Karen Levy started out as a representative selling wholesale gift products to independent retailers, and one of her lines was a custom printed tea-towel company. “My customers wanted this product but the minimums were too high for small stores, and the time it took to get an order was really long,” Levy explains. “I saw an opportunity — I knew I could do better.”
She contacted her colleagues in gift sales to ask if they’d represent her company if she launched a line of customized gift products. They all agreed. Next, she found a textile company in India that could provide the tote bags and towels, and chose a local silk-screen shop that prints and assembles each order. Upper Lake Home Goods sells to gift shops, hardware stores, museums, gourmet markets, Presidential Libraries, and more.
“I was learning how to calculate my COGS from Google and [watching] Shark Tank,” she says of her experience determining her cost of goods sold. “I really wanted someone who knew what they were doing to look at my numbers. If you don’t know your numbers, you could wake up in a situation where your business is on the losing end.”
Levy hoped to meet with SCORE mentors who had experience in accounting and manufacturing. “I completely lucked out and was connected with a CPA who used to import apparel and sold his business,” she says.
Over the past year, Levy has met with mentor Richard Liebman in person and by email. “Richard is always there to answer all my questions,” she says. Together, they review her QuickBooks reports to make sure she’s on the right track. “We discuss growth, potential obstacles, and solutions. Richard’s mentorship is extremely valuable,” Levy says.
“My business is up 40% this year versus when Richard and I met last year for the first time,” Levy reports. “Richard taught me in depth how to accurately create cash flow and profit-and-loss statements.” She also credits her mentor for helping her learn strategies for managing inventory and cash flow.