Why We Chose Jennifer McMillian
“Full disclosure: Jennifer is a client and she pays me money. Obviously that made me pretty reluctant to add her to my top 10 list. However, to not mention her would be an even larger faux pas because she has made enormous leaps and bounds as a woman business owner. Just last month she was invited to Amazon headquarters in Seattle, WA by senior management. They chose several women-owned companies who have been successful on their site — and Jennifer was one of them. They also wanted to know more about the launch of her new brand, JennyGems. Wow! This girl knows how to market her products and I’m so thrilled and honored to be apart of the journey. Please meet and learn from her below.”
Tell us how it all started. Why? What’s the story?
I always had the yearning to run my own business. As a child, I worked as a secretary in my father’s electric motor business. I attempted several businesses on my own as a young woman including a mobile disc jockey business, selling magazine subscriptions door to door with a wagon and selling beauty supplies through Avon. While working a full time job in marketing and raising 2 children, my husband and I were struggling to pay the bills and reduce our debt. As a result, we decided to sell our children’s used clothes and toys on Ebay to help supplement our income. We both experienced an instant adrenaline rush with the first few business transactions.
In 2001, we continued to search for items to sell at local estate sales and auctions. We focused on antiques and collectibles. Gradually we shifted our focus to books. In 2007, we moved our thriving bookstore business to the Amazon platform which opened additional opportunities. We gradually began adding closeouts and unique gift items to our inventory. I left my full time job first and my husband David followed a few years later. Our store, First State Trade, offers a large variety of gift and home décor products.
After receiving feedback from our customers regarding the product lines, we recently decided to create our own line. Spending so much time together in our warehouse, generated a lot of laughs, tag lines and jokes. We decided to combine our warehouse conversations with the feedback provided to us by customers into a home décor line of our own. Early this year, we tested a few products under our own brand, JennyGems. The results have been positive! Our full product launch will occur by November with many more exciting products. It’s become a contest within our family to design the most successful selling product. Our product launch will include additional designs by my mother and both of our children.
What is your biggest success so far?
My biggest success in life as a whole are my daughters Jillian and Sarah. They have both grown into strong, smart, successful women. Jillian and Sarah have been key participants in the development and growth of our business. Although they will continue to have roles in the business, Jillian is currently attending law school at American University in Washington, DC. Sarah is currently attending Nursing school at Margaret H. Rollins School of Nursing.
What is the biggest challenge in your industry? What are you doing to deal with that?
My biggest challenge in this business includes constantly adapting and changing to everything and being able to make these changes happen quickly. Consumer behavior changes all the time. A single breaking news event can send the consumer into an entirely new direction. I have to be readily prepared to handle these behavior changes quickly. The complexity of taxation of small business combined with the ability to manage government regulations and requirements is a tremendous use my time and resources. To deal with these challenges I have continue to read publications every single day during any free moment that I have. As time is limited, I have begun to outsource some of these responsibilities.
What advice would you give to a business owner starting out in your industry that you wish you would have known going in?
I never graduated from college. I also faced many big life obstacles and setbacks in my 20s. However, I had a job with a solid salary at a local credit card bank. Even though it was a great place to work with a lot of opportunities, I never felt that I belonged. In 2007 after over 16 years with the company, I was laid off and scared and devastated. On the side, I was selling on Ebay as a hobby successfully for years. My husband encouraged me to give it chance full time. I am so glad I listened and I am so glad I was laid off.
- Make a business out of your passion. In my early days, I met a man who was doing a tremendous business selling antique tools on Ebay. I went to local auctions and bought so many tools. I rarely used tools. That segment of my business eventually failed. I had no interest in tools. I tried to copy someone else’s passion instead of my own. If you do what you love and work with your passion, it won’t be a job.
- There are no shortcuts. I work very hard even on vacation and even in the grocery checkout line, I work.
- Avoid Negative People. They are everywhere. Very few people have supported my decisions and ideas. I didn’t listen to them. So glad!
- Change and Adapt Constantly. If you can’t change everything instantly, you won’t be able to survive in the Ecommerce industry of today.
- Take Risks. Every risk you take is not going to work. Be able to accept that every idea you have won’t sell. Don’t be hard on yourself. Learn from these mistakes. They will make you better.
- Accept rejection and “No” with ease. There will be an abundance of no’s and rejection. Be able to accept it. “No” may also mean let’s re-negotiate or tweak the idea a bit.
- Outsource: You won’t be able to do everything yourself. Seek out services that will save you time. Ecommerce is highly regulated. Set yourself up with a good accountant and lawyer.
What don’t most people realize about you or your company?
It seems that many people don’t realize how hard I actually work and how many hours I put into my business. Just because I am not at my warehouse, does not mean I am not working. I don’t just go home at the end of the work day to relax and watch TV. In fact, I rarely watch TV. I also think many people think what I do is easy. It’s really not. I am not complaining. I am working my passion and love it.
That’s a wrap!
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