How I Started A $185K/Month Baby And Children Vegan Footwear Brand
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Lisa Will and I am the founder of Stonz, a baby and children vegan footwear and accessories brand. I live in and love Vancouver, BC. I am called a Mompreneur but really I was a person always wanting my own business but having a child kickstarted my entrepreneurial journey for me. I’m good at just being an entrepreneur!.
I am passionate about my family, the outdoors, all things sports, and my business! I won’t be talking to you about balance, how easy it is, or having it all at the same time. Having your own business is about taking a passion, creating a space for you to build, or solve for a problem. It is also to experience life as an entrepreneur. This means living and dying by each decision you make. It is the most accountable position I have ever known.
Balance is a popular topic without an answer. That is each of your own experiences. What I do know is for me it was more about remembering what is finite; time, quality experiences, and health. Even money can be made and lost.
My story is one that considers these three finite factors everyday and trying to be as successful as I could within them. My judgment for myself is my kids, my relationships, and my mental and physical health. So far I’m winning overall but it’s a long game. Play it knowing it’s a marathon.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My story started in 2004 with a dream that I could go anywhere, at any time with my 9-month-old, at the drop of a hat! That meant easily and spontaneously getting outside, no matter the weather, and he would love it as much as I did!
As a lover of the outdoors, I was frequently outside, doing anything from tennis, running, windsurfing, skiing, paddle boarding, hiking, biking, camping, or just long walks. To this day I need to be outdoors doing something! So many people told me once you have a child this all would change. I could get my head around not being able to play tennis every day, or continue driving 7+ hours often to Hood River windsurfing Friday night through Sunday, but I couldn’t get my head around not still having spontaneity in my life.
Bringing my infant son on adventures with me was going to be part of life...I was determined. When my son Lachlan was 5 weeks, my husband Mark and I headed to Hood River, Oregon camping. We wanted to see what it was like with an infant and see just how hard this really was. It was mostly a successful trip - we camped in our VW Van with only one trip-up...we overheated our son by wrapping him in so many blankets with worrying about him being cold. Our learning; no matter what it is our kids will tell us. That was the most he cried. Other than that he loved the fresh air, new places, and keeping on the go. More on that to come! I spent the rest of my maternity leave walking, carrying, or strolling him around just to get him to sleep!
While on an outing up at Whistler, Canada with my son Lachlan, now 8 months old, was in my backpack carrier and repeatedly kicking his footwear off, making his feet constantly cold. He loved being out so I couldn’t figure out why he was crying and fussing so much until I realized his footwear was always falling off due to him working them off with rubbing his heels. Also his pants were riding up in the carrier which was exposing his legs.
This added to his crying and continuous unhappiness on this trip. I tried wrapping my scarf around his legs but this lasted about 3 minutes and we were on repeat! Crying and fussiness. Looking back and believing everything happens for a reason, I now know why Lachlan was so fussy that day - he was helping me start pursuing a dream I’d had from the age of 7; Stonz!
I'm fascinated by contemplating nature vs nurture. As a kid I moved around a lot with my parents because my Dad was employed by a bank. Every 2-3 years of my childhood we moved to a new city and this meant new houses, new friends, new and different pastimes depending on the location and the need to adjust and fit in. I am not sure if this was my nature or part of my nurtured part to this day. I remain adaptable, can easily pivot and remain very open to new ideas and adjustments to my life. Perhaps a little too keen on changing things up :)
My entrepreneurship started around the age of 7 or 8, making crafts and having neighbors pay what I thought was extraordinary amounts of money for my painted rocks. This inspired me to move to painted Kleenexes (not my most successful - the ink came off on people’s faces when it was used!). This taught me about how valuable repeat business was and customer acquisition cost! Next was me putting on disco lessons. I had no business doing this! I would be shown a few moves each week by a friend’s mom and later that week held my own sessions, carefully tracking each student’s progress in duotangs. Even writing this seems embarrassing. Amazing I had any friends really!
My most profitable became garage sales, collecting neighborhood gems and reselling them. My friends were interested in a few hours and I could do it all day. They lost interest much sooner than I.
Still I didn't know what this was as a kid and no one in my family was an entrepreneur. In fact as a banker, my Dad would have taught me how not to be one if he could have. Growing up during the 1980’s he saw some disastrous times, with people all around us losing their homes, their cars and having to move away. Entrepreneurship was never going to be encouraged in my family.
I continued being curious and was a child who rarely could go with the flow of being told “this had to be done this way”. I wanted to know why...why did this work like that? Why did I have to do this for this outcome? What if the person telling me was wrong? What if things could be done a different way? What if I could figure that out?
Fast forward to finishing high school and me not being ready to accept that sitting another 4 years day after day with others telling me how things should be done. It’s not that they didn’t know but more that I needed to find out for myself. To test things. To try new ways of working on something. Little did I know this was entrepreneur-like as well. I decided to go to school at night and try getting to work.
I joined a Bank, moved into mining, found my way into a utility then found my happiest work...trading! I had a portfolio of my own, created by my discovery of deregulation of electricity markets and made a career of buying and selling electricity and gas contracts. It was an incredible experience, the hardest I’d ever worked but the happiest I’d ever been. I had also finished my degree in the evenings and done an MBA so that I also had the educational background, should anyone have required it. By 2002, I was fully entrenched in my work and loved every day of it.
I had my son Lachlan in 2003, and this changed everything. I no longer could keep up with markets day to day, hour to hour. It made it almost impossible to go into work at 4:30 am each day with being up throughout the night and be really alert. I needed to make a change. My dream had always been to run my own business. I had a million ideas which I noted daily. And this one day at Whistler with my son, unhappy with cold feet, changed my path.
In 2015 I knew running a logistics warehouse was in itself its own business. I made the decision we would grow our sales and marketing departments and let go of fulfillment.
Describe the process of launching the business.
It was now 2004, and I saw a need in the market for stay-on footwear for kids with chubby feet, who loved being on the go, like me! After searching the market in Whistler and my hometown Vancouver, I didn't find any footwear that would stay-on, go on quickly and easily, and be warm enough to be out for hours at a time. I met up with a friend who had taken a slipper and shrunken it down and I could see it would stay on. I knew I wanted to pursue this idea and I knew I’d be solving a problem. I felt I could run with this. I asked if she wanted to start a business with me. She lived in a different city and she hadn’t had any intention of starting a business. She said she’d think about it and get back to me. A few weeks went by and I was ready to jump into this with both feet. She eventually got back to me and said yes, she wanted to join me.
We incorporated, choosing the name Stonz for a shortened and more Google-friendly version of stay-on. And a name that didn’t sound like a feminine product with wings! I wanted a strong, grounded name that would enable our boots to become an eponym, like Kleenex, Bandaid, or Xerox. A “pair of Stonz” I thought sounded perfect!
Stonz’s initial product launched late in 2004. It was our stay-on bootie that would go over whatever the child was wearing on his/her feet. This could be onesies, knit booties, slip-on baby shoes. Any footwear. And with a fleece lining it could also be worn as main footwear as well as footwear to go over something.
Our first tradeshow was in September 2004 in Vancouver; the Vancouver Gift Show and the Stonz Bootie was introduced. I had returned to work by then but pursued Stonz business in all my spare time and weekends. I was excited to have gained 10 retail accounts with only prototypes from the tradeshow. I knew Stonz was going to have legs to it. The feedback and questions showed me where we need to tweak, do some more work, and keep going.
In 2005 and 2006 I put my sales hat on and hit the road on weekends and after work. My dream was now in action. I wanted to get us into as many retailers as possible and attend as many tradeshows as I could manage. It was mostly me doing the trade shows as my business partner didn’t live in Vancouver and hadn’t chosen to get care for her 3 kids. I was working out of my basement and my garage, creating sewing kits from pieces I had cut for us locally by laser and dies then put together in kits of 50 pairs. I hand-delivered these kits to sewers around Vancouver. I would pick up the almost-finished product from sewers after work, often from somewhat undesirable locations within the city sadly, and finish the product off in my den and living room with trims and packaging. I was so sleep deprived that during a bootie kit drop-off at one of the most drug trafficked corners in Vancouver, I closed the doors to my VW Van and locked my sleeping infant in the van. Panicked, I called BCAA to come to my rescue and free Mikayla. As I stood there looking distraught, a kind-hearted, ex B&E specialist as it turned out, jimmied and unlocked my door, freeing her within minutes! I don’t think she even woke up. It showed me that everyone has a good heart within and I was never as nervous again dropping booties at this sewer’s postal code.
Once I picked the booties back up, they needed to be checked, toggles placed on the boots in some cases, labeled and packaged. They needed to be safe. I knew QC was crucial especially with Children’s products. I began selling locally in Vancouver, Canada for the first year. We added our website in 2006 which attracted some attention. We had a business I was fulfilling from other countries that had found the booties on the web. We were fulfilling retail orders as well as consumer orders nightly from the basement.
Stonz grew into needing more than me driving around to and from sewers; it needed centralization. We need a space with sewers in it, directed daily on what to make. I had had a second child in August of 2005; a daughter named Mikayla. With a year of maternity leave I worked hard to expand the business both on the retail and wholesale side. I returned to work part-time in 2006, worked on both businesses until July of 2007. I decided to give notice to my employer as I could no longer manage both employment and business and spend enough time with my kids. After all - what I had been striving for was freedom to be with my kids!
Stonz needed more space. In 2008 we moved into a large industrial space off Commercial Drive in Vancouver where we would produce and ship all the booties. I was needed there every day.
At the same time the partnership was no longer working; physical distance between us meant she was rarely in Vancouver, the imbalance of work on me and my long term vision for the brand was very different from hers. This was taking its toll on us both. Either one of us could have purchased the business per our agreement and she declined. I purchased it in September of 2008. I was keen to move ahead with other products like Mitts and Bootie Liners as soon as I could. I had a clear vision for Stonz and I needed it put into place quickly.
We launched kid and parent-friendly stay-on mitts in 2009 along with liners for the booties. Norway had been asking for some time for us to make a liner to go inside our versatile shell. We later added natural rubber rain boots to our collection and also the lightest weight kids winter boots on the market in 2012.
I wanted Stonz to be the largest kid-centric brand for children’s outwear. My motto soon became Stonz’s motto; get outside no matter the weather! It’s similar now but a hashtag; #makingoutsideeasy. This way parents and kids would be their happiest, share time together that you never get back and build a relationship and bond for the future.
In 2012, I saw the need to move overseas if we were going to continue expanding. This was bumpy but I did it. We moved to a new location where we housed our product and did our sales, marketing, and fulfillment from there. We expanded our team which was a very keen group of young people doing their best at building something we all had never built before. For them I will forever be thankful. To this day I stay in touch with them.
In 2015 I knew running a logistics warehouse was in itself its own business. We were outgrowing our space and having to expand our equipment to be efficient. I made the decision we would grow our sales and marketing departments and let go of fulfillment.
We moved our goods in 2015 into a third-party logistics warehouse and moved into a funky office space downtown Vancouver where we began a new path of becoming sales and marketing focused. This was the right decision but as the learning continued and in sometimes costly ways, I knew we needed to rebuild our team with both experience and systems. We took sales in-house and hired a marketer. We were on the right track but continued learning what was working and what was not. We still needed to focus operationally before expanding so quickly in sales and marketing.
With the brand now 15 years old it also needed more than me as its idea generator and designer. Stonz has been through the start-up phase in my basement, then the growth of the brand and figuring out where it fits. I called this phase 2. For this next level, 3.0, I sought an external firm to help me revamp the business and launch it again. We have been working for one year with them and the changes have been phenomenal … bringing laughter, excitement, and optimism into our team and business.
It has been challenging. I won’t tell you I’ve been through anything harder. When we succeed in our vision of being a top recognized brand for offering the best solutions when heading outside for both kids and their parents, that is when I will know we have made it.
The team and I are filled with excitement and optimism right now. We are grateful for our trials and tribulations that showed us how, and how not to, move forward. I am thankful for the structure and framework built over the years, allowing us to more easily move Stonz to a bigger dream. Here we come...Stonz 3.0!
Lastly and in reflection, I am eternally grateful to the team members past and present who over the years helped build Stonz to what it is today, helping bring my vision to life. Adding thoughtful new products to our line, expanding our market footprint, expanding our amazing team through careful selection, and selling internationally in over 16 countries. With gratitude.
My mission became to make well-made goods that could be passed on to other children. My mission was to both fill a gap now as well as keep our product out of the landfill.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In starting we had a prototype of the bootie we continued to work on and improve. Every time someone had feedback on the wearability, the sole, the enclosure, the materials, anything we would look into it and improve it. It was through trial and error. It helped a great deal that I had kids that wore them and allowed me to fit-test for everything we made.
At the age of 3 my kids started ski school. This showed me the lack of products for kids in this market for young kids. They were made cheaply and to self destruct in 3-6 months time so they could be sold for a lot less than adult wear. The makers of these products were attempting to tie the amount of time worn by the child to the price and evidently the cost of the good.
This resulted in poorly made products in my opinion. My mission became to make well-made goods that could be passed on to other children. My mission was to both fill a gap now as well as keep our product out of the landfill. I believe we succeeded as we had a phone call last year from a mom who had a pair of Stonz passed down from 11 years ago. I knew the year we made them and she just needed to replace the toggle on them. It made me very proud of us accomplishing our mission.
In 2009 I was able to launch the new mitts for newborn to 6+ years old. I had been poking the thumb back in for years in my kids’ mitts due to them wanting all their fingers in one pocket. I created 4 sizes of mitts; 2 without a thumb and 2 with. Again designed to go on easily and stay on making parents, caregivers, and kids happy! I had repeated requests from young ski instructors wondering if they could get more for their classes of kids. It saved them time when taking a group of 4 and 5 years old to the bathroom, all at once! Easy on and easy off!
In 2012 I began working on more homegrown projects like launching Canada-made winter boots with a factory in Eastern Canada while also searching for natural rubber rain boot factories. My desire for non-off-gassing rain boots began when multiple car rides were giving me a headache and I didn’t know why. The reason became clear it was my kids’ rain boots. The boots I had purchased were either sprayed with glue, chemicals or pulled from a mold that was in contact with toxic chemicals. When we used the boots they off-gassed. Some I had in plastic bags for 6 months and still smelled when I removed them after many many months. I knew there must be a solution.
It’s hard to imagine but when we started Facebook had just launched, there were no influencers nor Instagram. Just some popular moms doing reviews within their own friend groups of products they loved.
I began making natural rubber boots, realized it was the rubber from a rubber tree that allowed for a more natural boot. It does make it less lasting as plastic can last 50-100 years but if done in the right way, using a higher % of rubber, we can make them very durable and still make safe boots for toddlers and kids.
For some reason traces of lead have been known to be in boots for kids. I also made sure I tested our boots for all toxins and are proud to know we haven’t had any boots released with toxins. I’ve even had a mom with a lead-testing gun call us and confirm all 4 other brands she tested had the lead in them but Stonz was the only without. I was happy to know she was happy and was reassured this was the result but I would have been confident in telling her I knew this already. Kids’ safety is our business.
For IP (Intellectual Property) we have trademarked the Stonz name worldwide. We have purchased Stonz domains worldwide, mostly in countries we are currently doing business in or will be soon.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have sold in every way possible. It is interesting to know we are circling back to how we began; through word of mouth.
We began with little money invested and a lot to do regarding marketing. Having 2 people trying to agree on how to spread the word can be challenging, especially having to get agreement on every ad, every cost for sending a blogger product, agreement on what would be a successful opportunity vs one that would bring in something monetarily but just not right now. We agreed to move forward with a small budget. This meant me selling door to door with retailers, and doing as many tradeshows as I could fit into my daily life.
I knew getting the word out meant getting these booties on as many feet as possible. Every time I had them on my kids I would be stopped and asked what they were. I was constantly talking about them. This I knew would work but we needed to get them out there. I had many people contacting me per week and sent a free product in exchange normally for a review almost every time. This propelled our PR activity and increased our exposure.
It’s hard to imagine but Facebook had just launched, there were no influencers nor Instagram. There were some popular moms doing reviews within their own friend groups of products they loved. I thought this was fantastic as these moms needed an outlet to be heard and we needed to get into the hands of moms who loved us. It was a perfect solution, at the right time.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are expecting to double our business over the next few years. We have a big vision and now have the team to start executing this.
We’ve introduced a new shoe called the Shoreline for Spring Summer 2020 and even with COVID having snuck upon us, it is almost sold out. We are introducing an even cooler bootie for this Fall/Winter launching in August and some really awesome new products for early walkers in Spring/Summer 2021.
We want to be the go-to for any time you head outside with your kids. If anyone has suggestions as to what Stonz should look into creating let us know! It may be solving a problem for you or just making something that exists right now better. Our company was built on making a child’s experience outdoors better. We are very open to hearing from you!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Nothing is impossible; it’s just hard work. My kids are living proof of this. Making a team they never thought they’d make, playing soccer in Europe and living on their own at 15. Because I would always ask them “why not you” it has to be someone so why not you?
Whether you believe you can or believe you cannot you are right.
The number one trait for being an entrepreneur is not giving up. Persistence will win.
Executing will win over contemplating even with mistakes that are made as a result.
Your actions must meet your ambitions, and this has enabled me to have very hard conversations with many. It has always led me to a non-emotional logical outcome because if you agree on actions required to get to the ambition of an individual or business then it is a matter of whether or not they are being performed. Most often one cannot deny if those actions are happening or not.
I work and live by this saying; if I had a tattoo or was going to get one this is what it would say! Do my actions meet my ambitions? My kids are sick of hearing me say it. :)
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- ERP: Netsuite
- Customer Service: ZenDesk
- Documents: Microsoft Office (for now - being asked to switch to Google so considering)
- HR: Payworks
- Graphics: Adobe
- Ecommerce: Shopify
- Payment: PayPal, Solupay, ChasePaymentech, FarApp
- Project Mgmt: Asana
- Strategic Software: EOS Traction Tools
- File Storage: Box.com
- EDI: SPS commerce
- Social Media Management: Later
- Social Media: IG, FB, Pinterest,
- Wholesale Sales: RepZio/ShopZio
- Staff Communication: Slack, Zoom
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Favorite books right now:
- Fanocracy (David Meerman Scott)
- Good to Great (Jim Collins)
- Multipliers (Liz Wiseman)
- Jab, Jab Jab, Right Hook (Gary Vaynerchuk)
- Gary Vaynerchuk
- How I Built This
- Robin Sharma
- Tony Robbins
Any advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
You can sketch out your plan, your why, what problem you’re solving, and do your research on if the problem needs solving in the first place. And also if you were to solve the problem what could that potentially be worth monetarily meaning what is the market potential?
Once this is done you’re best to just start executing. Do I wish I could have short-cut some very painful lessons? Yes! Do I wish it hadn’t cost me so much money? Yes! And do I wish it had taken me less time...yes! But here I am and now I feel nothing can stop us now. I feel I have seen everything possible not work but one thing I am sure of is that I haven’t! The difference is I know we will move past it, no matter how hard or how challenging it may look at the time. Having the right people makes all the difference>
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am always looking. When I was a mentee in my previous professional life he taught me that. Always keep your eyes open. What I do know is I would take attitude over aptitude all day long! I’ve had some recent experience with this and had to learn again. Experience is good but won’t fix everything. You need both. We now have a team of members with both and looking for our next amazing member.
- Do What It Takes
If you find you have these values and are interested in joining an amazing team get in touch with us!
Where can we go to learn more?
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