Published September 29. 2013 4:00AM
Ledyard - While shop owners struggle with the overhead, personal sacrifices and labor concerns of running a small business, Jen Pagan and Colleen Foster are quickly building a clientele without leaving their homes or kids behind.
Pagan and Foster, starting with an investment of only $3,000, have built over the past few months a Facebook business that so far has attracted 4,400 followers who snatch up accessories they offer for sale on the Internet every Wednesday night. The business, called CJ Accessories, focuses on trendy and affordable items for women such as jewelry $25 or under and handbags up to $36.
"Your budget when you have no kids to when you have kids goes from seemingly unlimited to very, very limited," Pagan says. "You almost feel guilty about buying yourself something."
The idea behind CJ Accessories is to offer women the opportunity to upgrade their wardrobes without breaking the bank. And the best part, for Pagan and Foster, is that they can enjoy much of the work from the comfort of their homes, juggling young children and work responsibilities in a relaxed setting without worrying about childcare.
"I can be sitting here at midnight in my pajamas with my fuzzy bunny slippers," Pagan says, gesturing around her home off rural Shewville Road. "I don't have to be 'on' all the time."
Pagan and Foster are onto a trend. According to an article last year in The New York Times, small businesses with fewer than 10 employees and less than $100,000 in revenue are the most likely to be successful with Facebook marketing strategies.
On the other hand, larger businesses such at GameStop and Nordstrom have decided against Facebook stores, deciding that customers preferred the experience of shopping on company websites that can offer more bells and whistles.
But Facebook worked right away for Pagan and Foster. They sold $500 worth of accessories in their first offering, but sales have taken off since then and the pair estimate they will turn a $20,000 profit by the end of the year.
"We use Facebook as kind of our ad agency," Pagan says.
While much of the profits are plowed into expanding their offerings, the two friends say they have started to pay themselves as well, out of company profits.
"It's sustaining itself," Foster, a Stonington resident, says. "We're getting our initial investment back."
They also are defining themselves as a business, starting with jewelry and sunglasses but now expanding into watches, scarves and watches. Shoes and clothing could be the next step, they say.
Pagan and Foster work with half a dozen distributors from as far away as Dallas and Atlanta, trying to identify U.S.-based companies that sell quality accessories at reasonable prices.
"We don't take junk," Foster says.
"The bags we sell are the bags we wear," Pagan agrees.
Long term, the partners hope to develop their own jewelry line. Foster used to design and make jewelry, and they are working toward developing prototypes that would be branded under the new CJ Accessories logo.
Foster and Pagan initially sold much of their accessories to friends and family, but by attending events ranging from Celebrate East Lyme to a Hartford rollery derby they have expanded their circle of clients exponentially. Their client list is 40 percent local and 60 percent outside the region, they said.
"Our most important events have been the private parties," Pagan says.
Typical parties are held Thursday through Saturday nights and late Sunday mornings during the brunch hour, with hostesses receiving 20 percent of sales as well as jewelry freebies. Through the end of October, the pair are averaging about two private parties a week.
People attending the parties are often added to the company's growing Facebook following. Every Wednesday, Foster and Pagan post pictures of the week's accessory offerings on Facebook, and those interested in purchasing simply type "sold" in the comments section to claim their item between 8 and 10 p.m.
On Thursdays, the women get together to tote up their sales and begin packaging the items to be shipped.
The beauty of Facebook, say the partners, is that every time a client clicks "sold," the information is automatically sent out to the person's contacts, spreading the word about the accessory. The company has shipped products as far away as Hawaii and Canada.
CJ Accessories uses an app to bill their clients, who have 48 hours to pay their invoice through PayPal. Usually only about three or four similar items are offered in any one Facebook sale.
"We wanted to stay away from mass ordering," Pagan says. "You don't want to show up (to an event) with everyone having the same bags. We change our inventory constantly."
Now that the company has had a successful launch through Facebook, the partners say they are starting to experiment with other social media such as Twitter and Instagram. Information culled from their growing client list also allows them to send out offerings via email.
The company has a website where a few items are shown, but Pagan and Foster say the cost of selling over the Internet is too high for a business trying to keep items affordable.
Both women said running a partnership from home is a lot of work and takes both patience and compromise. Pagan and Foster may not always agree on the accessories they like, but they respect each other's tastes and are willing to give way when one of them feels strongly about an item.
"The chemisty has to be a certain way," Pagan says. "It could be ugly if it's not."
The good part for Foster and Pagan is that their business chemistry has drawn both their families closer together. Their husbands, who were best friends growing up, have reconnected, drawing the three children they have between them into a newly integrated family.
"I feel like we've kind of brought everyone back together," Pagan says.