Three women, three companies, and three uncommon goods that represent the food we grew up loving, by Debbie Mullin
Two years ago, in the infancy of our businesses, the three of us—Sashee Chandran, Lori Sandoval, and me, Debbie Mullin—kept running into each other. We were handing out samples at the same market, renting time at the same commercial kitchen, and neighbors at the same gigantic trade shows. When the three of us finally sat down to chat about our LA-based companies, we realized they all faced the same exciting but daunting challenges with growth—expensive LA real estate, setting up distribution, finding good employees, etc.—all on top of being women and minority-owned businesses. Each of our companies needed so much to keep growing, but we didn’t know how to afford it all at once.
Enter: WomenMadeLA. The three of us joined together a year ago to form our collective and formally support one another through shared resources for our quickly growing small businesses. Since then, WomenMadeLA has moved to a large downtown office to accommodate growth, and has even added new companies. The collective now employs three full-time staff for all our photography/video, graphic design, and social media needs and to keep all WomenMadeLA products looking as good to their customers as they taste at home.
Being able to employ full-time employees across all three companies helps us find, support, and maintain really great talent. With a product-focused start-up, you can’t afford to waste any money. With WomenMadeLA, we all find ways to help each other maximize our efforts, and I’ve found savings through everything from repurposing another company’s boxes to sharing an effective social media strategy. The gains this past year of working together have been critical to my growth—I now work with over 1000 retailers!—and to the success of my Vietnamese Coffee Portable Pour-Overs.
UncommonGoods, where we all currently sell our products, has been one of our best shared strategies. “UncommonGoods offers a unique avenue for new product lines like ours to find those consumers looking for extraordinary items within their own interests and passions,” says Sashee Chandran, creator of Tea Drops, a line of organic compressed teas that dissolve in your cup. (Her sampler is one of UncommonGoods’ best-selling gift items.) Each of us have been blown away by the way UncommonGoods’ customers have quickly taken to our products. “There are a lot of stores out there who only want to sell things that people are already buying, but UncommonGoods is the opposite of that—they speak to customers who truly want to discover something new,” says Lori Sandoval, a new addition to the UG family, who makes delicious cooking sauces inspired by the regional flavors of Mexico. Lori’s sauces make a great gift for those who have trouble finding all the ingredients they need to make authentic Mexican food at home, and UG is a great resource to find customers looking for unique and authentic gifts like ours.
Being a business owner is one of the hardest professions out there—and being at the helm of a women- and minority-owned business can often amplify these problems. The number one thing we treasure most at WomenMadeLA is the support we get throughout these challenges. Whether it’s quickly chatting to talk about a difficult client, having someone to stay late with before a big show, or laughing together about an embarrassing packaging error, we’ve found a lot of strength in working together.
As for next steps for WomenMadeLA, we have lots of plans. We are currently looking at ways to open the group to more like-minded companies, as well as expanding the benefits our collective offers, such as more subsidized rent, facilities, and staff. We hope that WomenMadeLA can someday be an essential part of many more high-growth women-owned businesses, just as it has been for us.