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LEARNING CURVE | Mom’s little idea turns into thriving business online and in-store

Unique range of items for children and adults all produced locally using only SA materials

Little & Co’s owner Annette Griesel recently set up shop in Walmer, Gqeberha
GROWING BUSINESS: Little & Co’s owner Annette Griesel recently set up shop in Walmer, Gqeberha

Former biokineticist Annette Griesel had a little idea and, 12 years later, Little & Co is a thriving business.

The mother-of-two uses her passion and skills for embroidery and sewing to make unique items for children and adults.

Even though the Gqeberha resident’s online clothing business is doing well, she wanted to open a store in Main Road, Walmer, so her clients could have an enjoyable experience touching and feeling the items that have been made with so much love.

“I’ve had my online store for many years now, and each year our target markets are more and more technologically advanced and not scared of online shopping, so our online store is a nice security for me,” she said.

“I know more or less what I can expect as an income from there each month.

“Having said that, there’s a large part of our target market, the grandmothers and so on, which is not comfortable with online shopping and finds the process frustrating.

“That is one of the reasons we find a physical store attractive.

“Another reason is our quality. We know that we are using the best quality cotton you can find, but unfortunately you cannot feel that through a screen, and we love the oohs and aahs when clients touch the garments.”

Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started?  

My family moved here from Bloemfontein about three years ago. I started Little & Co 12 years ago while living in the small eastern Free State town of Bethlehem.

I was able to sew and embroider by hand and I made a friend something for her baby shower. At that baby shower, I received my first order. At the time, I was still working full-time as a biokineticist and making baby clothes at night.

Six months after I started, we moved to Bloemfontein and I decided to quit my “day job” to do Little full time. I gave myself three months to see if it would be financially worth it to do it full-time, and here we are.

What is your core service?

To provide good quality clothing, accessories and homeware, all made in SA. I am extremely passionate about South African small businesses. We have so much to offer and our quality is world-class. 

What makes your business unique?

The fact that we have never used imported material for our clothing. We only use 100% pure cotton woven for us in SA. We use local artists to paint our artwork for us by hand and then we digitally print the artwork onto our cotton.

All of this is very expensive to do in SA, but we are proud of the ripple effect that manufacturing here has on other businesses and industries. If you walk into our shop, everything you see is either manufactured by us, or bought from a local South African brand.

We are also very excited about our gifting section in-store. We do not want it to be only a baby and toddler store, we’d like clients to stop there for a good cup of coffee, fresh flowers for their home or a beautiful gift for a friend.

We will also soon be opening our seating area, which will have a play area for kids.

Little & Co clothing
Little & Co clothing
Image: Supplied

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

I have received that question so many times throughout the years that I actually started a consulting business in 2020, where I help people who want to start their own business but don’t know how or where to begin. It can be extremely overwhelming.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?

Having enough stock. In the very beginning we only worked on orders, because we personalised every garment. This is a nerve-racking way of doing business because you are never “ahead”, you always have a list of orders waiting for you and you are limited to what you can produce in a day.  

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

Know exactly who your target market is and what you want to do, and stick to it. Do not start too big as you do not want your start-up capital to be stuck in products that are not selling. Rather start smaller, and be able to grow quicker because you have capital readily available.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?

Social media — it is an art. Your online sales are dependent on whether your target market sees your posts. I have a company which does ours for us as I’m not IT savvy enough, and it’s one of the best things I’ve done for my business. 

Another challenge is making sure that our clients get value for their money. To manufacture in SA is far more expensive than to import goods, but the quality, the jobs we provide and the low carbon footprint we leave mean the slightly more expensive price tag makes sense.

What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?

That success has nothing to do with your bank balance. 

I believe that we are on earth for each other. A job, however important or insignificant you might think it is, is just that — a job. Some days it will be amazing, some days it will be hard, but what you do for a living does not define who you are.

I would be so grateful and feel successful in life if I was a good mother to the children that God gave me, a good wife to my lovely husband and a good friend.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

I measure it by being able to grow and by being sustainable for more than a decade.

I have grown to love the business side of what I do so much — I think that often creative people struggle with that, because we just want to make pretty things. I love educating and sharing my knowledge in the field. I feel successful when someone tells me they’ve learnt something valuable from me.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

Good customer service. 

I want clients to want to come back to our store because they had a good experience. We have beautiful packaging, we try to have new stock every week, it smells nice, there’s fresh flowers, good coffee, music — we want a visit to our store to be something a client looks forward to and wants to come back to very soon.

I don’t let my emails pile up.

I only allow myself to buy new stock and so on, after my overheads have been covered. 

What kind of advertising do you do?

We do social media advertising. I also love working with influencers and bloggers.

What is your company’s vision?

To be a beautiful store, where you want to stop once a week because you know you will find something unique and special there, and you also know that by spending your money there you are directly supporting other South African businesses. 

I would love to have a Little & Co in each province. 

What is your target market?

Our main target market is mothers, toddlers and babies. 

What have some of your highlights been in running your business?

Every time I open a store it is definitely a highlight. We were featured on KykNet’s Kwêla programme last year. 

I feel extremely honoured if someone chooses to dress their baby in a Little & Co outfit as their first outfit after being born or for any big occasion in their baby’s life. It is a highlight every time we get tagged by our clients on social media.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

Extremely important. I honestly do not think you can run a profitable online store without having a good and consistent online presence.

How many people do you employ?

Four people full-time, eight people part-time.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?

I would love to have a Little & Co in each province. I’ve debated about franchising for quite a while. I’m not convinced yet, I think because we manufacture as well, and owning the stores will be a better move. 

How did you acquire funding for the business?

I really started with the profit I made from my very first order. I did not have any start-up capital, I was very young and did not think my business would grow to where it is. I must admit that growth would definitely have been quicker if I had had funding from the start.

I think people are “scared” of funding, but remember, you cannot expect to sell R10 a month if you only have R2 worth of stock. As the business grew and I wanted to expand, I did get private investment. 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

Don’t sell only what you want to buy.

What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Gqeberha?

I took a while before I decided to open a store here. I knew I could not just copy my Bloemfontein store, so I took a while to make sure I knew what I think [Gqeberha] clients were looking for.

The one challenge was finding a good location. I knew I wanted a spot in Main Road, Walmer, but it had to be road-facing and convenient for mothers in terms of parking and so on. My online store was a big advantage, because I already had many clients in the city.

Another advantage is definitely our partnership with Klinicare. We have a small section in their Lorraine branch which has aided me a lot in getting to know what clients in the city are looking for.

What would you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

Being positive. If your personality does not do well with the unknown, then you will find being an entrepreneur very stressful. 

Being hard-working. Often people leave their 9-5 job to become an entrepreneur because they think they will work fewer hours, but that could not be further from the truth. I love what I do because my hours are flexible, I am able to be with my children when they need me and when I want to, but for me to do that I work when everyone else is sleeping.

Being a good leader. You mirror what you want your company and its employees to be and look like. 

What would you say are the key traits of a successful employer?

Being approachable, showing appreciation and being fair.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

I really wish people knew how my heart feels every time they support my business, I feel hopeful, happy and relieved every time I see an online order coming through and every time someone walks out our store with a package in hand, with each purchase I am thankful because I know I will be able to pay salaries and rent and keep my business running.

There’s no 35-year-old mom doing a happy dance when you purchase from a large chain store, but believe me, I can show you my dance!

We did a survey last year and found that by buying something from our brand, you are directly supporting eight other businesses and indirectly supporting about 100 South African households.

Now doesn’t that make you feel like doing a happy dance as well?



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