Play a quick game of ‘You know you’re an entrepreneur if…’ with fellow founder friends and you’ll hear mention of taking risks, burning midnight oil, constant new ideas…
How about planning your new venture hours after giving birth?
Monica Royer, Founder and CEO of Monica+Andy, did just that.
Laying in the hospital bed after having her daughter, Royer couldn’t help but notice that while much hullabaloo was present around perfecting the baby’s new room and wardrobe at home, her daughter’s first hours of life were spent in stained, tattered and overbleached baby clothes provided by the hospital.
That’s when Royer set out to create a children’s clothing company focused on the best quality fabrics that delivers when moms deliver.
Today this has evolved into an e-commerce platform for clothing for kids 0-4 with an emphasis on form and function. “Kids are constantly exploring, playing, discovering,” Royer said. “Their clothes should give them the ultimate freedom to do that.”
But back in that hospital bed, how did Royer (pictured left) know she could take the risk of starting a new company, especially after just giving birth to her daughter and knowing her husband was set to launch his own online luxury furniture venture, interiordefine.com? After 10 successful years in the corporate world, the three-month maternity leave seemed like the perfect time to make a clean break and jump into the world of entrepreneurship.
“There was no time like the present,” she said. “I knew it was now or never. If not now, I’d get sucked back in and never launch.”
Entrepreneurship really does run in the family. Much has been said about her relationship to famed Bonobos founder Andy Dunn. Dunn is her brother and the ‘Andy’ in Monica+Andy. Of course, there were countless lessons Royer learned from watching the ups and down of her brother’s own e-commerce clothing empire over the last six years.
As much as the success of Monica+Andy may have relied on the Bonobos experience, she relies just as heavily on another group of advisers — her Board of Moms.
Not one single fabric gets through without having been tested by her board of part-time moms, all who have the opportunity to test samples as they come in. “We only accept around 60 percent of the samples that we choose to test,” Monica explains. “Nothing gets through without the board’s approval.”
At its core, the company is an e-commerce platform, but the brick and mortar Monica+Andy store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood has proven to an excellent testing ground for new products as well.
“E-commerce allows you to scale and reach a national and international market,” explained Royer, “but having products in store allows for immediate customer feedback” which can in turn affect what is for sale online.
Another advantage of the e-commerce / guide store hybrid is the strong presence in the community. In fact, the presence that Monica+Andy is cultivating is not just for new moms, either. One of the biggest surprises has been the fact that over half of customers are gift givers who do not have kids. This has helped create a positive cycle for moms who receive Monica+Andy products and then become customers themselves. Their gift-giving concierge service means you can name a price, say $75, and their concierge puts together a gift basket and sends it off like a stork to the new mommy.
The offline store has become a fun, mom-centered universe. Stop by the shop on Halsted and you’ll see an interactive space that goes beyond the product: there’s storytime, music and art classes for kids — and that’s not just for moms who come in to shop, but for children of employees, who are encouraged to bring their kids to work. There’s a private nursing station for moms so they can feel free to nurse and stay longer, and there’s even a milk and cookie bar for kids, moms and friends alike.
So how much do these top-quality, mom approved fabrics cost? Royer emphasized the need to keep prices affordable, with price points that appeal to those who shop at Gap or similar companies.
How do prices stay relatively low? “We pay great attention to detail. Fabrics are carefully sourced and we work directly with factories so there is only a small markup on products. We don’t go through wholesale channels. That’s how prices stay down,” Royer explained.
Today Royer and co-founder Brian Bloom run the online business and Chicago guide store and is looking to expand to other US markets in coming months.
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