One of the most asked questions I get almost daily is how did Pink Lily get started. For those of you all that may not know, Pinklily.com is an online fashion boutique that I started from my home in 2014. It’s quickly grown from a side business to a Multi-Million dollar, Inc. 5000 company in just a few short years and here is the story of how it all came about.
It all goes back to 2011 when Chris and I decided to sell items on ebay as a side hobby. We had over $65,000 in student loans and wanted a way to make additional income. We both worked corporate America jobs but neither one of us felt any sense of fulfillment and we knew there was only a certain amount of income you can make working for someone else. Our goal of becoming debt free wouldn’t be reachable if we didn’t earn some extra money on the side. It started with a tiny little store where we sold random items like golf clubs, usb drives, necklaces and just about anything else random that you could think of. It did pretty well and was fun to learn more about how the internet world worked with online shopping.
Fast-forward to 2013, our son was born and I was home on maternity leave with no income. We hadn’t been selling as much on Ebay and decided to give it another go. I bought a few hundred dollars worth of items from vendors and started focusing more on items that appealed to women (makeup, jewelry, purses, monogrammed items.) It quickly picked up and we were soon making a few hundred dollars extra a month that we reinvested into more inventory to sell online.
After a few months of selling strictly on Ebay and Etsy, I decided to start a Facebook Group to sell to local women. I added in fashion items like clothing and started posting on the group daily. Chevron scarves were a massive hit, and I was selling them out of my trunk like crazy. All of this was done on the side and I still worked full-time selling insurance during the day. My nights and weekends quickly turned into working hard to get product listings, posting the content, taking orders over the Facebook group, communicating with vendors and ordering inventory, meeting up with local shoppers to shop my items (from the trunk of my vehicle) and shipping orders out. My son was just 6 months old and my husband commuted to and from Nashville at this time for work and was getting his MBA so we were VERY busy. The Facebook group quickly grew from a few hundred members to over 10,000 members in a very short period of time. Women from all over the country were joining in and placing orders from me in this group. Nothing was automated and it took so much of me time so we knew we had to do something differently.
This is where our website came into play. After spending my weekends driving around town meeting people to deliver their order, and having people come to my house and shop, we decided it was too much hassle and we realized this method was too time-consuming. We needed a website where we could just allow the shopper to get on the site and shop around and place their order. We decided on the name “Pink Lily” and secured the website domain. I focused on identifying vendors and securing the initial product selection. Chris got the business and website up and running. We had a cheap, slow, clunky, website that launched pinklily.com on December 30, 2013.
Before we launched the site, Chris and I had discussed that our goal for the entire year in sales would be $50,000 in revenue. Our plan was to continue working full-time and running the site on the side just as we had been doing. We had no expectations other than that.
Within the first few days of the site being up, we started having orders come in from all over the country. I remember packaging an order out for California and being amazed that someone so far away found my new little online boutique and decided to shop with us. It was so amazing and such a great feeling. The website quickly picked up traffic as I continued to focus heavily on posting on Facebook for the new boutique page. At the time, Facebook was a much easier platform for businesses to be seen organically. The Facebook page quickly grew from a brand new page to over a few hundred thousand followers in just a couple of months. I was blown away.
By April, Chris and I made the decision for me to leave my full-time job to give this side business my focus. It was growing so rapidly but really hard for the two of us to come home each day and package up 50-100 orders a day after putting our son to bed. We were exhausted trying to juggle it all and knew that we could eventually make more money selling items online than I could make selling insurance. Our family members thought it was insane. No one walks away from a $70,000/year job with benefits to take a risk and sell items online. Orders weren’t guaranteed and we had a mortgage and child to worry about. The comments came in but we stayed positive and knew we were on to something. I had high hopes and followed through with my gut.
Just 3 months later, Chris walked away from his job too. At this point, we were 7 months into our business and had surpassed over a $1 million dollars in sales. We were still packaging orders right off of our dining room table and storing the inventory all over our house. When family or friends would come visit- we would roll the clothing racks into our master bedroom. Shipping supplies and inventory basically took over the entire 1800 sq. foot home. Jackson had just turned one at this point and was walking and we quickly realized that he was going to eventually pull a clothing rack down on him and get hurt. We had to get a warehouse.
We leased our very first warehouse that month which was an old hair salon and around 1500 sq. feet. We were so naive thinking that it would be plenty of room to store our inventory and fulfill the orders. By September, we were completely full and out of space in this warehouse. We had 5 employees and needed something larger than 1500 sq feet. We found a warehouse on the opposite side of town that was actually a warehouse (not an old hair salon) and moved there just one week before Black Friday. This isn’t something I would ever recommend doing. The new warehouse had so much space and we just knew we would be able to grow the site and our team and be there for a while. Or so we thought.
We rounded out the very first year in business with over 4 million dollars in sales and pushing 800,000 followers on our Facebook page. This little dream of ours had turned in to a highly successful online business and I was so grateful.
The first two years, Chris and I handled almost EVERYTHING from vendor contracts, insurance, leases, buying, marketing, customer service, payroll, staffing, fulfillment, website, etc. Our business degrees definitely helped us out in this situation.
We knew that we needed to hire more employees to eventually handle these things but we were quickly running out of space again. The warehouse was going to only work for a little while longer so we would have to make a decision on what we wanted to do.
It was in April of 2015 when my daughter was born that I realized we had to do something to get more employees and more space. I came back to work when she was just 1 week old because I wore too many hats and the business couldn’t grow without me there. Most small business owners know that you can’t really step away from your business very long unless you have plenty of people to handle what you usually do. We decided to buy a few acres of land right down the road so we could build a much larger warehouse and could build out more teams to grow the business.
In 2016, our 25,000 sq. foot warehouse got completed. We just knew this warehouse was big enough to last forever and we could finally start hiring more employees. We built out the marketing team and added an assistant buyer to help me with buying the inventory. Chris handled most of the operations, hiring, and finance side. We had a warehouse manager that handled the inbound and outbound. We had over 20 employees at this time.
In 2017, our sales still continued climbing and we needed more inventory to keep up with demand. We decided to use the rest of our land to add on to our warehouse. We added in over 25,000 additional square feet for the warehouse, photoshoot room and office spaces. Total operation was a custom-built 50,000 square foot fulfillment center that housed the entire Pink Lily Headquarters. Business was booming!
By 2018, we were named an Inc. 5000 company and featured in Forbes.com, Huffpost and several other publications. We became one of the fastest growing online boutiques in the country. We were shipping anywhere from 750-1500 orders a day.
2019 continued to see 2x growth from the previous year. Most of the profits were reinvested to grow our inventory selection and hire more people. As the business grew, the entire operation became more complex, so we started hiring more senior-level employees. The traffic on the website would sometimes see 100,000 hits per day! Order volume continued to climb, and we started to wonder if our 50,000 square foot building would last us as long as originally thought. We reached almost half a million orders shipped this year.
So far 2020 has definitely been the most challenging, and busiest year yet. My sweet daughter, Reese, was born on January 1st of this year. I worked from home for a few weeks and then returned back to the office in February. Not ideal but still necessary for me to get back in there since we had new managers to train and larger projects on the horizon. Everything seemed pretty normal up until this point in 2020.
Fast forward to mid-March when the national pandemic took over the country, I became so scared for my not-so-little business that we had built. Everyone was put on lockdown which meant that some of the items we had on the site to sell were no longer relevant. It was my first time running a company during something like this and I will go more into details in another post soon. At first, sales dropped and we feared having to lay people off. Luckily for us, it turned around quickly though and by April our website traffic and sales started to return to projections. By June, we had blown our projections out of the water and traffic was at an all time high. We were struggling internally with space and staffing. It’s been a challenge for us for several months now.
With all the growth, we knew that our warehouse just wouldn’t be able to hold the increase in inventory and room to continue to hire. We decided to bite the bullet and sign a lease on a new 160,000 sq foot warehouse where we will move some of the operations to in January 2021. We will have 2 warehouses and over 200 full-time employees to start the new year.
Pink Lily really has become the American Dream for us. What started out as a small little side hustle right in my home has turned into a massive operation. I am so incredibly proud of what Chris and I have built from the ground up. I get to wake up and do what I love every single day. It’s definitely been harder than I ever expected at times but worth it in every way.