ll tell it for you. Okay, so my wife got, was it lasek or lasik, lasek right?
Jen: Actually I think it was in my other eye surgery.
Steve: Okay it was she got laser eye surgery and then she had another eye surgery, and she had to wear these like big goggles. She had to wear them for a couple of weeks, right? And she looked exactly like a Bumblebee with these bug eyes, and so I used to just call her Bumblebee nonstop for quite a while.
Jen: And I used to buzz at him.
Steve: Right and then she used to buzz at me, so that’s kind of how we came up with the name. All right so a lot of people kind of asked me this question, about how we kind of work together. Now my wife and I have completely different personalities. So in our business I do everything kind of based on data, so it’s volume and demand, I’m very calculated whereas you seem to have this intuition. And besides handkerchiefs, so we sell more than handkerchiefs today, so how did you actually decide what you want to carry in the store. It seems kind of random to me sometimes, and so when we go to like the Canton Fair how do you kind of pick out what you want to sell?
Jen: From the Canton store, okay, from the Canton Fair, okay, well, leading up to the Canton Fair I have some general idea of what I want to look for. So for example last year when we went, I kind of had a feeling I wanted to look at apron, so that was my big thing. So when we went to the fair we targeted all the apron places. And I wanted to get a print — I’m sorry a print E-print.
And then but I guess that doesn’t answer your question, so that’s just one example, so one example would be I have a general idea. And how I get these general ideas is I do follow different blogs, wedding blogs, home décor blogs. And I kind of get general feeling of what is popular, but not necessarily what is easily available. So I have a couple of new ideas of what we want to sell this coming year.
Steve: Where did you get apron from?
Jen: Apron, okay, apron was because we were actually selling a lot in the store our current store, just the lace apron. So white lace apron, so that was starting to sell very well, we were constantly selling out because it was really hard to find. So one of the other ideas I had was okay we need to find a new vendor for lace apron, white lace apron. And after that I was like, okay, let me think of what other apron I can find. And I was like, I think it would be really cute if we got a print apron with like flowers or ruffles or anything because our print handkerchiefs were doing very well also. So it was kind of mixture of the two together.
Steve: So here is what’s funny like Jen basically tells me what she is thinking about selling, and then I kind of go in, I run all the numbers and I just make sure everything is cautious and that we can actually rank for this and whether there is enough demand. But for something as general as aprons, it can be a little difficult, so I’ll pick out keywords like lace aprons is easy.
But when it comes to these print design and the mother and daughter things; sometimes it’s hard to figure out keywords with what’s going to sell and what not. So what’s great about my wife is she’ll pick out these products, and we did very well on aprons over the holiday season. There is a bunch of designs that we sold, but they ended up just selling like crazy, and it’s really hard to pick these things, so what was your criteria for picking?
Jen: What was cute?
Steve: Okay, that’s not going to help our listeners.
Jen: But that’s the truth right, it sticks, like I found these aprons in Canton or at the fair, and I thought they were very cute. I thought the designs were cute, I thought we can personalize them. It was something too easy to personalize, and I thought this is something that’s a little bit harder to find. You can’t find personalized aprons on [inaudible 00:13:19]. The ones that you find are the very basic block straight apron. So this was something different.
Steve: Okay and then when we went last year also, what else were you looking for?
Jen: Oh gosh, I think I was looking at — well actually shall I say this? It’s something that we haven’t launched that product yet.
Steve: Okay never mind, what are we selling this year?
Jen: Okay well this year it’s actually going to be — should we [inaudible 00:13:52].
Steve: Are we going back to the Canton Fair this year?
Jen: Why not, I think one more year, probably one more year.
Steve: Okay one more year, okay, sorry about that guys. I guess Jen doesn’t want to reveal our next product yet.
Jen: Well I don’t think we are ready yet, because I want to, one I want to actually find a local vendor for one of the items, or get a maid locally, because I want to test the idea.
Steve: Let’s talk about that real quick why locally this time as opposed to going straight over there?
Jen: Well searching items at the fair you actually have to have very high minimum order quantity. And if I do it locally it’s a very simple product, I don’t think it requires that much like quantity for us to fulfill that I could probably find a local like a seamstress, or a local manufacturer to do it, and then I can also pick the fabrics.
Because one of the things — the problems — we actually tried sourcing it through China last year, I don’t know if you are thinking of the same product I’m thinking about, but we tried actually sourcing it from China. But the problem was the minimum order was per design, and it was really-really hard, were really high. So this item I wanted to test a ton of different fabrics in smaller quantities.
Steve: Yes, so at the time we didn’t know that these aprons were going to sell and maybe my wife did, but I wasn’t positive and we weren’t prepared to fork over the large…
Jen: That’s not the product I’m talking about.
Steve: Oh you are not talking about aprons?
Jen: No, I’m not, I’m talking about the …
Steve: Oh right, okay, it’s weird we are sitting next to each other and she just gave me like this hand motion.
Jen: So now you know what I am talking about?
Steve: But anyways she brings up a good point though, so we actually went to the LA garment district so that we could look for local people who actually stitch these things. And it turns out there is actually all these seamstresses out there who were willing to create steps for you in like single unit quantities.
So if you are not ready to go out to Asia you can actually look locally and have a couple of prototypes made. And it is a little bit more expensive, but just logistically you don’t have to deal with the shipping and then you can actually do iterations really quickly. So if you are doing anything textile related, I actually highly recommend that you go and look for a local seamstress to help you out. Let’s talk about embroidery for a sec, you mentioned earlier and you claim that you had the idea first.
Jen: Yes I definitely did.
Steve: And you did reveal that embroidery used to be one of your favorite hobbies. So let’s go back how did you feel about monetizing that aspect of the business today, which is actually one of our big money makers right?
Jen: Yes, it is one of our big money makers. So since it was my idea in the very beginning, actually in the very beginning to be perfectly honest I was gung ho for it, until I realized just how much work it was, because back in the day we actually had a home embroidery machine. And this is when I was doing I guess my custom guess for my friends, and then I also sold on eBay some…
Steve: We did baby bibs right?
Jen: We did baby bibs, so we did baby bibs on eBay that were personalized. So that was my foray into trying to see if that would work. And I used to get so mad at it, like I would start cursing and I start throwing things, and I was just really-really frustrated. And then I was just like it’s not worth my energy and time to do. And then I was like well worth for handkerchiefs, I was like thinking okay, it will be something easy, it’s two lines, it wouldn’t be that much work, but with a home machine actually it was really hard because it kept constantly tore the fabric.
I was into the hobby, but I wasn’t really into embroidery, so I was like — I was into embroidery, but I wasn’t really great at embroidery. So I concentrate with the fabric and then I started throwing my hands up in the air for that kind of item. So we actually started selling the blinks and I was like, oh, that’s a good idea, let’s sell the blinks of that item. And we actually used to target border lists back in the day.
Steve: Yeah, part of the story you are leaving out is you got fed up and so I said, I will do all the embroidery.
Jen: Yes that’s true.
Steve: So I ended up sewing for…
Jen: Many years.
Steve: No it wasn’t many years was it? I think a year probably.
Jen: Probably two years.
Steve: Yeah, so I’d get home from my job designing micro processors, and then I would have dinner and then I would fire up the sewing machine, and then saw for two hours every single night — probably two hours, right?
Jen: In the very beginning.
Steve: Yeah in the very beginning, every single night and then I go to bed because my wife who enjoys doing embroidery didn’t fee l like doing it.
Jen: But you ruined that hobby for me Steve.
Steve: No, but you came up with the idea so you ruined it yourself, you just said you came up with the idea.
Jen: I came up with the idea initially, but then I gave up on it because you ruined the whole hobby for me, I no longer enjoyed it.
Steve: Anyway moral of the story is we were selling a bunch of these personalized bibs and handkerchiefs and all of a sudden my wife didn’t want to do it anymore. And I was like wow this is our value add, we can try a whole lot for this, we better keep on doing it.
Jen: Well in the very beginning don’t forget when we were testing the market we thought we can find a find a niche on selling the blink.
Steve: That’s true we did target embroiders in the beginning, that’s actually interesting. We didn’t target brides or wedding parties or anything; we actually targeted the people who created the personalized stuff.
Jen: Well, okay, so this is where I was back in the day when we first started right, there was a business idea on selling the blink products. Because there was people that were not willing, these home embroiders were not willing to buy from Asia and buy bulk amount. We were willing to buy the bulk amount, because the price per handkerchief was very little, it’s the shipping that was really high. So the only way you can make it worthwhile was if you buy a whole lot at one time, and then price per handkerchief dropped at that point. But in the very beginning we were targeting those embroiders.
Steve: Which ultimately ended up not working out so well, so we ended up switching direct to consumer right?
Jen: I think it worked very well in the very beginning; it just wasn’t our money maker right?
Steve: Right that’s correct.
Jen: So you can’t say it didn’t work very well because we were able to meet our goal right in the very beginning, but we did shift and started making it more wedding like.
Steve: Once we started doing the personalization. So you deal with our Asian vendors kind of on a day to day basis, and we got shipped a bunch of junk in the very beginning. So I was just curious what advice you have in regards to kind of how you deal with the vendors since you deal with them more than I do on a regular basis.
Jen: Well, I think a big turning point in terms of quality was actually when we went and met them. So we went to Hong Kong. Our first two vendors were both in Hong Kong. Coincidentally they were located really, really close to each other. So we decided on a vacation, we would go to Hong Kong and stop and meet them. We actually didn’t make an appointment. We just showed up.
Strangely enough I thought we kind of did it because we kind of wanted to see what the real environment was like, to see how they work. So we just showed up at I guess their warehouse or their showroom. And just showed up and they seemed really nice, but after that, it made a huge, huge difference.
Steve: I don’t know about you but I kind of expected like a nice building and like a showroom, but it was pretty ghetto, wouldn’t you say?
Jen: Well, you know, I think your expectation was completely different than mine. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the look. I guess I was imagining like a sweat shop basically.
Steve: I was expecting an Asian dude wearing a white beard and smoking a cigarette.
Jen: But in a nice building, you said.
Steve: Yeah, in a nicer building.
Jen: But mine was I was expecting, you know, I was expecting a not so great looking place, but I don’t know.
Steve: Yeah, so we met our vendors and then we ended up just chatting. We stayed there for a while.
Jen: We stayed there for a couple of hours. And then we met the other vendor.
Steve: Yeah, we met our other vendor who’s super nice.
Jen: They are both super nice and we continue to work with them because they’ve been loyal vendors. Of course we do go through ups and downs in terms of quality, but the great thing is now that we had that relationship and we’ve been working with them so many years, they are willing to do other things. They are willing to try to make a product for us to see if they can source other designs. Or they are willing to I guess try to get us better deals, like changing the things– they are definitely willing to do lower quantities.
Steve: Remember there was that one time that someone tried to knock off our product, was it?
Jen: Oh yeah. There was one time when there was, I wouldn’t say competitor. But there was someone that was interested in the product that we carried. And they contacted our vendor and our vendor was like, “Sorry we can’t do it for you.”
Steve: Right, because they had loyalty to us.
Jen: They had loyalty to us.
Steve: Yeah, outside of visiting them, were there any other things that you did to kind of strengthen the relationship?
Jen: I can’t think of anything in particular. I think the biggest difference was when we met them in person and was able to put a name to a face– where I guess a face tuning.
Steve: So let’s say someone can’t go all the way to Asia and meet their vendors, would you have recommended like Skyping them or?
Jen: Yeah, I would recommend Skyping them if possible. We actually did get some vendors calling us in the very beginning, that tried to call over the phone and it made a big difference. Because we got random vendor emails all the time, and it’s when the vendor actually called us to try to establish that relationship. That helped a lot.
Steve: And, I’m kind of jumping all over the place here, but these are questions that I have, that I have never really gotten the answers to. So I’m just kind of taking advantage of this podcast since it’s kind of public, my wife isn’t going to get on my case for this. But we ran our business out of our house for a couple of years before getting office space. I didn’t actually mind it all that much, but in your mind looking back, should we have done that sooner rather than later, because we did save a lot of money during that time.
Jen: No I think it was important because the whole point in the very beginning. We actually ran that business out of our house until our kids went to preschool. So if you remember, the whole point was to be at home. As soon as they went to preschool is when we decided to move the business out of the house.
Steve: But at the time, did we outgrow, I don’t even remember that far now. Did we outgrow, is that why we moved it out or?
Jen: No, I think, so one of the things is back then, when we were still working at the house, we were having employees come in, and we were thinking we probably could grow it a little bit more. We were thinking about hiring one other person. And the problem with that is I didn’t want to have two people in my house. It was one thing with having one person in our house, but I didn’t want two people in our house.
Steve: I mean if you were to do it all over again would you have done it the same way, running out of our house first?
Jen: Yes, absolutely. The whole point was to do this business so that I could stay home with the kids.
Steve: But what about other people? Would you advice them to do the same thing?
Jen: I think until you have a point where you know that it is a profitable business, I think it makes sense to just save money and run it out of your house. I don’t think that’s a bad idea.
Steve: Here’s actually an interesting question for you. If we were to do it all over again, would we have just sold on Amazon in the beginning?
Jen: If we did it back in the beginning?
Steve: Because we started out on eBay. Things were selling well there, and then we stopped. Actually do you even remember why we stopped on eBay? Was it just too much of a hustle?
Jen: No, we stopped on eBay because we built the website, and we were getting business on the website and then we then decided to use eBay as way to liquidate our product. So the stuff that didn’t sell were the, our irregular products. So we didn’t want to sell good product on eBay anymore.
Jen: Because it was then questionable if people wanted to return it, and we didn’t want them to associate bad product with our brand.
Steve: Yes, so yeah. So for everyone listening out there, we were liquidating our irregular stuff. So we were getting some bad product from China, and this happens for every shipment, you get a small quantity that’s irregular and we were liquidating.
Jen: In the very beginning with more.
Steve: We were liquidating those bad products on eBay, and what my wife just said was we didn’t want to mix good product with irregular product on eBay, because we didn’t like people to associate bad product with our good product, back to the question on Amazon then.
Jen: I think in the beginning– so it’s hard for me to imagine, but I think we definitely would have dabbled in Amazon. I don’t know. I think we would have still established our brand. I think we– I’m sorry. I think we would have still created our website. I don’t think we would have been full force into Amazon.
Steve: Yeah, that’s not what I was asking.
Jen: What’s your question?
Steve: Would we have started on Amazon for– I mean Amazon wasn’t really an option back when we started, but would you have started on Amazon and then down to the website or would you have done it at the same time?
Jen: I probably would have done it at the same time. What do you think?
Steve: It’s a hard question to answer because we do personalized stuff and you can’t really sell personalized stuff on Amazon. So if I were to do it all over again, and I was just curious what your answer was, but I would probably sell our non-personalized stuff on Amazon to see if it sells, and then I would have added to our store once it would have sold, and that would have made our store like all personalized stuff in the very beginning. Yeah, I probably would have both.
Jen: Okay. Yeah I probably still disagree with you.
Steve: I mean it’s hard at the beginning. You need so much energy.
Jen: Yeah, I understand, but I think I would have listed everything on our– I still would have listed everything on our regular store because there is still larger companies that are not going to buy off of Amazon. Our big customers that constantly come back are event planners and they wouldn’t buy that on Amazon.
Steve: So here’s a question for you. We got a lot of event planners now that just come and buy from us on a regular basis. Has there been anything that you’ve done to kind of nurture those relationships. Do you give them special treatment in any way?
Jen: I definitely give them special treatment.
Steve: Okay, so what are some of the things that you do?
Jen: Well, so they have a discount coupon. So they automatically get a discount on our products. I will upgrade their shifting to a faster timeline if they need it to get something on– like by a certain date since it’s an event. And most of the time it’s a very last minute deadline.
Steve: Yeah, they always call last minute.
Jen: Yeah, I’m always surprised because I’m always like, these are event planners and they know when these events are, but they always call really last minute and I don’t know if it’s because of storage issues or what. But they always call really, really last minute. Right now we charge $30 to no matter what the cost of the product is, we’ll charge $30 to basically overnight it or two day airlift to someone.
But we typically say it’s over to a certain pound limit. Like I think we say it’s up to 4 pounds. But we are talking about huge volumes, we are talking about very-very heavy products, and I will just eat the cost because I want to make sure that they get the products on time and that we return their phone calls promptly if they call off hours. I almost always take their orders over the phone.
Steve: That’s funny. They always call.
Jen: They always call. I don’t know really why because they are given the coupon code that they can enter themselves, but they always want to talk over the phone, and I think it’s to ensure that they get the product on time, so we know when the event is.
Steve: Yeah, which is kind of funny because if you are running a store solely on Amazon, event planners don’t– I mean they typically just don’t go on Amazon. They want someone personally to handle.
Jen: I don’t think they would go on Amazon.
Steve: So that’s just another one of these examples of why you need your store. If you do have a B to B component to your business, the businesses– they want to talk to a human. They want to know that there’s consistency in the service. And from what it sounds like you always put them first in a very…
Jen: I definitely took them first yeah.
Steve: And I do know that sometimes off hours like if we get an email from one of these vampires you are like on it, even if we are like in the middle of dinner.
Jen: Yes. I won’t necessarily call them back, because I think it’s bad form, because they are also at different time zones, so it will be really late for them. I will definitely email them right away to make sure that they know that I know that they are– I know that they have needs, and I need to meet those needs.
Steve: Another thing that I wanted to just comment on that you do very well is just customer service. And I just wanted to ask you about the power of word of mouth. Now it’s not something that’s very easily measurable. But there are examples of where you know that customers have referred other people to our shop, right?
Jen: Right, well they tell me.
Steve: The people that buy?
Jen: They buy, they tell me and they also will say, “I saw my daughter got this from her friend and I loved it so much.” Or we’ll really get customers that are so happy with our products then they’ll say, “Hey, I’m going to tell everyone I know about your business.”
Steve: So what are the things that you do? And I already know these policies, and I know the answer to these questions, but what are some of the things that you do to just make sure that a customer never leaves angry?
Jen: Well, we are really lucky that I would say that 95% to 98% of our customers are super sweet and super nice. But we do get some customers that are very upset. It could be because a lot of the times we do get customers that are waiting so last minute to book their handkerchiefs. So on occasion we’ll get someone that maybe on a Thursday will call and say, “Hey I need a handkerchief by Saturday.”
Usually we ask for up to five business days to do the embroidery and we may rush the order through that day, so that they’ll get it by Friday the next day. In terms of anger, if they are angry, most of the time, almost a hundred percent of the time, if they are nice, actually they sound nice, but they are just upset, we would just give them the handkerchief, like…
Steve: Or you offer to redo it.
Jen: We’ll definitely redo it, but if it’s due to timing, and there’s no way we can meet their deadline, we’ll just give them a refund. Or we’ll just say, “We’ll redo it, but you can go ahead and keep the product.”
Steve: Yeah, this is actually one of the reasons why you need to have a really good vendor where you can source your products and have decent margins, because in order to deal with these customer service problems, often times we give away our product for free. And we can do that because our margins are so high. So we can eat the cost and it doesn’t really matter. And that’s one of the advantages I would say of importing from overseas.
Jen: Yeah, I think I mean, in general, if you can find the right product, you don’t necessary have to import overseas, but it helps because the margins are much higher. It also helps our products are very light weight. So the shipping, reshipping it isn’t that big of a deal. If you had a really large bulky product, then you have to ask for people to send it back, or this way we can say, “Don’t worry about sending it back, just go ahead and keep it and we’ll send you a new product.”
Steve: Yes, the moral of the story here is whenever someone calls in anger, by just giving our product, like would you say they do a 180?
Jen: Yes, but you know, what’s funny is some people are very disappointed with the product, but it’s the nicer customers that probably get a little bit more out of me than the really angry-angry customers that seem unreasonable.
Steve: But they don’t leave angry.
Jen: I don’t think anyone leaves angry. They maybe not a 100% happy with the solution, but I try to get them as close to a 100% happy as I can.
Steve: So they don’t like talk bad about our company.
Steve: And then the people that you do please, they go and they tell their friends and it’s just worth it.
Jen: Yeah, I think I would say the ones that we please, or we turn them around from being an angry person to a happy person, I think those folks are more of an advocate for us than the people that we don’t even interact with.
Steve: Yeah, I would agree. Let’s talk about a little bit more difficult topic now. And I’ve always been curious about these questions I’m about to ask you. Let’s talk about working together with me. So first of all, what are your thoughts about working with such an amazingly intelligent partner? I’m saying that with a straight face by the way.
Jen: No, it’s a joke or what? Actually to be perfectly honest, I am very fortunate to work with you because one, you are super ambitious. I’m not as ambitious. I think you drive a lot of the growth in our business and I’m very lucky. Because I’m pretty happy with the way things are. You are truly the driver of our business, I think.
Steve: And we have this on tape now. Anyways, what I wanted to ask you, was do you actually recommend working with your spouse?
Jen: Yes and no. I think it doesn’t hurt to work with your spouse, but you have to have very different responsibilities. I think where we butt heads, where when we used to butt heads in the very beginning is because we overlapped a lot. You should really play to the strength of your spouse. So I would never have Steve pick products for us. That’s for sure. Because Steve would peak– I still remember when he took a customer call.
In the very beginning everyone just– it was just me and him. So Steve would take these customer calls, and he would be talking to these ladies and I’m listening behind him, and he’s like recommending these products that I personally think are a little bit ugly. But he’ll be like, “Oh that’s a really pretty one with pink flowers, or with a little bit grey.” And I was like, “Oh my god, it’s such an ugly handkerchief.”
Steve: But why are we carrying if it’s ugly?
Jen: Because actually, it’s so funny because searching products, I’m actually surprised that do well as well as they do, because me personally I’m not a huge fan of them, but they do very well.
Steve: I just happen to like those handkerchiefs with the red flowers and the grey.
Jen: No they were pink. It was pink.
Steve: Whatever, whatever color it was.
Jen: They was at the time one of my least favorite, and they are not huge sellers, but they still sell.
Steve: Yes, so I was just trying to, you know.
Jen: So anyhow, I took over, the lady called back and I was like, “I would recommend these handkerchiefs.” And she’s like, “Oh, I talked to someone that recommended these,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, but he’s a guy.” And so she was very pleased with the handkerchiefs I picked.
Steve: I have a lot of good customer service stories by the way where I made a lot of sales and I even saved a marriage.
Jen: Yes you did.
Steve: Yes, because there was this one story where this wife called in and she was like, “I’m trying to buy a handkerchief for my husband. What color would you pick silver or blue?” And I gave my color and she was like, “Huh! I knew it. He has no taste, blah, blah, blah.” And she’s just like went off for like ten minutes. And I had to like calm her down and kind of mediate the solution in that and convince her that her husband really had good taste, because he was actually marrying her. Anyways, back to like maintaining a good relationship while you are working with your spouse.
Jen: Keep the responsibilities.
Steve: I mean we didn’t really clash on picking product. I remember we crushed a little bit on website design, right?
Jen: I don’t remember actually clashing on the website design actually. I really don’t.
Steve: Okay, so what were we clashing in the beginning. I just remember we clashed all the time.
Jen: We clashed also because– okay, so I don’t like putting myself out there. And I don’t like writing. And so we clashed a lot in the very beginning because you wanted me to put myself out there more, and you wanted me to write a lot more product description, more flowery. And I just didn’t really want to write.
Steve: But your face wasn’t out, yeah, for the crafts, yeah.
Jen: Yeah for the crafts.
Steve: It was important.
Jen: Yes, but even the products, like you were just like, “No this isn’t well written. You have to redo it,” or like in the very beginning, and I didn’t really want it. I was just like I just describe the product, and you wanted me to really– I’m not a great copywriter I guess. And also I think, as I already mentioned, you know, we have different ambition levels. Like Steve is very, very ambitious and wants to grow the business into this huge, huge business. To a point, I’m probably, like I’m happy with the way things are, and I know that the business would not have grown as much as it has, but you tend to push.
Steve: That’s actually not entirely accurate. I don’t want it to be a huge, huge, huge business. It just so happens we are in this like no man’s land right now, where we need to make more so that we can hire like a full time type of manager.
Jen: Another manager.
Steve: Yeah, another full time manager. And so I wanted to get it to this point where we can outsource it some more. And it is true. I’m always trying to grow, and my wife was happy with the business.
Jen: Well in the beginning. So I thought we were talking about the beginning.
Steve: You were happy I would say like, five years ago even, right.
Jen: Yeah, I mean my goal of staying at home with the kids so I can run this business was fine. And also if you remember like when we first started the business, I would have been actually happy with just supplemental income. But you were like, “okay we need to have a goal, we need to figure out how big we should make this, we need to make sure we push towards that goal.” I was just trying to like survive as a new parent, right?
Steve: It’s mainly because I have this philosophy that your business can only go one or two directions, up or down, there is no such thing as just like maintenance in my eyes. You’re either growing or not, but…
Jen: No, I totally — I see at that time I was just trying to survive, so I think…
Steve: We were both trying to survive.
Jen: We were both trying to survive, right. So for me it was just like — and there was a period where it was growing, but not as quickly as it could have been growing, and it was because life was happening, right?
Steve: For sure, we had a couple of years where we didn’t do anything, we just coasted.
Jen: Yeah, and it still grew, but not as nearly as high as it could have.
Steve: Yeah, when we put energy into it, we get significant growth, when we don’t do anything; the business just kind of grows on its own. It trails just ecommerce which has been growing year to year. I am curious on, and ironically we haven’t really talked about this that much, but what are some of your goals with Bumblebee Linens going forward? Do you want to start a new business, or do you want to continue with Bumblebee Linens and grow it? Do you have any intention of selling? I’ve always wanted to, I was always curious, and we’ve never really talked about that business.
Jen: Right, so I think the goal is for us to grow the business more, and then I would hire I guess a manager to run the business, so that I can take — the kids are now getting older and they have more and more activities that I definitely want to be part of. Right now it’s great because I could still do all the stuff with them, but as they get older they’re going to have more and more stuff to do.
I think the idea is for us to grow the business a little bit more so I would feel comfortable, one finding a really good manager to run it. I have a hard time letting go, so that’s a big problem with me personally. I’m afraid, one it cuts into the margin, two I’m like I kind of I’m a control freak, and I’m afraid things would just go in the crapper if I take a step back.
Steve: Actually right now your schedule is very flexible, right?
Jen: Yeah, it’s very, very flexible.
Steve: So why do you feel like we need a full time manager? Do you just not want to do any work at all with the business?
Jen: I feel like we’ve been in this business for what, I guess eight or nine years.
Steve: Eight or nine?
Jen: Ninth year, I’m getting burnt out. Certain aspects are really fun, and certain aspects are not as fun, I would like to focus on just the fun stuff. This year we were actually growing a lot by going to Amazon, and I actually packed a ton of our Amazon orders. And so that’s stuff I shouldn’t have to do, I really should think that either I need to delegate that more, but we were just so overrun with the orders like on a regular business that…
Steve: Yeah, it was surprising with the volume.
Jen: Yeah, the volume was…
Steve: We were not prepared.
Jen: In Amazon we were definitely weren’t prepared. We had one of our — we were canceling pre-packing for Amazon, but even then we didn’t prepare as much as we needed to for Christmas.
Steve: It kind of threw off our entire inventory too, because we typically saved some stuff for some of our B to B customers, and here is Amazon like you need to feed that beast, because you’ll lose rankings if you ever go out of stock.
Jen: Plus I — part of me was it took a revolution realizing, because I was trying to keep stuff in our store because I was afraid that we would sell out in our shop, but it kind of I had a light moment where I’m like it doesn’t matter where I’m getting the business from, I should just sell it. I just needed to make sure I have enough for my large customers that they rely on my product as to fulfill that product, but if I have enough for them then I shouldn’t care who I sell it to.
Steve: Absolutely. There is actually a lot of listeners out there who are expecting a child or they want to have one spouse kind of stay at home with the children. I was just curious what your advice is for those people who are starting a business and wanting to have children. I just remember that when we had our first kid, I don’t know if we would have been able to start something during that period, it was very stressful.
Jen: It was very stressful, I think our daughter was a little bit — it was very stressful as new parents in the very beginning with her, so I don’t know if we could have necessarily started then. I mean that’s why we started earlier.
Steve: Yeah, since you became pregnant essentially.
Jen: Yeah, and then it did get better, so once we got — we were able to establish a rhythm, we worked on the business when she was napping and at night, after she went down. We were lucky she actually slept well at night, but back then we didn’t actually answer any of our phone calls if you remember, we called everyone back.
Steve: We had them leave voicemail.
Jen: We called everyone back.
Steve: If I remember correctly we said something like for faster service please email.
Jen: Please email.
Steve: Please email us and we will respond right away or something like that.
Jen: I can’t remember, it’s all…
Steve: It’s all blending together now.
Jen: It’s blending together, but back then I couldn’t take any phone calls during the day because I was so afraid she will wake up and cry.
Steve: What advice would you have for anyone starting an ecommerce based business today?
Jen: I think finding your products is very important, take the time to research. I think a lot of people have a preconceived notion of what they want to sell, I think they think I want to sell this because it’s hot, but it may not make the most sense to sell. For new parents I would recommend starting before they have kids or way until after you’ve established between with your kids, because it’s really difficult when you don’t know what the heck you’re doing to start a business. In that case it’s really great because having a spouse that will support you also is very useful. They understand, they’ll take a little more slack, more of the slack I guess.
Steve: What are your views about going to the Canton Fair because a lot of people, they email me and they say hey Steve are you going to lead a tour to the Canton Fair, and how important do you think it is to actually go to the fair versus just using Alibaba and finding venders, like I have my answer to this question, but…
Jen: I think you could just do Alibaba, I think you could still establish a relationship with the vendors on Alibaba, but I think going to the Canton Fair makes it so much faster, that process will go so much faster through if you go to the fair.
Steve: Yeah, because when we went to the fair we hit like…
Jen: We found so many more…
Steve: Countless vendors.
Jen: Vendors that way, but I think you could do everything through Alibaba, it just could take many iterations and you have to feel comfortable with that vendor, and you will be asking for samples and then you will be sending information back to — if you are not happy with them. Whereas at the Canton Fair you just hit it, and then you see all our products all at once, and you can establish that relationship, you could take pictures. You can definitely– the really smart vendors actually at the Canton Fair actually will ask to take a picture of you with them. Do you remember a couple of vendors do that?
Steve: Yeah, I remember.
Jen: That was brilliant, and then they would email it to you which was brilliant, because they wanted you to try to remember them.
Steve: Yeah, and the other thing is I think it’s important because I assure you when you go on Alibaba you can find samples and look at product quality, but when you are actually at the fair, you didn’t need to ask for samples, because they have the samples with them.
Jen: They are also — I’m sorry to cut you off, but remember you helped one of your students look for a product, and she was going back and forth within Alibaba?
Steve: Yes I remember that.
Jen: Then we went on her behalf to look at the product and it was a completely different product?
Steve: Yes. Let me film that story a little bit. I run this class and one of my students, was like hey you going to the fair, can you check with this vendor for me, here is a picture of what I’m trying to source, can you just take a look at it and make sure it’s the right thing. And she sent me this picture of this product that the vendor was supposedly going to send her. I stopped at the booth, talked to the exact vendor that she was talking to, and he showed me the product.
It was completely different from the picture, and so somehow there was a problem in communication. He was going to send her all this stuff that wasn’t what she wanted and it was a good thing I was there to take a look at it. Of course this could have been all rectified if they just had him take some pictures of the product. I don’t know why that didn’t happen, but it’s just a lot easier to go and visit your vendor and see everything face to face, and see all the product in hand, just to make sure it meets your specifications, outside of going back and forth which can take a long period of time.
At the fair you can handle everything in just a couple of days, that’s why I’m a big fun. Going forward, what’s in the future plans for Bumblebee Linens, what are we going to do next year to grow the business?
Jen: We are going to send more and more stuff to Amazon; we’re going to grow the Amazon’s side. I am definitely going to get a better handle on the inventory levels that are needed at Amazon. I think this year I was — I thought I had a good handle on it, but I was still surprised by it, so this year we’re definitely going to focus on sending more stock and also different stuff.
We also are going to launch a couple of new product lines. I’m going to hopefully find a local vendor to source one of our products that I hope to do. I think we are going to update the website, we redesign the website, that’s Steve’s job hopefully soon. I think we need to streamline certain things, I hope to potentially move into a larger space, because we are outgrowing our current space, I don’t know what else.
Steve: Yeah, that sounds like a lot actually. There you have it, very thankful that my wife was actually willing to come on to the podcast, because she does not like doing any of these things. Anyone who wants to get a hold of you, do you want people to get a hold of you?
Jen: Honestly I’d rather them get a hold of you, because actually have to handle Bumblebee Linens business.
Steve: Right. How about this?
Jen: You can email Steve and put attention Jen.
Steve: Yes, I will forward any messages over to my wife. And just to close if you guys are getting married, and you want a nice personalized gift, my wife will hook you up, can we say that?
Jen: Yeah, sure.
Steve: It’s BumblebeeLinens.com, Twitter, we don’t have Twitter actually.
Jen: We don’t have Twitter.
Steve: But Instagram.
Jen: You can follow us on Instagram and Pinterest.
Steve: @bumblebeelinens. All right, thanks a lot for coming on the show.
Jen: You are welcome.
Steve: I hope you enjoyed episode 100. I’m really proud of my wife for stepping up to the plate and putting herself out there, and I kid you not, I’ve been trying to get her on the show since day one. And what’s ironic is that if she went on earlier they would have been less people listening in case she said anything embarrassing, however I think she did great. For more information about this episode go to mywifeqiteherjob.com/episode100
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Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast, where we’re giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequiteherjob.com.