Today I’m excited to share the second installment of the Founders + Friends series!
Because, in addition to being your resource for practical and inspiring lifestyle content, Mon Amye is your friend, your sounding-board, your motivator. She’s the one you turn to for advice and to share your successes, and that’s just what this new Founders + Friends series will be doing each month. [Plus, I love hearing from entrepreneurs and now I have a reason to ask after my favorite success stories!]
Today we’re talking to Jess and Benita, the lovely co-founders behind home decor shop zestt. I first met Jess when she was working at my alma mater, and have followed her entrepreneurial journey since then. I have been in awe of her willingness to bravely jump where others might timidly tiptoe toward a goal. zestt is her latest venture, co-founded with childhood friend Benita, and I found their story so inspiring. Read on!
[Amye] The Basics: Tell us about zestt.
[Jess (left) and Benita (right)]: We are the co-founders of zestt – a contemporary home decor line with a passion for color, pattern and products with a hand touched feel. We have a variety of basics that remain in the line constantly along with seasonal offerings that are designed and released two times per year. Our pieces are available at more than 125 independent retailers nationwide. They can also be purchased at our site (shopzestt.com) and nordstrom.com.
The BFFs: How did you originally meet and become friends?
We met our freshman year of high school. Benita had just moved to our town and Jess was the “student ambassador” from the student council. We’ve been best friends since.
The Startup Phase: How did you first decide to go into business together?
Benita asked Jess to join her on a sourcing trip overseas and it was on the plane ride to Hong Kong that the idea for zestt was born. We both had our own businesses, but longed for a partnership where we could share the highs and lows of running a business. The idea of an accessories brand launched a conversation about a style that we thought was missing from the market. After we returned home from the trip, the idea lay dormant for a few weeks. We finally called each other up and said – we need to do this and started chipping away at the business formation and basic company identity pieces.
The Now: Briefly describe zestt as it stands today. Who manages what aspects of zestt? Has that evolved as time passes?
It’s a time of amazing growth for our company. We started partnering with independent retailers last February and we are growing our list of stores each month. Benita is the creative arm of our business and manages product development and brand direction. Jess oversees operations and sourcing to help our products move from manufacturers to our retailers and ultimately to our customers’ hands.
What we love about our partnership is that we both have our roles, but we can also cross over when needed. Benita can help Jess review a monthly P&L statement and Jess can help Benita review the latest catalog photos. We both get a decent mix of creative and strategy.
The Hard Stuff: What is the biggest obstacle you have faced while in business?
Every new business has to do some sort of “pivot” in their first two years, whether its target market, distribution etc. We were no exception. We originally wanted to bring all of our products directly to the consumer, but quickly realized how difficult it was to manage this aspect of the business and design new product.
We spent months trying to decide if we wanted to work with independent retailers. Our main concern was losing control over a customer’s experience with the brand. We ultimately decided to take the leap and we are SO HAPPY that we did. We love working with our retailers – they inspire us and keep us moving to add more products to the line. It’s grown our business and allowed us to connect with so many more customers.
The Network: Share the people in your network that have proven to be true friends. Who do you turn to for support?
Jess – Finding a community of entrepreneurs both locally and beyond has been invaluable. We have been fortunate to meet people at various stages of their business who offer support and suggestions. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at how open other business owners are in offering advice on how to succeed. Diego Echiverri who owns Bull & Moose in Alexandria, VA is always connecting me to new ideas and great events. Steph Fornash Kennedy who owns Fornash has built an extremely successful retail and wholesale business and has offered great insight on balancing a multi-channel model. Of course, my family has become a built in source of market research and suggestions. My husband, 3 sisters and parents are always willing to take a look at a new product and let us know what they think.
Benita – Jess really hit the nail on the head with her response. We have been extremely grateful to see how willing most fellow entrepreneurs have been to open up and share their highs and lows. Whether their businesses directly relate to our industry or not, we’ve found that we have the same basic struggles when it comes to decision making, time management and growth. Sometimes just knowing that our challenges are “normal” is all we need to keep pushing along. We have learned a lot from these individuals and hope to pay it forward to any newbies we find along the way. I too have found an amazing network of support through my family and close friends. From reviewing new product ideas, analyzing spreadsheets or helping to work an event, I know I always have them by my side willing to jump in when needed.
The Wins: How do you celebrate your successes?
This is something that we are trying to take a concerted effort to do more of in 2015. We are both very future focused and tend to go right into our next goal after hitting a major milestone. For us, we love the process of bringing new products to life, so the opportunity to add to the line as we grow financially is our current method of celebration. We also love to travel so trips for inspiration and sourcing are the way we reward ourselves for success.
Voila! Practical inspiration for your own big dreams, delivered to mes amies.
A huge thanks to Jess and Benita for taking the time to share their story. Since I think it is so important to embrace each individual’s unique talents, I really appreciate that Jess and Benita each came to the table with their own distinctive strengths. It seems that they respect their individual roles equally, but also have fun switching it up sometimes. Keeps things interesting!
And if you’re looking to update your home this spring, hop on over to shopzestt.com now for fresh, inspiring home accessories. And let us know what you select!