Business & Real Estate

Young startup founders go the distance to land giant retailers

Sacramento-area merchandiser Amanda Kludt shows off one of her Bumbums and Baubles’s shoes at Puddles on Wednesday on Fair Oaks Boulevard..
Sacramento-area merchandiser Amanda Kludt shows off one of her Bumbums and Baubles’s shoes at Puddles on Wednesday on Fair Oaks Boulevard.. bnguyen@sacbee.com

Every fisherman quickly learns the difference between hooking a big fish and actually landing one.

Robert Beadles and Amanda Kludt, both budding Sacramento-area merchandisers, each absorbed that lesson as they worked to find national retailers to carry their products. The two don’t know each other, but their stories share a common theme.

Kludt and her BFF, Caitlin Zapf, began selling customizable kids’ shoes under the brand name Bumbums & Baubles back in the fall of 2013. Late that same year, Beadles’ company, The MemoryTag, began testing greeting cards that allow the givers to integrate a video message.

Both companies shopped their products at industry trade shows: The Bumbums founders made their pitches at Las Vegas’ FN Platform shows and the Fashion Footwear Association of New York event. Beadles focused largely on AmericasMart Atlanta, where the latest trends in gifting show up first.

Right away, Woodbridge-based MemoryTag caught the attention of buyers from such big-name retailers as Walgreens, Rite Aid and 7-Eleven.

“Frankly, no one has ever told us, ‘no,’ ” Beadles said. “We’ve got yeses from everybody, and that sounds great, but then those yeses turn into unanswered phone calls or unreturned emails or the realization that your contact has been fired or isn’t with the company anymore.”

Before Beadles finally got a face-to-face meeting with a 7-Eleven executive in May 2014, he had traded emails and phone calls with him for six or seven months.

“I never gave up,” Beadles said. “The guy really wasn’t giving me the time of day, and finally, he just caved in and agreed to meet with me.”

It was then that Beadles got direction on how to put together a sales display for the stores, he said, so he went back to his staff, got the necessary designs done and emailed it back to 7-Eleven’s headquarters in Dallas.

The plan was to get MemoryTag greeting cards into 7-Eleven stores in time for the holidays, but as summer waned and fall began, Beadles said, he was still awaiting HQ’s final word on whether the cards would be sold. And, because most of 8,700 7-Eleven’s stores in the United States are owned and operated by franchisees, Beadles didn’t know how many would opt to carry his product.

“It was really a scary process because we had to figure out how many stores we were going to be in and how much product we needed to create, where we were going to ship it from, all this stuff, and we really didn’t know how many stores were going to buy our cards,” Beadles said. “They will tell you to plan for 300 stores, but it could be 5,000.”

MemoryTag got the go-ahead and its orders in October, Beadles said, and his staff and contractors scrambled to get the product out. In what he describes as a gift from God, he said, 1,000 7-Eleven stores carried his product. If only 100 or so stores had ordered the MemoryTag cards, Beadles said, he would have ended up eating the costs.

At this point, each of those 1,000 stores sells two or three of his cards every day. All those sales roughly equal what The MemoryTag sells daily from its website, www.thememorytag.com.

Like Beadles, Bumbums & Baubles co-founder Kludt called and emailed and never gave up once she identified the right buyer at online colossus Zappos.com. It took a year for her to win the account, she said, but all the work was worth it once she saw the initial sales results in March.

“We had record-breaking sales in the very first week or two,” Kludt said. “We were sold out of several styles after the first week or two. That resulted in a much larger fall order from Zappos.”

The two moms started the company because they recognized the tug-of-war that erupts between preschool-age daughters and their mothers when it comes to buying versatile, classic shoes vs. footwear with all the lights and spangles. With Bumbums’ clip-on baubles, girls can add some sizzle to a classic style.

Zapf oversees production from the company’s headquarters in Carlsbad, a quick car ride away from the factories that produce their shoes in Mexico. Kludt, meanwhile, manages sales and marketing from her home in Curtis Park. The two women, who both approve designs, grew up in the Curtis Park neighborhood and graduated from C.K. McClatchy High School.

Sales of Bumbums have tripled since this time last year, Kludt said. Not only did they launch sales at Zappos this year, but their shoes also debuted on Canada’s big online shoe retailer, ShoeMe.ca. Plus, Bumbums are sold at 100 brick-and-mortar stores, up from 75 a year ago. Locally, that includes Koukla Kids, 3809 J St., and Puddles, 2580 Fair Oaks Blvd.

Kludt and Zapf started out on their own in 2013, but they now employ 10 people. Aside from those salaries, Kludt said, every dollar of revenue goes toward expanding production and sales.

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