What little boy doesn’t enjoy being a superhero complete with a cape?
That’s what Johnson County mom Jessica Kittle thought when she started her own business, Bros B4 Bows, just two years ago. Bros B4 Bows offers handmade accessories for boys, everything from neckties and suspenders to superhero masks and capes. The Olathe mother of three boys ages 8, 3 and 18 months produces the goods in her Olathe home. Her products are sold online and at a local shop.
Q: Why did you start Bros B4 Bows?
“I just had my second boy and I was frustrated by the lack of boy stuff,” Kittle said. “I needed something for my kids and I wanted them to look cute, too.”
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When her oldest son asked for a superhero cape, Kittle decided to make one for him. Although she had little sewing experience, she watched some videos on YouTube and went to work creating capes, ties and a few other items. She first sold them to family and friends to see whether there was a market for her products, and they snatched them up.
Kittle financed her own business.
“Our business has been debt free since Day One,” Kittle said. “It was fairly inexpensive to start up” with a simple sewing machine she upgraded as profits came in.
“We definitely started small and grew bigger.”
Kittle decided to operate Bros B4 Bows as a limited liability corporation “to make it more legitimate and make our customers feel we’re not just here for one day and not the next,” she said.
Q: How do you market and sell your products?
Kittle is a heavy user of social media — Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — to promote her goods.
To sell her products, Kittle has used three outlets that also promote Bros B4 Bows. Craft and gift shows have provided one outlet; even her husband, Billy, has been involved.
“My husband will dress up like Superman, and we have games for the kids when they come by with their parents,” Kittle said.
Kittle also turned to Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade items, as one channel of sales for her products. In addition, Bros B4 Bows products are sold through the Mommy Shop, an Overland Park market for 60 vendors. Kittle pays rent and a percentage of her sales to Mommy Shop in exchange for her booth retail space and front-of-store services.
The craft and gift shows have provided what Kittle calls “quick money,” while Mommy Shop has provided a consistent revenue stream.
“Etsy has been the bonus,” she said. “Through Etsy our products have been in four countries — Australia, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.”
Kittle said her company name is proving to be a promotional asset.
“We wanted something catchy,” Kittle said. “People want to know what it’s about.”
Q: How do you handle pricing and inventory?
Pricing her products was a complex process for Kittle.
“You have to look at the materials you are using and the time it takes to make things,” Kittle said. “It made the pricing harder because no one else is making these things.”
Kittle would wander through the gift shows to see what others were pricing items for, as well as at the Mommy Shop. She decided on pricing her hand-sewn items between $5 and $50; items can also be personalized to the child.
“You can get a cape at Wal-Mart, but you have to look at the quality,” she said. “Mine will wash and still be together.”
As to inventory, “that’s a work in progress,” Kittle said, and just keeping track of inventory is challenging.
The busiest season for Bros B4 Bows has been September through December.
“We have to make sure we have everything in stock,” she said.
Kittle has gotten a lot of help from her husband, who has his own fulltime work. Billy Kittle tracks the inventory and handles tax issues and other financial details, but that’s not all.
“He does the pre-cutting of all the materials for the super herocapes, works the shows dressing up. … I don’t see many husbands doing what he does,” she said.
“He has even taken sewing lessons, but I do the majority of the sewing,” Kittle said.
Q: You have young children. How is the work-life balance?
“You have to be on your game,” Kittle said, who homeschools her children. “You have to be productive, not just busy.”
Until this month, Kittle had worked for Sprint full time while operating Bros B4 Bows on the side. She took a voluntary separation agreement, “and now I actually have time for product development,” Kittle said. “In 2015, I look to have more products come out, expanding the superhero line and more personalization.”
One area she doesn’t envision moving into is creating girls’ products.
“I will let everybody else have the bows and tutus,” Kittle said. “Any time I run into moms with boys, they thank me for creating these things.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Bros B4 Bows