Elizabeth Heard White and Taylor Miller are business owners with two distinct stories on their road to success as entrepreneurs. Today, though, they’re excited to unveil the intersection of their pair of paths! Read on to find out why Elizabeth ultimately decided to sell her barrette brand to fellow style enthusiast, Taylor, plus you’ll pick up a few small business ownership tips along the way.
What was your dream vision for yourself as a business owner when you first started out?
Elizabeth Heard White: At first, it took awhile for me to tell people what I was really working on when they asked. Once I became more comfortable in my own skin, I began to feel confident that the barrettes I was making on my living room floor could really be something if I devoted the time and energy needed to make them happen. As I worked on the line, I began to realize that the Elizabeth Heard brand and products had become an extension of my very self. The Elizabeth Heard girl seen on our site became a persona of my own aspirations to live a life full of flair.
I labeled the girl who wore our product in her hair as someone with “flair,” and took traditional elements such as the barrette and added a twist to them through the use of fresh materials such as agate or cork. To me, these changes from the norm added spunk and interest that reflected the spirit of the girl wearing them in her hair. Over time, the barrettes turned into something bigger than a hair clip; they became a way for gals to celebrate individuality as they dance to the beat of that drum.
Taylor Miller: Hazen began 15 years ago as a total hobby. Rather quickly, that hobby developed into something that required more and more of my time and became profitable. All the while, making jewelry was something I did simply for enjoyment, as my primary focus was on being a student. While a freshman at Southern Methodist University, I realized that the past 10 years of “just making jewelry” had actually built something “real,” and that it would be a shame to not see what that could become should it have my undivided attention. Upon deciding to pursue Hazen full-time post-graduation, I set out to continue building this entity that was still in its infancy. The result of building anything is that you make an impact; you touch lives when you interact with others and put a product into the world that wasn’t there before you made it. That is largely what we are still doing today. We are not a non-profit, but our impact is no less significant. We touch many lives daily and my main goal in doing all that we do at Hazen is to do our work well, create a quality product, love those with whom we interact and share a joyful spirit all the while.
What tools did you utilize early on to ensure your business was structured for success?
EHW: I have a background in magazine editorials and public relations, so when I launched the business, I really utilized the skill set and network I had from these previous roles in New York City to build buzz surrounding the brand from the very beginning. I read countless business books and articles on entrepreneurship in various fields and took notes on tips and tricks that others had found successful, to apply them to my own business. I also started to place promo cards in bathrooms at trade shows or goal boutiques to target who were deemed the “coolest” stores in a city, with hopes that others notice and associate. I did not have the funds to really do much, but by thinking out of the box and hustling smart we were able to grow fast.
TM: Not taking on debt or outside investment has given me such freedom in the initial stages of Hazen. It has allowed me the space to think creatively and gradually mold and build a business that is the product of many changes in thought and direction. Only such initial freedom could give me the confidence to determine what it is that I want Hazen to be in the long haul and why.
What have been the hardest parts about owning your own small business?
EHW: I’ve learned that owning a small business is so much more than selling a product or service. Managing people, expectations and your sanity all at once can sometimes be a challenge. I am continuing to learn more about how to run a small business: how to prioritize, compartmentalize and how to best use my time and energy to achieve the best results.
TM: Balance. It seems to be a buzzword nowadays, but I would argue that’s for good reason. Aiming to achieve balance is nothing short of a constant effort. As a small business owner, you are not only attempting to find a work/life balance, but you are trying to find a balance among the varying responsibilities required of you at work. The entrepreneur very rarely leaves work at work—a result of the shortage of time, yet urgency, of tasks required to run a business. Particularly in the initial stages, you find yourself with very few individuals to whom you can delegate and a mere 24 hours per day in which to accomplish a variety of tasks. Then, just when you think you might have balanced the equation, your demands and available resources change, and you’re back to the drawing board. All of that being said, this ever-changing challenge of small business feeds the entrepreneurial spirit and keeps us engaged and quick on our toes, and who doesn’t love that?
EHW: That is so true! I’m not a big believer in balance, as the scale is bound to tip in one direction, but it is so crucial to be thoughtful about your time and where you are spending it.
What were the biggest determining factors for you deciding to sell your business?
EHW: Since the origin of the Elizabeth Heard brand, I have also been working in PR in both a freelance and full-time capacity. It has been amazing to watch the two businesses merge together organically and feed off one another in ways I would have never foreseen. My background in PR helped propel the barrettes and has given them credibility that they may not have had initially. The success of the barrettes served as the first case study for my PR work. Last spring, I formed Domino Media Group, a brand-driven PR and consulting firm, in Atlanta.
The name Domino came about because I’m a big believer that access to the right tools and team creates a domino effect for your brand. With that in mind, I set out to create a firm that helps like-minded businesses build the type of buzz that can help propel them to their goals. Currently, Domino is in the process of taking on a very big but exciting challenge; we are working to create a suite of resources that will empower everyday businesses to tackle their own PR with confidence and know-how. To do so effectively, something had to give. I eventually cut back on the time spent on the barrettes to more acutely focus on helping others achieve their business goals. Taylor is a great friend of mine and a trusted source when it comes to running a small business. The idea to potentially sell and have our product offerings under her umbrella came about pretty serendipitously. I feel fortunate that the person who is carrying on the brand that I’ve worked hard to create is someone that I both admire and trust.
Conversely, what were the biggest determining factors for you deciding to buy Elizabeth’s business, Taylor?
TM: Long before I met Elizabeth, building a lifestyle brand that extends beyond the jewelry space has been the hope for Hazen. Over the past 15 years, I have been very mindful of timing and waiting for doors to open rather than prying them open white-knuckled. When the conversation began about Elizabeth wanting to focus on Domino, I knew a door was opening and that it was time to walk through.
If you could give one piece of advice to creative business owners looking to buy or sell a small business, what would it be?
EHW: Know your company’s numbers, worth (company value and its personal worth to you) and present it in a package that someone can easily continue to build on from what you started. It is always a good idea to begin with the end in mind, so I would recommend incorporating a flexible exit strategy to your current business plan if you’re interested in selling at some point.
TM: Ensure that you are buying a company owned by someone you trust. I not only trust Elizabeth’s word, but I also trust how Elizabeth thinks. This trust gives me such freedom to rest assured that everything Elizabeth poured into her company long before I entered the picture was done with good intention, and I wouldn’t want for Hazen to align with anything short of that.
Elizabeth, why did you ultimately decide to sell your business to Taylor?
EHW: There is no better person than Taylor to whom I could have sold our offerings to. My dad, an entrepreneur, always told me that by looking at the CEO of a company, you can roughly tell if that business will be successful or not. Taylor started her jewelry business at age nine and was hustling product at trade shows in middle school while most (including myself) were occupied with weekend plans. I admire her strength, tenacity, creative juice and leadership ability—a true girl with flair. Therefore, I am confident that the brand could be in no better hands moving forward. I am so excited to watch what she’ll do with the time, energy and resources to invest in its growth.
What was it about Elizabeth’s brand and business model that attracted you to the deal?
TM: There are some people (fewer than one might think, I would add) who “get” this generation of consumers; I think Elizabeth is one of them. Elizabeth has an incredibly creative mind that thinks outside of the box in order to make beautiful things happen. The acquired hair accessories line for Hazen opens the door for Hazen to step into its product expansion season while minimizing risk as it takes on a well-established product that fits seamlessly into the product array of Hazen’s existing retail accounts. In addition, the opportunity to work closely with Elizabeth to think through strategies on how to reach today’s consumer has proven invaluable.
Name a few fellow business owners whom you admire. Can you tell us in a few words how they each inspire you?
EHW: Aside from Taylor, I honestly have an admiration for all creative entrepreneurs, small business owners and those who are productive and kind to others. A few other business owners I admire are my grandmother, dad, co-worker Sarah Slaughter, the Bumble team and Mallory Jones of Rinnovo Studio.
When my grandmother was very young and a single mother, she managed a multi-family real estate complex to support her three boys. When her roof needed to be replaced and her loan was denied, she got creative. After calling the local papers, she convinced a pal to join her on the roof as she thatched it herself in front of the town and more notably, the paper’s editor. Not only was she featured on the paper’s front page, the bank called shortly after to offer a loan. She is one of my absolute favorite people. Today, my dad owns the business. He is as hard-working and honest as they come.
My friend, Mallory Jones, behind Rinnovo Studio, is the definition of a go-getter. I love it and find it so refreshing when someone does not say something cannot be done, but simply just finds out how. When she launched her brand, she cold-called stores until her first orders rolled in from major department stores. She reminds me that all is possible!
I went to college at SMU with Bumble founder, Whitney Wolfe. I am continually blown away by all that the company is doing to change dating norms in a fresh, creative and positive way!
Last, but certainly not least, I really admire my co-worker, Sarah Slaughter, for putting up with my wild ideas, keeping us organized and inspiring a good company culture, which has been key to our growth.
TM: There are so many to choose from—and how cool is that in and of itself? Tory Burch and Aerin Lauder particularly come to mind as admirable as I can’t help but feel similarly aligned in that we’re all creating products. They decided that there is, in fact, room for their products in the market, and they have showed the consumer exactly why they should want them—that’s a brave thing to do. It is not easy to put your designs into the market to be critiqued, but they did just that and with great confidence. Burch and Lauder are proof that if you make a beautiful, quality product, know your consumer and tap into the right marketing and retail platforms, your consumer will engage with you.
What’s on your to-do list for this week?
EHW: Right now, the Atlanta AmericasMart is in town. I am gearing up for a week of meetings, panel discussions (the event brings the best speakers to town) and trying to plan my wedding. Hoping I get further this week than last!
TM: Everything from packing for Atlanta AmericasMart and proofing new logo packaging to working on fresh spring barrette and jewelry samples, all the while attempting to squeeze in an early morning walk with some of my dearest friends and advisors who can continuously speak truth and encouragement into my day to day.
I feel fortunate that the person who is carrying on the brand that I’ve worked hard to create is someone that I both admire and trust.
You work out of Atlanta and Dallas. What unique opportunities have your respective cities offered you and your brands?
EHW: Atlanta is amazing. There’s so much happening in town right now and I love being part of the creative buzz of the city. From the growing tech to film scene, Atlanta offers an array of opportunities and is attracting leaders in every field to town. In addition, I currently work out of a co-op work space with close to a hundred other business owners, which I really love! Some of my favorite spots in Atlanta are Ponce City Market, Westside Provisions District, Dixon Rye and Upbeet!
TM: Dallas has an amazingly unique community of design-loving go-getters. Its history as a fashionable, southern city paired with its bustling love for business and growth has made Dallas an ideal home base for Hazen. There is a real sense that if you can think of it, you can create it, and if you create it, there is probably someone in Dallas who is willing to take a chance on it! For as much as Dallas loves something on trend, Dallas isn’t afraid to set a trend either. I would say that the same is true for Hazen, from creating company culture to creating a product.
What’s next for each of you?
EHW: I plan to continue working toward building Domino’s business, but don’t think it will be my last venture. I have a lot of ideas up my sleeve and am excited to figure out what our next company vertical or step will be. I feel so fortunate for where we are today and where my original biz, the barrettes, are going!
TM: First and foremost is getting our new site up and going. The site launch in August will be the first time customers can shop all the Hazen product lines in one place. With that launch, we are onboarding more Hazen team members, so we are busy getting them up to speed! We are excited to see what doors our new site opens up for us. We want our customers to feel like they are stepping into Hazen headquarters and getting a fresh taste of the latest and greatest that is happening here; we want to engage with them on a whole new level from social platforms to their email inboxes to in person. We hope to embark on the journey of embracing the joy of living the day to day with them. Simultaneously, we will busily be working behind the scenes building out Hazen’s next step, so stay tuned!