Microenterprise Interview: Care Allen | True2Size Shoes
In this interview I talk with Care Allen. She runs a home-based business called True2Size Shoes, an online shop that offers women an array of styles to fit feet of any size. In response to the spread of the coronavirus, Care’s microbusiness has shown promising signs of growth. During quarantine, her ability to stay connected with her customers has proven to make a big difference.
GR: I'm here with Care Allen of True2Size Shoes., Care, How are you today? CA: I'm well, how are you doing? GR: Doing okay. All things considered. I think, you know, we're all just doing what we can in the midst of this. We're all coping. CA:: Absolutely. GR:: So Care. I got in contact with you originally through some other mutual contacts of ours. I know you're also a native here of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we are. How long have you been here? CA:: I've been in grand Rapids. I'm originally from Detroit, but I've been in grand Rapids since 2013. GR:: And when you, when you moved here, had you ideas to start your business or at what point were you thinking about that? CA:: So I started the business in my head way back in 2010 but it didn't come to fruition until 2018 is when I really started putting the work in. And then, so I had been in Grand Rapids for a little while and I actually had started to come to know a few people kind of in the entrepreneur space. And once I realized that that was like my circle, I was like, Ooh, I found my people. These are the people that, you know, I resonate with that I really, really thrive around. That's when I was like, it's time. GR:: So that's an interesting kind of thing that you bring up is just trying to find your people. Like you put it, trying to find other likeminded individuals. How important has that been for you during this whole, during your whole journey? CA:: I would say finding likeminded individuals has been probably one of the, if I had to put out a list of like my top three things as an entrepreneur, it would rank in the top three. Having folks that understand the ins and outs of business, having folks that understand the trials and surprises. Also the successes and challenges that come with being an entrepreneur. And then folks that also can just guide you through the space. I think it's super important to not walk the entrepreneurial journey alone. So for me it's been pivotal. Like it's been like a huge, huge kind of advantage having a circle of folks that are also in this space. GR:: So within that circle of folks that you can kind of lean on and take advice from that sort of thing, you know, for yourself as a woman, as a person of color, how much did that play a factor in trying to find other likeminded individuals? CA:: I would say my identity, especially the intersections of my identity, I think play they were, they worked to my advantage in this space. I thrive off of supporting and working with other women as one piece. And then for me it's an added layer when that other intersection of me being identifying as a black woman, when I can also engage with support and be connected with other black women I would say that that is what takes me like my, it elevates me to a whole other level. It's just about kind of that black girl magic. So for me, there was actually another woman, a black woman who introduced me to the accelerator program that I went through when I was thinking about my business. She had been through it. And since then I've done the same thing for other women and in particular women of color told them about this same program. CA:: That also helped me get started. So I would say that like without those connections in particular to black women, I don't think I would have found the resources that I found that actually helped me get my business off the ground. Not only with the actual kind of resources that as it pertains to knowledge but also financial resources. The very first organization to invest in my business came from the, the idea that the young lady placed in my head to sign up for this program. I pitched in their competition and they were the very first investors in my business. So I would say that it all kind of comes full circle for me as a black woman working with and being attached to other black women within this space. GR:: You know, you mentioned that whole idea of black girl magic and I love how that phrase kind of really caught on in the last few years. I think it's all about empowering, especially the younger generation as I see it. You know, for a lot of folks out there. How challenging or how difficult do you think it is for a lot of communities of color to see and be able to view other folks that are moving along in their business, they're trying to get somewhere, take it to the next step. How, how difficult do you think it's been for people to have somebody to look up to within that space? CA:: I'm trying to figure out how I want to say this in terms of realistic role model, I think it's, it's difficult. I think it's easy with the age of social media to see other of folks of color in particular in the business space thriving. Like you can kind of Google or, or hit, hit up any hashtag and see some of those large name, really, really big successful folks. But I think when we talk about the successful folks within your community, those smaller level kind of small business owners, I think it's harder. For one because there's this secret level of sharing. GR:: What do you mean by that? Care? CA:: I feel like there's this I definitely think that you should pay people for their time. I think information is worth money. It's valuable. I paid to get a lot of the information in my industry, but I think that sometimes as small business owners or in particular those of us that are business owners of color, we've had to navigate so many different things than it would when it comes to sharing information. We either have to do it for completely free just to make sure that that next business owner is able to get the same thing or we have to sell it for an extremely high price to show the vet, like to show how valuable we are. Like we, I don't feel like we often get away with kind of any middle ground. Like people want us to sit on their panel often. Like I get, I can't tell you how many panels I get asked to be on for free with this wealth of knowledge that I have, or I have to sell myself at a super, super high price to show my value. CA:: Like there I don't get just those regular like everyday offers. I think that I see some of my counterparts that don't look like me. Some of the opportunities that they get, I don't get those opportunities. They don't, you know, that they're not asked to sit on 16 panels every month for free because of their value that they're asked to actually be the speaker at an event and they're given a pretty nice price where I have to sit within a certain budget or things like that. So I think for people of color in the business industry, one of the things that I've come to realize is that when I really want to see a business thrive, I'm throwing them all the information I can because I know that they can't. When I started, I couldn't afford to pay high level for something as well. So I re I realized that I have to like shove so much information to them because they can't get it anywhere else or I'm on this way, this totally other end of the spectrum where I'm like negotiating and negotiating and negotiating and negotiating to prove that the knowledge that I have is valuable. CA:: I hope that makes sense. GR:: Yeah, I think it does make sense. I've heard other people talk about this as well, just this whole idea of trying to figure out what's the appropriate level in which to share information information and in what context is that appropriate. And I've heard a lot of people talk about how, especially amongst a small pool of entrepreneurs that are all operating at a similar levels of your own life, they're kind of a home based business just starting out. You know, there's almost kind of a fear of sharing perhaps too much information for fear that perhaps somebody is going to steal your idea. Have you come across that within your experience? CA:: I haven't come across anybody stealing my idea, but with all of the entrepreneurs that I've worked with. So for me, I am a small business, but I've scaled in a way that many businesses haven't scaled. Like I started my business in 2018 it was kind of a hot mess. I didn't know really almost, I didn't know anything. I took eight weeks and I revamped my business. I started from basically from scratch and in eight weeks I took my business to be on track to be a hundred thousand dollar business where I went from making $20,000 my first year total to make it more than $20,000 each quarter. So it was one of those things where I think for me, people started to catch on to that and they realized that it wasn't so much that they wanted to steal my idea. They more so wanted access to my resources. So, but I have, I have run into quite a few folks who had a fear. They came to me wanting some advice, but then didn't want to tell me their idea because they feared that I have more resources than them, so I was going to take their idea and run with it. And you know, I, so that, that is, GR:: Yeah. And that seems to be kind of the case quite often as sort of a fear of people wanting to share their information with too many people. CA:: Yeah, for sure. For sure. And it's, part of it is just because you have a great idea, it doesn't mean I want it. I want to do that idea. You may not have an interest in your audience. I think that's the other pieces, like a lot of folks reach out to folks within their same industry, but don't recognize that target market and industry don't equal the same thing. So someone could come to me and want to talk about opening the shoe store. I'm always open to talking to folks about opening the shoe store because just because we're in the same industry, our market might not be the exact same. I have a very, very niche market, very extremely niche. I, I catered to women with large feet that like, that's just what you talk about. Opening the shoe store. Let's talk about it. We will be in the same industry, but we won't have the same market. So we both will be able to thrive. So I think that's the other fear too is people don't recognize that industry and target market for specific products aren't always the same. GR:: Right. And so what you've been able to do, I mean it's, it sounds pretty amazing within that short amount of time. Can you talk about the level of growth you've seen over an eight week period? You know, what, what is going on right now with your business? And by the way, feel free to tell everybody the name of your business and a little bit more about what it does. Like you said you sell to mostly women with big feet, but I think there's a lot more to it than that. If you can just share what, what's going on with your business right now, what it is you've been trying to implement particularly in the midst of dealing with the spread of COVID-19. CA:: This is really good. So I own true to size shoes, which is an online women's boutique. I started off as just the footwear line, but I'm expanding into a full boutique because I realized my target market, if you really start to learn your target market, not only were they having trouble finding shoes that they could fit, they have trouble styling shoes because they never found actual attractive shoes that they could fit. So I've kind of started to get into a little bit of apparel as well and my brand will be being renamed. We're going from true to size shoes to Faye Nicole. So basically what I have found out in particular in that eight weeks that I took, so this was around, I think I started maybe in September or October of last year. I spent eight weeks and I just hit the ground running. CA:: I grinded and grinded on restarting and revamping my business. And a couple of things that I learned is, one, projections are so important. I was only projecting out certain parts of my business, so I will do my financial projections for how much I would profit, but I wasn't projecting costs, I wasn't projecting the returns. Sizing issues. Coven 19, for example, put a huge damper in my ad, my realistic, like how real realistic my projections became because of shipping costs. So that was something that I quickly learned was, okay, I priced my project or I budgeted my projections based on shipping costs being missed. I ship, you know, I manufacturer in another country. So shipping costs are already a little bit higher for me. But with COVID 19 they rose even more. And shipping times have increased. So not only are my projections off by numbers, they're off by time as well, because I was expected to launch a collection. CA:: So for example, I had, my spring collection was actually supposed to come out last month. I'm not going to have a spring collection because of COVID 19. I'm going to have to jump straight to fall. So it's going to be super interesting seeing that I'm going to miss two collections in my, in my timing this year, but I had to make a pivot so I had to make a decision last month when I realized that my spring collection wasn't going to come out. I was like, do I go ahead and still work on my summer collection or do I anticipate what this is going to look like? And I go ahead and start my fall collection and make sure that that gets here in time. So I made the tough decision that I'm going to skip spring and summer collections and I'm just readjusting my fall collection to include a couple of more styles that typically wouldn't be in it. CA:: But that's something that I learned is how to pivot in a time of need. Also, another thing that I did was I just upped my order because there's more demand now I'm very transparent with my customers. So that was something that I did throughout that eight week period is I also began to translate the, the messaging and the language that I use with my customers to more of a personalized voice so that they know that this is a person behind their brand. And that's another thing. My brand is now moving to Faye Nicole, which is me and my mother's middle names. So it's also a representation of the women who embodied this brand. Me and my mother both have not, we're not standard sizes and woods. We were sizes 11 and 12. So recognizing them, not only are we a representative of the brand, it resonates with our customer. CA:: And then I was able by tweaking the voice of my brand in my life, and I did this through my email marketing and the ways in which that I promote products and things like that, I was able to be transparent and let the women that shop with me know, Hey, coven 19 is putting a damper and something that we, we already have experienced for so long. It's, you know, it's already been hard for us to find shoes. And now this process is happening to us again. So I walked them through the steps of that and I'm introducing, I'm actually, they, my customers don't know this yet, but I'm actually going to show some, show them some of the that'll be launched for fall to get them excited and then also to make them a part of the color process so that they're called color ways. CA:: So the style won't change, but what colors I bring out in these certain styles will be based on their feedback. So that's some of the, something that I learned through COVID 19, is even if I'm not selling a ton of product, like if I can't get the product in, how do I still engage my audience? And I've been able to engage my audience by sending out surveys, asking questions. We play, I have a game night coming up where we're going to do a virtual Scattergories that I'm going to get online and do that, and then I'm going to give a coupon that come, come on to the virtual Scattergories. So it's just you learn those things that even though I might not be making those numbers, that in which my business actually shockingly, I am still exceeding my goal. Cause I did readjust my goal. CA:: When I first realized how serious COVID 19 had got, I actually readjusted my goal and I am exceeding that. I was, I was anticipating that I was probably going to take about an eight to $9,000 hit each month. And I've actually, I haven't actually taken that. I only took last month. I was under my original goal by only $2,000, which is, which is great in comparison to what so many other companies are experiencing and I'm projected to exceed that this month. So, and I think a lot of that I can attribute a lot of that to keeping them engaged even when I'm not selling them something are still in their inbox, checking on them, I'm still in there. And by showing them, Hey, this is what I'm working on. And making them really feel a part of the brand. GR:: As people are talking about the spread of the virus and everything that's happened during this time, you know, a year out from now, we all know that life will be very different. There'll be in some ways there'll be back to normal, but a lot of people keep talking about a "new normal" in which things will not necessarily be the same but that will be operating in a kind of a new reality. So for you and for your business, where do you see things happening a year out from now? CA:: So a year from now I expect to be rebranded. So I do I'll be famous by then. I expect to have a full collection of just my collection cause right now I still carry a couple of other vendors as well. So COVID 19 has actually, and I think the new normal cause that is, I think it is safe to say there will be a new normal in the future. I think the realization of coven 19 and this impact has pushed me to do what I plan to do. Like it's pushed my five year plan closer to a one year plan to be completely honest. So I'm going to be pushing my collect, like I was going to still do a little bit of like launch a little tiny bit of my designs and push still push other vendors. But I'm to go ahead and get rid of all other vendors and only sell my designs, which wasn't in my one year plan from now. CA:: But it's forcing me to do that because I need to, I'm sending my money in multiple areas and I need to focus it. So COVID 19 is making me realize that piece of it. And then also my customers folks are gonna want consistency. One of the things that I think COVID 19 I realizing as I listened to and engage with a lot of my customers is there's a lot of unknown and unknowns. Make people uncomfortable. Unknowns costs more. Like people are spending like, I mean the toilet paper pandemic for example, like people were running out to buy toilet paper. Like when people worry, when there's so many unknowns and people don't know what's going on. A lot of, there, a lot of different parts of their lives go into chaos. So I want for that in a year. My store is one of those knowns. You know exactly what you're getting, you know the quality, you know, the sizing is right. You know what that box looks like. You know, that shipping timeframe, like everything about my company, I won't be one of those, another unknown for folks or another disappointment for folks. So I have really been using this time to ensure once we get to this new normal, I am a consistent brand for folks who are looking for that.
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