I meet Lora Fischer-DeWitt in a crowd of buzzing entrepreneurs inside of Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) in Springfield, Mass. She and I introduce ourselves as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other startups vying for the same thing – one of the 36 slots open in VVM’s upcoming accelerator program.
She’s pleasant and humorous as we joke about how we think we did with our pitches. Fischer-DeWitt, 41, starts to tell me about her past as a fashion merchandise buyer and I’m intrigued. When she pulls out a sample of her jewelry, the Scout wrap, I’m sold. Their signature item converts from a wrap bracelet to a necklace. Even its display card is unique – each card has a different design and inspiring quote. Her company Scout Curated Wears, which launched last October, is primed for success in 2015. She said the response has
“I began by pitching my item to stores myself. In December, I hired a sales rep group and now have 11 reps in the Northeast. This year I’d like to replicate that model across the country. If I continue on the current trajectory I expect great things from 2016,” Fischer-DeWitt said.
I catch up with the Massachusetts entrepreneur to find out more about her startup dreams just weeks before she is scheduled to enter the VVM Accelerator program (she made it, and so did we – YAY!).
Natasha Clark (Natasha): What do you do?
Lora Fischer-DeWitt (Lora): I design, produce and wholesale women’s fashion jewelry to stores.
Natasha: Tell me a little about your background in business?
Lora: I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit for as long as I can remember. It started with selling worms on the side of the road as a kid. Later it was selling grilled cheese sandwiches and handmade dresses to fund my travels around the country with the Grateful Dead. After two years on the road I decided it was time to go to college. I earned my BA in fashion merchandising I went to work as a buyer. I then transitioned into sales representation, product development and design. I’ve been in the industry for twenty-five years now. My experience in so many facets of the industry really helps me see the big picture.
Natasha: What makes your company unique?
Lora: Over the years I have worked with hundreds of buyers and store owners and I have repeatedly heard they were looking for packaged accessories that are easy to sell. Jewelry can be difficult to merchandise, especially if you’re a primarily a gift store that carries lots of categories. The gift and hard goods industries have gotten really good with their packaging, but I think the jewelry industry is just scratching the surface. I put a lot of energy into developing the packaging for Scout so that it attracts the customer as much as the item itself. Everything I sell comes with a display to merchandise on. I try to make it
as easy as possible for the merchant.
Natasha: Tell me about some of your specialties?
Lora: Our signature item is the Scout wrap. It converts from a wrap bracelet to a necklace. It comes on beautiful display cards. Each card has a different design and inspiring quote.
Natasha: We are proud to provide a platform for female entrepreneurs. As a woman, did you encounter any unique experiences in establishing your business because of your gender?
Lora: When I tell people I own a jewelry company many make assumptions. People tend to immediately assume I make jewelry in my kitchen and sell it at craft fairs. This happens even after emphasize wholesale jewelry. Don’t get me wrong, I love supporting craft fairs and artisan shows. I highly respect people who do that. I’m just doing something different. I’m building a scalable business that is bigger than myself. If I was a man who said I own a
widget company I doubt the same type of assumptions would be made.
Natasha: What made you decide to open your own business rather than work for someone else?
Lora: Been there done that! I’ve always wanted to own my own business. Up until now many obstacles have gotten in the way. First of all fear (that’s a big one), then lack of experience, lack of funds, poor timing. The list goes on. Right before I turned 40 I decided I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore. I wanted to be in complete control of my lifestyle design. I walked away from a good job to take a break and formulate my next move. Over the last year I decided I wanted more balance in my life for me and my family. I set my intention to design a business that will hopefully allow me to reach that ideal. Here I am, it’s a work in progress.
Natasha: With so many companies doing more things digitally, how do you stay relevant?
Lora: People are always going to shop. There is always a market for gifts or a little instant gratification for yourself. People are shopping online more and more. Scout is represented in several online stores and will continue to grow in that area. However, brick and mortar stores will always be relevant. My sales team and I use software that supports my virtual showroom, sales order processing and management.
Natasha: If you could give advice to readers who want to break into your industry, what would it be?
Lora: Join a networking or mentoring group and ask for help. Many people in business are willing to help other get started. Always ask questions. It’s the only way to learn and it shows that care enough to get it right.
Natasha: What was one of your biggest challenges when launching your company?
Lora: As a single founder it has, at times, been a challenge to stay motivated and connected. I’ve been working on developing a peer network to help with that. I’m a creative person who likes to collaborate and brainstorm with others. Working alone has been a big change and I’ve had to find ways to reach out for help.
Natasha: What revenue sources did you use early on to get going?
Lora: I was able to launch by tapping into our “rainy day” fund. We’re very lucky that my husband has a good job with great benefits so we have that peace of mind. Though shifting to one income after being accustomed to having two hasn’t been easy. Watching your savings account balance go down and down is scary. However, we made the conscious decision that the risks were worth the potential outcome.
Natasha: What are some things you do to stay motivated?
Lora: When I get distracted or off task I always think of my kids and husband. I’m doing this for them as much as for myself. I want to be able to travel the world with them every summer. It’s not happening this summer but maybe next! I also set goals and deadlines for myself at work. I work so much better when I hold myself accountable.
Natasha: Many entrepreneurs struggle with turning their startups into sustainable businesses. What would you say are the top things women need to keep in mind?
Lora: You need to start with sustainability as the goal. Make sure your cost and price structure is sustainable. If you start out selling your product direct to consumers, you need to make sure you price allows you enough margin to later scale to wholesale distribution.
Natasha: How do you juggle spending time with your family and pursuing your passions?
Lora: Everything goes on the calendar! If it’s on the calendar we make it happen. I spend a lot of late nights emailing and skyping with my suppliers overseas. The trade off is I’m near home and flexible now during the day. I’m more involved in the day to day with the kids. Yoga class once a week is a must. On good weeks I reward myself with two. We don’t feel guilty about taking time off from work and the kids to recharge. The best thing we can give our families and our work is happy, well adjusted leaders.
Natasha: What do you see as the next logical phase in your entrepreneur journey?
Lora: I’d like to increase the distribution of Scout throughout the country. In the future I can see myself launching more brands.
Connect with the Scout brand on social media.