Vera Bradley Designs
It's a long way from the basement to the big time, but Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia Miller have taken their line of women's luggage, accessories and clothing from trunk sales in their homes to major markets around the globe. The story began when the two new neighbors discovered they shared an interest in fashion design. They soon noticed that women lacked functional, attractive luggage form business trips. With $500 and the name of Barbara's mother, they developed some prototypes for soft, quilted duffel bags and purses.
The items were the hit of an in-home clothing show, and demand grew. Barbara and Patricia soon found themselves searching for experienced seamstresses, deals on wholesale fabric, and -- perhaps most important -- sound business advice. The two designing women contacted the Ft. Wayne chapter of SCORE.
The good business habits we learned from SCORE served Vera Bradley Designs well as the company began to take off. In just three years, the firm topped $1 million in sales and has enjoyed steady growth ever since. In 1987, Barbara and Patricia received one of Ernst & Young's coveted "Entrepreneur of the Year" Awards.
Today, Vera Bradley Designs' 200 employees produce over 800 products from a 25,000 square-foot manufacturing center in Ft. Wayne. The number of buyers has grown from local stores to thousands of retailers throughout the U.S. and overseas. In addition, Vera Bradley products are prominently exhibited at over 20 industry tradeshows each year. Barbara was one of the first women on the board of the prestigious Chicago Gift Show and serves on the Board of Directors of the Gift Association of America. Barbara and Patricia's success story has also been chronicled in numerous newspaper and magazine articles as a proud example of other aspiring businesswomen to follow.
We contacted the Ft. Wayne SCORE and found our match in volunteer mentor George Cook, who applied his extensive background in corporate finance to help Barbara and Patricia develop a business plan, and establish bookkeeping and an inventory procedure. "From the very start, George insisted on a balance sheet, profit and loss statement, and inventory report every month, no matter how tiny the list of figures," recalls Patricia.
"George never told us what to do or how to do it. He would ask questions that helped us find the solutions for ourselves. We were very lucky to connect with somebody whose business expertise complimented our creativity. I'm sure SCORE does that for everybody. They are a fantastic organization."
Even with their many business accomplishments, Barbara and Patricia never hesitate to contact SCORE and George for advice. "George's help is invaluable," Patricia says, "and he's never too busy to offer guidance."