When sisters Kim Stone, of Spokane, and Melissa Earle, of Sarasota, Fla., decided to go into business together they had some issues to resolve.
Stone refused to move to Sarasota, and Earle refused to move to Spokane, so the compromise solution was an Internet e-tailer business they called Emmy & Ally that sells clothes and other items for infants and toddlers.
We love to shop for our children, and we enjoy finding great products that we can pass along to others, says Stone. Through our online business we offer other moms the opportunity to shop in their pajamas at 2 a.m. in one location.
The business is new, having gone online just last August, and Stone says she and Earle are still in the learning process.
When Emmy & Ally launched last summer, orders came in sporadically. Now, the business is growing and receives two to three orders every day, says Stone. She declined to comment on the companys 2004 revenue figures.
Emmy & Ally advertises that it sells cute clothes, designer bags, comfy shoes, baby jewelry, bedding, and baby gifts.
Stone is in charge of purchasing and has all of the businesss orders, from 20-plus vendors, shipped to Florida where, lacking a warehouse, the inventory is stored in Earles home. When Internet orders come in, all paid for by credit card, Stone makes out invoices and e-mails the orders to Earle, who does all the wrapping and shipping. The home-based venture prides itself on how well it wraps and presents its products.
Most of the vendors Emmy & Ally buy from also are stay-at-home working moms, like ourselves, says Stone.
Emmy & Ally discover its vendors primarily through Internet research, contacts made through the Seattle Trend Show, and by contacting manufacturers of products the two owners like.
Icky Products, of Costa Mesa, Calif., is one of the companys favorite sources of products.
The hottest-selling items leading into the Christmas season were diaper bags and fleece crib sheets. The diaper bags range in price from $89 to $200, and the fleece crib sheets were at $32. The online company, which to date has proven most popular with New England shoppers, charges a standard $6.95 for shipping in the continental U.S. and offers free shipping for purchases in excess of $99.
Earle is a 2000 graduate of the University of South Florida in gerontology, and supplements her income by working full time with 35 clients in a gerontology guardianship program in Sarasota.
Stone, who has lived in Spokane for two years, was, like Earle, born and raised in Florida. She is a 1992 graduate of Flagler College, in St. Augustine, Fla., where she earned a degree in business and completed a double minor in computer science and advertising. She worked in retail and advertising in Florida before moving to Eugene, Ore., where she lived for six years before moving to Spokane, where her husband, John, took a job as manager of the Spokane Country Club.
The long-distance business relationship has its challenges, says Stone, but many of those challenges are common to anyone who starts a new business. She says she and her sister, close friends, talk on the telephone an average of five times a day. A big problem Stone faces is being able to control inventory from across the country. Sometimes the paper records she calculates here dont coincide with the physical inventory in Florida.
Stones future aspirations for the business are modest: If we can buy clothes for our kids, take a few trips together every year, and break even, well be fine.
The Emmy & Ally Web site includes professionally taken photographs of the items the business sells, some provided by vendors and some taken by a photographer retained by the small company.
The web photos are the only way our customers can decide if they want to purchase from us, and they need to look good, says Stone.
The children of the two sisters, including 15-month-old Emmy Stone and 10-month-old Ally Earle, after whom the business was named, model infant clothing. Three-year-old Benjamin Stone also has been called on to model clothing.
Stone does purchasing, accounting, and Web-site construction on her computer at home in Spokane, working primarily during evenings and when daughter Emmy is taking a nap. By design, she works more hours daily than her sister and partner in Florida, who is employed full time outside the business.
What makes us unique is our diverse product mix and emphasis on customer service, says Stone, who works out of her home on the South Hill. The business sells its products solely on its Web site, www.emmyandally.com. It markets the site in Family Magazine, and on the Google and Overture online search sites.
Stone admits that its prices arent competitive with Wal-Mart or Kmart, but says theyre in the price range for products sold at baby boutiques.
One aspect of the business that Stone and Earle are learning rapidly is how to order in advance for seasonal merchandise. In June, even before the Web site was launched, the sisters were ordering merchandise for the Christmas season, and Stone says they were ordering late. They already have their spring line of products stocked in Florida and will order for fall soon, says Stone.
The idea of Emmy & Ally eventually opening as a brick and mortar store doesnt curently appeal to Stone. Retail stores scare me, she says, talking about the overhead involved and mentioning statistics that show sales increases for retail stores are well below those for e-tail businesses. Online is the wave of the future, she says.
Although Stone says the young business is trying hard on its Web site to provide a variety of products and sizes for potential customers, We definitely dont have enough inventory to open a clothing store. She says they are more than willing to go back to their vendors to locate requested items, but because of the small size of most of those vendors, might still be unable to fill a request.
Stone expects the business to grow. It takes a while to get your name out there and for people to find out what you offer, she says.
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