If Hello Holiday were a person, we’d be best friends with it in a heartbeat. Since it’s not, we suppose we’ll settle for loving it as a store and wishing we could be best friends with its owners, Meg Hunt and Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik. The Omaha, Nebraska-based pair of friends started Hello Holiday as a passion project in 2012, and it’s since turned into a beacon of light in an over-saturated market. It’s difficult to stand out in the online women’s fashion game, but Hello Holiday does so in more ways than one.
For starters, there’s the store’s wide variety of sizes. Hunt and Lorsung Tvrdik have embraced the need for more stylish plus size options, and many of the pieces come in sizes XS-4X. Perhaps what makes Hello Holiday really special, however, is Hunt and Lorsung Tvrdik’s personal touch. Hunt and Lorsung Tvrdik, along with beauty director Rebecca Forsyth, are often featured in front of the camera to not only show their genuine love for the pieces, but as examples of how they can be worn on a variety of body shapes. The pair is also often interacting with customers and bloggers on social media, which gives fans of the store human faces behind the Hello Holiday name.
Of course, one of the best things about Hello Holiday is the pair’s sense of humor. It’s not every store that can boast a selection of feminine Peter Pan collars and necklaces that say “bitch” and T-shirts that read “Hire Me, Fire Me, Whatever.” Free shipping when you use the code “Beyonce?” Hello Holiday just did that last week.
And really, what more could you possibly ask for in a store?
To find out, read our interview below with Meg, who spoke to us about the decision to start Hello Holiday and what really matters when it comes to running a store.
Is your store a brick & mortar establishment or online?
Q: What makes your shop unique?
A: When we founded Hello Holiday, we set out to solve some problems on both the design side and the consumer side. For indie designers, Hello Holiday simplifies the manufacturing and distribution process by offering financing and mentoring. For customers, Hello Holiday offers exclusive designs and fashion without pretense, making good style friendly and accessible to all women.
Q: What made you want to start your business?
A: My partner Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik came into my office one night to borrow my garment steamer. As I worked and she worked, we started talking about what was next for us. I opened up to her about how I felt like I was in a transition point professionally, wanting to get into something more scalable. Sarah told me about how she wanted to take her experience as a stylist and writer and start a boutique — translate her experience into a new career. It was one of those changing moments — a fork in the road where I knew I was about to make a decision that would alter the course of my life. And that day, we decided to just fucking do it!
We started Hello Holiday with backgrounds in design, styling, journalism, and social work. Sarah and I, the founders, are fashion lovers who wanted to create a charming and exuberant approach to style and online shopping that we hadn’t yet seen in the market. We set out to create an accessible, friendly brand that offered sophisticated but whimsical options in fashion for women like us on the brink of a major milestone: Finishing a degree, making a big career leap, buying a house, perhaps a marriage. There isn’t a lot in the market for the customer who wants a little whimsy without looking too childish.
Q: What were the first steps you took to make your store a reality?
A: The first thing we did when we started Hello Holiday was draw up a business plan, which even as a serial entrepreneur was a first for me. We wanted a paper business plan so we could get loans and investors if we decided to take that route in the future. We also immediately began working with a graphic designer and programmer to iron out our brand identity and start building our e-commerce site.
As we grew Hello Holiday, maybe the hardest part was trying to predict the behavior of our customers — what is the eye drawn to first on the page? How do people like to check out and complete the payment process? How do they share? How do they open their packages? And, HOW CAN WE BUILD THAT? Coming up with interactive strategies is hard. Building it is harder. To keep up with our vision for Hello Holiday, we are constantly redeveloping and improving our online shopping platform.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you encountered thus far?
A: Our biggest challenge has been watching our growth like a hawk to make sure we’re getting the profit returns we need to meet the milestones we want to reach this year. We need funds for more inventory, we need funds to keep developing our website, to keep building our team, to buy advertising. We know none of this can happen unless we’re making that sales margin and moving clothes. Our sales are great but my biggest challenge personally has been finding creative new ways to expand our reach to new customers so we can continue to grow and meet our goals.
Q: Describe your role(s) within the company?
A: Frankly, the operations and management side of business is my passion. I feel like I’m GOOD ENOUGH at fashion, and I have an eye for aesthetics, but I’m always the first one to get exhausted when we go to market — the sourcing side of our work can really burn me out! That’s where my partner Sarah and I are so complimentary. With her background in styling and fashion history, and my background in operations and marketing, we both share these interests but respect each others strengths as well. That’s what makes us a great team. Sarah and I have found that we’re incredibly complimentary as business partners.
Working with a partner was probably the thing that made me most anxious when we started out, but I’ve learned so much from Sarah and she’s helped me develop so much professionally and personally — it’s everything you want a good partnership to be. We’ve found that it’s important to talk about our problems not only in our work but personally — there have been times that I carried her and times that she carried me. Since starting our company, she’s had a death in the family as well as her first child, and I’ve gone through a divorce and had a million other crises. A good business partnership really is like a marriage — actually, maybe more than a marriage, as I went through one husband already! As long as we keep communicating and playing to our strengths, we always come up with innovative new ideas for Hello Holiday.
Q: What is your favorite and least favorite part of what you do?
A: My absolute favorite thing about running Hello Holiday is the work we do with indie fashion designers. When we work with emerging designers, these are typically people who have not had a mainstream retail presence before, so we’re working with people who are gaining experience in selling their work. There is some risk there that we take, but with our backgrounds in design and retail we can offer some mentorship and help with wholesaling, as well as a lot of open communication and trust for these designers who are just starting out with their first retail relationships. We wanted to take this risk and help develop new designers because we believe in independent business and want to support other small business owners. We also benefit by having exclusive pieces from these designers not available in other stores, which our customers love.
Q: Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
A: It’s hard to say what’s coming in the next five years — as you know in startup life, sometimes you’re just thinking one day at a time. I can say that Sarah and I are looking forward to doing a Hello Holiday road trip to meet and profile the designers we work with. We want to feature more small collections from beginning designers each month. And we’re also looking forward to opening up a brick and mortar shop. We know that it’s really the Hello Holiday story—Sarah and me, the awesome designers, and the relationship we have with our customers that communicates the value of the company. We want to connect with more people through these stories, because our real passion is sharing the beauty of a woman who just LOVES who she is, knows who she wants to be, and dresses for herself. That’s the Hello Holiday Girl.
Q: What is one piece of advice that you’d give to someone that you wish you would have gotten before starting your own shop?
A: How about five?
1. Don’t feel bad if you don’t grow fast. It takes a LOT of money and a LOT of time to build stuff. If you have both, congratulations, you’ve got more runway. If not, you get to do it right, not rushed. And if you have rent to pay and food to buy and an empty gas tank, I respect and understand the need to grow slower — I’m in the same dang boat.
2. Keep your hands on the things that are important to your company. Stay in control of what matters. In our first investor pitch for Hello Holiday, my partner Sarah and I were told (with much exasperation!) that we should be drop-shipping all of our product, meaning fulfillment centers or the product manufacturers should be sending out orders as opposed to us holding inventory in our office for shipment. That was the moment I was prepared to stand up and leave the meeting, because this venture capitalist was so obviously clueless about the branding value and integrity of being fully involved in our customers’ experiences. Perhaps he forgot that this is not something a company can simply buy — it has to be built organically with trust and communication as a business. In addition to our high customer satisfaction rate with the quality of clothing from Hello Holiday designers, every day people tweet and Instagram about their Hello Holiday packages — the box, the ribbon, the paper, the notes, the occasional extras we stick inside. I am thrilled that Sarah and I follow our guts on this stuff, because there’s no way a fulfillment center could give as much as a shit about our customers as the Hello Holiday team does.
3. When you have children, a family, a personal life, a second business — whatever it is that is demanding your attention–a lot of unexpected things happen that cause you to have to slow down or switch your focus. So expect those challenges, get ready to go off-script, and prepare for the hard parts by having a ridiculous work ethic.
4. Bank money is cheap money.
5. Always write a thank-you note. Just fucking mail it and be a human being.
Q: What has been the best way for you to get more customers?
A: One big thing we do is give our customers an incentive to share their purchases. In each package, we include a card that offers a discount code on each customer’s next purchase if they share their purchase on Instagram. Customers have responded really well to this, and we’ve also been able to source photos of a diverse range of women wearing our clothing that we can use for promotion and product photos. They all respond really well to being able to see different women in our clothing, and the fact that each woman is a “real” customer builds trust and loyalty.
We also find our emerging designers mostly on social media, searching them out on Instagram, Tumblr, and in the blogging community. To grow our sales, we tap into the fan bases of our designers as well as our own amazing readers and followers who are our best brand ambassadors — good customers are the best marketing we could ask for. Thanks to our amazing customer feedback, we’re even planning to open a brick-and-mortar location.
Q: What are your thoughts on the future of retail in terms of online & brick & mortar?
A: One trend that we see in online sales that we expect to continue is the popularity of sharing. Through Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, micro-blogging…we know people are always going to want to share the things the purchase and so we are always thinking of creative new ways to play off of that impulse. Whatever the future of retail holds, Hello Holiday hopes to continue to adapt and change with emerging technologies and trends. We have a huge passion not only for our customers but for supporting the work of indie fashion designers we believe in, and we’re so happy to be a channel to help those entrepreneurs reach the rest of the world!