As a lifelong knitter, Marianne Wakerlin knows all about the intricacies of creating multi-colored patterns for sweaters, hats and scarves. She never dreamed that turning her hobby into a successful business would prove to be just as tricky.
When the former financial planner moved from Chicago to Vermont in 1999, Marianne searched for a way to generate a modest income and still have time to enjoy the low-stress environment of her new home. Her distinctive handmade socks had always been popular among friends and acquaintances, so she began exploring ways to manufacture them for sale via stores and clothing wholesalers. However, Marianne had no history to draw on for production costs, distribution, or whether the textile technology existed to accurately reproduce the designs. She didn't even know if there was a market for socks priced at more than $20 a pair.
Marianne kept in close contact with SCORE during the two years it took to identify manufacturers and wool supply sources, modify the sock designs, and fine-tune the production process—a task that many textile industry experts deemed impossible. Marianne's patience and persistence paid off, resulting in a cost-efficient production process.
Along with trying to perfect the production process, Marianne has been busy attending trade shows to attract the interest of potential vendors. Fueled by the socks' popularity as Christmas gifts, she saw sales jump from $8,000 in the first year to $110,000 in 2001. Because the socks can be produced only in limited quantities for now, she's taking a measured approach to expanding her business—an approach that includes working with Stuart Pompian and SCORE.
Marianne faced many hard questions before she could start her business. Luckily, she didn't have to find the answers on her own. SCORE Mentor Stuart Pompian helped Marianne identify a wide range of start-up issues such as developing a business plan, preparing financials, and identifying potential accounts. He then provided Marianne with the resources and guidance that helped her uncover the answers she needed, and coached her through the sometimes intimidating process of applying for a line of credit to finance supplies and inventory.
“Each step in the process of developing my business was overwhelming,” says Marianne. “SCORE helped me focus on the important issues. I can honestly say I don’t know how I could have done it alone. I really think I would have given up.”