While touring the Netherlands in a converted fish truck, rock musician Pumpkin Wentzel thought, "It may be time to settle down. There are plenty of grunge bands out there combing the continents, but what isn't here, that needs to be?"
Nearing 30 years old, she wanted a new, more stable career that could put some food on the table. She thought of her sister and her best friend, both pregnant and complaining that they had nothing to wear. She knew exactly what was needed—hip, quality, maternity clothes that reflected today's fashions. She wanted to design maternity wear for the overly refined. "Pregnancy," she thought, "should not mean a radical break from personal style."
Pumpkin set out to create this new, barely-touched market. Although she knew nothing about business, she envisioned solving the "maternity-wear crisis" and being a great resource for moms-to-be around the world. Excited by the vision of her new "maternity empire," she went to SCORE for some advice on how to get started.
At the same time that she was planning her new business, Wentzel was planning her wedding. Feeling generous at this occasion, many friends and family offered gifts and loans to help start Pumpkin Maternity. With an original investment of $15,000, Pumpkin launched her business.
Two months after their first meeting with Abe, the first Pumpkin Maternity catalog was printed and Pumpkin was officially "in business." As newlyweds, she and Charlie were designing clothes, taking phone orders and warehousing their entire inventory in their fifth-floor New York City apartment.
Due to good press and word-of-mouth, sales quickly took off. In the first six months of business, Pumpkin was able to lease office space. "We were able to move shipping and receiving off the foot of our bed!" says Pumpkin. After the first year, she hired a company in Charlottesville, VA to handle all of the order placements, shipping and inventory.
Two years later, Pumpkin Maternity is a thriving mail order and e-commerce business that has been featured in Vogue, Glamour and Instylemagazines, to name a few. Pumpkin has also sold her designs to chic boutiques in Miami and Los Angeles. A total investment of $25,000 has led to $210,000 in sales. Pumpkin maintains a design studio and showroom in New York City.
Pumpkin's plan is to create a complete one-stop shopping mail order and Web store for pregnant women. A catalog will not only carry maternity clothing designed by Pumpkin Maternity, but other items that pregnant women have difficulty finding—such as undergarments.
"We have made a mockery of the 'no-profit in the first five years' rule," says Pumpkin. "Somehow we watched ourselves, a pair of rock-and-rollers, emerge from the underground to find a niche in the mainstream. We've also made some progress in solving the global crisis in maternity clothes—now pregnant ladies can no longer say, 'There's nothing to wear.'"
Pumpkin and her husband Charlie met with New York SCORE mentor and veteran of the garment industry, the late Abe Greenberg. Abe grilled her on her marketing strategy and questioned all of her design choices. He asked the "why" questions like "Why these clothes at these prices?" And, he asked the "what-if" questions like "What happens if . . . a stray pin pricks a pregnant belly?"
Pumpkin and her husband were forced to face the tough questions that were sure to meet them head-on before long. "I began to crumble," admits Pumpkin, "but I realized that these were the questions that had to be answered and Abe Greenberg thankfully had the gall to ask them."