When Jen Kelly and Becca Perren learned they would be on maternity leave together, they thought it would be a great opportunity to start a business.
A few short years later, their families are thriving, and so is Pehr Designs, their international home accessories business.
Friends since the age of seven, Kelly and Perren grew up together and shared many of the same interests. They chose different career paths, with Kelly heading into sales and marketing and Perren involved in buying and product development. But after a decade of gaining valuable business experience working with blue-chip companies, the pair’s passion for design and entrepreneurship led them back together.
“When we found out we were expecting at the same time we thought, great—we’ll have all this ‘free time’ to launch a business plan,” smiles Kelly. Since they both shared a passion for home décor and interior decorating, they decided to start there.
“We began a wholesale business with our tabletop line, with napkins, placemats, runners and tea towels,” Kelly explains. “Pehr is a play on the word ‘pair,’ because you can mix and match the designs and colours to create your own look.”
Just before their children turned one, Kelly and Perren were ready to launch Pehr Designs. They packed all of their samples and shelves into hockey bags and headed south of the border to display their wares at New York Now, an international trade gift show.
“The trade show launch was extremely successful,” says Kelly. “We met a lot of great retailers, many of whom we still have with us today. We also met lots of media which gave us some positive press.”
Pehr began shipping products to customers by the summer of 2011, which are now available in 500 stores across North America, as well as in Korea, Japan, Dubai and Australia.
“We have exclusive relationships with major retailers such as Indigo and Anthropologie,” adds Kelly, “and have expanded our product lines with storage, throws, pillows, and more.”
With Kelly and Perren expanding their families with a second set of children as well, it was only natural that a new baby line was added in 2013, Petite Pehr.
Pehr’s lessons learned on the global market
While Pehr’s success is a dream come true, it hasn’t always been easy. Kelly and Perren have had to rely on their wits and ingenuity to overcome some of the challenges of exporting abroad.
One of first challenges they encountered was that the additional cost of shipping and customs made their products price-prohibitive for some U.S. retailers. To solve this, they began working from a warehouse within the U.S. so they could ship directly to their U.S. customers.
Another challenge occurred when Pehr set up manufacturing in India. “It’s especially challenging to get the factories to take you seriously when you’re a new business with smaller quantities. We decided to use an agent who was representing several companies so he had more leverage. We have great relationships with our factories, but having an agent on the ground, who understands the language and the cultural nuances, was one of the best decisions we made.”
Kelly advises new exporters to overcome the challenges one at a time. “It’s okay to learn as you go. Talk to other business owners, and use all resources available to you, such as Export Development Canada (EDC).”
When Pehr needed financing for its rapid growth, talking to EDC helped them figure out their options. “We learned how using Account Receivables Insurance could help us get more financing from the bank, as well as ensure we always got paid,” says Kelly. “It’s great to have someone guide you through the options.”