How These Two ATL Small Business Owners Made It Onto Oprah’s List of Favorite Things for 2021

Two small businesses right here in Atlanta are getting a little bit of help from Oprah and Amazon this holiday season. StepStitches and The Chai Box were selected as part of Oprah’s annual Favorite Things 2021 list on Amazon. On today’s show, we’re pleased to welcome the Owner and Maker at StepStitches, Stephanie Dean, and the Founder of The Chai Box, Monica Sunny.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Folks, thank you so much for taking the time out of your very busy schedule. They’re running your businesses to join us on our show to talk about what kind of an effect and what kind of an impact this has had in your businesses. So I’m going to start with you Monica, talk to us a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey and then we’ll get into what your company does.

Monica Sunny:
Sure. Thank you so much for having me on the show. We are so excited. So we are a sustainable and ethically sourced, small-batch chai company here, and we source from small-scale farmers in Kerala, India. I just have a special relationship with chai because I grew up drinking chai since I was two years old. I’ve been in corporate America most of my life until just a few years ago when I just discovered my passion to be my work. So it just takes me back to my roots and I’m super excited that I’m able to share this craft of traditional chai making and just bring it to people.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That is fantastic. And how long has your business been in business?

Monica Sunny:
We were doing loose leaf teas, it’s about four years ago. About two years ago, we started the concentrate, which is the water-based chai concentrate that you can add to your milk and make it a chai latte or iced chai, so that’s about two years ago. So total about four, four and a half years.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. So looking back on the corporate life, you don’t miss it at all?

Monica Sunny:
No. I don’t. I originally started this business because I was introducing chai to my, I have three teenager boys, and it just started, it was a small family thing, tradition that we did that we shared with our friends and family and 10 years fast forward, it’s a business and I love coming to work. I love blending, so it doesn’t feel like work at all to me.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. And congratulations on all your success.

Monica Sunny:
Thank you.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And of course being named on Oprah’s list on Amazon, that’s just phenomenal. So let’s pick it up right there with Stephanie Dean, owner and maker at StepStitches. I got to first ask you, where did that name come from? It’s awesome.

Stephanie Dean:
Out of the blue, I guess. I was trying to think of a name Stephanie and I stitch, so its StepStitches. It kind of sounded, kind of like stepsisters or something like that. It just kind of flowed, that’s where it came from.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.

Stephanie Dean:
Okay. Well, I am, like I said, the owner and maker of StepStitches. I make by hand, I sew, I’m sure the Cinnamon Annie dolls who were on Oprah’s favorite things and it’s hard to describe them so I just show them and people get the message when I show them. And they are a, I call them a vintage style-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow, those were pretty cool.

Stephanie Dean:
Yeah. Thank you. They’re a vintage style doll with a modern twist. And so they’re of course, based on iconic American doll or hearkens back to that timeframe of vintage dolls, but I kind of updated them for today’s generation. And so by giving them bright clothes, the kind of clothes that little girls would wear today and the fabrics that they would wear today. And so I’m a hand maker, its a handmade business. I do most of the work myself, I have brought on one seamstress after Oprah’s favorite things. I need some help. So I brought on a part-time seamstress, Gigi, who is phenomenal. And so that’s what I do. I work out of my home in my sewing studio and ship dolls. I’m a former teacher, elementary school teacher, and I worked as a social worker for a little while, so it’s kind of in a way, all coming together in a sense now with the doll business.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
So Monica, let me switch back to you. What kind of an impact has this had on your business to be named on Oprah’s list on Amazon? What kind of an impact has that had?

Monica Sunny:
Well, the good thing about this impact is that they give us two and a half month lead time to prep up for it-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Oh, that’s a good idea.

Monica Sunny:
Oprah’s team told us, end of August and they told us to ramp up three, four times what we would normally do for the holiday season. So, we had enough time. Well, after the excitement, the fear came like, “Oh my goodness, how are we going to get all this inventory ready?” But I had a wonderful, a community around, we have our church community. We have our friends, neighbors, my mom, my husband’s mom. So we’ve been working for two and a half months now to put together inventory. And we went on Good Morning America the first day that Oprah released, because they had featured 12 of the brands and we had allocated a significant amount of inventory for that. And within less than seven hours, we were sold out of everything.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Oh my gosh, wow.

Monica Sunny:
So that just kind of shows, it’s real, that Oprah effect is no joke. It’s taking our small business to totally different level.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That is fantastic. Well you can’t leave Amazon out of the mix either, right? To have that-

Monica Sunny:
Absolutely not. The first time I’ve ever shipped a truckload of UPS to Amazon, and it was almost that moment where we shipped, an entire team put all these boxes in the UPS truck to go to Amazon. And I was literally just in tears thinking, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to be on this huge platform. And here’s our stuff that’s going out there, that’s going to be reach to everyone in the world.” So it’s a definitely a platform that has a huge reach.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s exactly right. And it kind of is maybe as you pointed out, might be the defining moment of a small business to say, “Wow. We really are. We’re really a viable company doing now business internationally, right?”

Monica Sunny:
Yes, absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. And Stephanie, what about you? What was your experience like? What kind of an impact has this had in your business?

Stephanie Dean:
It’s had an impact on many levels, including like Monica was saying, just the sales has just been unbelievable. But the other impact that this had also is just, it’s had an impact psychologically with me, just in terms of being affirmed as a business, particularly, I’m such a small business. So you have that effect. It’s had an effect with just the people that I know. It just takes you to a whole different level in people’s minds. So as far as the credibility, as far as the sense of confidence that it gives you and all of that. So I think that’s the other part of it that whenever things get frustrated or tough or whatever, I’m like, “Well, I’m on Oprah’s favorite things. I think I’m doing okay.”

Monica Sunny:
That’s right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Stephanie Dean:
I must be doing something right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s exactly right. And you’re on Amazon.

Stephanie Dean:
Right. So you need that because it’s up and down. One minute, sales are great and everything’s doing wonderful, then the other minute, you’re like, “Why am I doing this,” kind of thing. So its really provided a real effect support wise for me.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. And especially during these times, we’re dealing with COVID, we’re still dealing with it, and really the thick of things just a year and a half ago when COVID hit, a lot of small businesses didn’t make it, right?

Stephanie Dean:
Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
When you think about that, and then you think about where you are today and the other side of this, things are looking up, right?

Monica Sunny:
Absolutely.

Stephanie Dean:
Yes. Definitely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
For sure. Let me ask you Monica, what kind of support has Amazon provided during all of this?

Monica Sunny:
They have dedicated a sales rep just to our team, which is huge because Amazon platform, as big as it is, it’s quite cumbersome to navigate. So they have provided us with not just one, two people on the team to help us get ready for fulfillment, get ready and send in packages.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. It sounds like there’s a lot of support there. They knew better than you know right now in terms of how much of an effect this will have. And Stephanie, did you find the same from Amazon that they were there supporting you?

Stephanie Dean:
Oh yes. Because I had to come on so quickly, if I was going to be on Amazon for my own business decision, I would’ve had more time to kind of figure everything out and work with it, but you got to kind of get on there really quickly. So yes, I got a sales rep who was wonderful. I literally could not have done this without her, Kate. And just the support that you get from Amazon, being a part of this has been… I can’t see doing it without that kind of support because it is something that has to happen so quickly. And like I said, Amazon is Amazon, so you’re stepping into a whole different ballgame with them.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. You’re either buying from Amazon or selling to Amazon, but you’re doing one of the two, some cases doing both, in your case. So at the end of the day, your feeling as though you’re going to be able to grow your businesses very effectively through Amazon, because this will have, I’m sure a long term effect. This isn’t over this week or next, right?

Monica Sunny:
Right.

Stephanie Dean:
Right.

Monica Sunny:
We’re projecting moving towards, I guess through December and then onward. That’s what our team is saying that if people continue to visit Amazon and Oprah’s favorite years down the road.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow. That is really something. So any suggestions for small business owner that are just sitting there thinking, as you mentioned earlier, “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to make it.” You mentioned earlier Stephanie, that you’ve got some tough days there, every entrepreneur goes through that, every small business owner goes through that. What advice do you have, Stephanie, for those that are kind of on the fence about whether or not they should go get a job or stick with their business.

Stephanie Dean:
I understand that most definitely. You just have to hang in there, you just have to continue to perfect or improve your business on some level every day. It could be work on your products, work on your website. You must get, if you’re not on the web, at least have a website, you just got to be on the internet somewhere, because I think so many businesses got caught up that I saw. They got caught up when the pandemic and everything shut down because they weren’t on the internet. So you have to be on the way up and get and work… And I’ll say use the quiet times, the times that you’re not maybe getting all the sales you want, to use that time to improve your business. Because once you get going, you don’t have time to go back and do all those little things, so that’s what I would say.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. Monica, what about you? What advice would you give to other small business owners and entrepreneurs?

Monica Sunny:
Well, I think you just keep dreaming big. Honestly, my dream was to get on Oprah’s favorite ever since I was 12 years old, When I moved to this country, when I was nine years old, I saw her on TV, this woman. And then she came out with her chai… chai I guess, yeah, she did Tijuana chai and I was like, “I really need her to taste my chai.” So I think when the going gets tough, you just have to keep… If you just dream big and it will happen. To me, my dream came true, literally. And now I have an opportunity to dream another dream. But yeah, stick with it. If you trust in your product, if you truly believe in it, it will come, it will come to fruition, for sure.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s absolutely right. I agree with you. And I think so many other entrepreneurs that are listening, agree with you as well. Stephanie Dean, owner, and maker at StepStitches and Monica Sunny, founder of Chai Box. I want to thank you so much, ladies for joining me here on the show. Very much appreciate it and congratulations to both of you.

Stephanie Dean:
Thank you.

Monica Sunny:
Thank you.

Stephanie Dean:
Thank you so much.

Monica Sunny:
Thank you so much.


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