Small Business Spotlight: “Define Me Greek” Redefines Sisterhood

January 15, 2013  |  

MN: Did either of you have prior experience running this type of business? How did you learn the ropes?

SHAUNA and SELENA: No!

SHAUNA: We relied a lot on research. Neither of us having retail experience, we learned a lot by just calling around. There’s a lot of information online. We actually sounded like we did have that experience by the time we started making calls. We’re basically self-taught. Our first design, we got a little bit of help but after that…

SELENA: We set an afternoon aside, and said, “You know what, we’re going to figure this Photoshop out!”

MN: What sets Define Me Greek apart from other Greek apparel lines?

SELENA: Most Greek apparel companies, you’ll notice it’s just the three letters. Really standard and really basic. If you go somewhere, 45 other people are selling this specific item. We look to design apparel that doesn’t necessarily have the Greek letters. We have words, definitions, and things that capture the essence.

So, if I see a Define Me Greek shirt, I could read it, and if I’m in your organization or a member of the Divine Nine, I might look at it [and recognize the organization] even though it doesn’t say AKA. If you’re not a part of the organization and have no clue about the shirt, you’re going to ask that person, and that person can share the story with you. Sometimes when you just have the three letters people instantly make a perception about you, or they instantly make some type of assumption. With our apparel, it really is thought-provoking. It’s a conversation starter.

SHAUNA: Our customer service sets us apart as well. We noticed going to different conferences and dealing with different Greek companies, it’s really a one-transaction situation. You buy it, and you’re done. For us, we really wanted to get involved and unite people. We wanted to make it something where we can connect with you after you buy the shirt. Whether it’s keeping connected with different social media channels or even the way we package orders, we really take time and care to make you feel like a valued customer.

MN: Fraternities and sororities are notoriously protective of their brands. How do you work with organizations and their members to ensure you meet their standards?

SELENA: Before we launch something for an organization we do a mini focus group and ask questions where they can provide insight into what they’d like and what would resonate with them. We can design a shirt, but what we think might be okay, they might look at and say, “No, that’s not right.” Through that we’ve been able to cultivate relationships. Because we look to unite people, it really makes people want to get involved.

MN: You mentioned how your products give your customers the platform to talk about their organization and combat assumptions. Why was it important for your products to do that?

SELENA: These organizations have been around for years, some over a hundred years. There’s so much historical context. There’s so much we have to offer. Sometimes sororities and fraternities are not always seen in the best light. For us, as active members in our organizations, we want something that stands for something. People can tell that story of what [these organizations] mean, and have that sense of pride and sense of excitement to be able to articulate that.

MN: You credit social media as a big part of your success. How do you leverage the web to grow your business?

SELENA: When we first started out with social media, I think we had maybe a Facebook account and we were trying to figure out this whole Facebook thing. One day Shauna said, “We’re just going to go for it! Let’s just put some things out there and see what captures people.”

We leverage Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Instagram has taken over. Now people feel comfortable posting pictures of our products. As soon as they get it in the mail, they’re Instagram-ing; they’re tagging us. We have everything hooked up to our devices, and we’re getting alerts and really interacting with our clients. We’re looking to take all our customers on this journey with us and social media gives us the platform to do it.

MN: What was the biggest obstacle you faced? How did you overcome it?

SHAUNA: I’d say financial and geographical. Historically, there are more chapters on the East Coast and in the South. On the West Coast things kind of trickle down to us. For us to launch something where there are not that many people that are part of these organizations was a big step in itself. To our surprise, we’ve received a lot of support locally and nationally. A lot of our customers are in the South and on the East Coast and that validates why we’re here and that what we’re doing is meaningful.

Financial… just starting from nothing and turning it into something. We started off with $500, and we’re at the point where we are turning a profit and growing this business. There are times every few months where we look at each other say, “Are we just going to go for it?” The bank account is just going to be at zero, and we’re going see where this takes us. Luckily, we both have a risk-taking spirit.

MN: You both work full-time in addition to running Define Me Greek. What’s the secret to juggling everything?

SELENA: I don’t know what the secret is. Shauna and I are on the phone at 6:30 in the morning, during lunch breaks, and after work. I think I talk to Shauna more than I talk to anybody. We just find those little pockets of time. I don’t know where the pockets of time are, but we find them.

SHAUNA: I don’t necessarily think it’s a secret. It’s one of those things where you make time to do what you want to do. I’m married, I have two kids, a toddler and a teen, and I have a full-time job, and I’m doing this. I’ve got my day job, then I have my family job when I get home until about 9:30 at night, and from that time on I’m working on Define Me Greek. It’s dedication. It’s commitment and persistence that’s really going to get you there.

MN: What’s next for Define Me Greek?

SHAUNA: One of the things we want to do is ultimately be in bookstores or affiliate stores, like college campuses, where people can access our apparel easily. We’re trying to grow the business where hopefully we can do this full-time instead of what we’re doing now. That’s the ultimate goal.

Our clientele is definitely members of the Divine Nine but we have signature shirts that could have mass appeal to other sororities and fraternities. Branching out and bringing them in is also something we really want to do.

MN: How can women thinking about starting their own business prepare themselves for making that jump?

SELENA: I think you really need to step out on faith. There’s not always a playbook on how to run a business. I’m sure there are a thousand books, but when you’re actually in the moment, sometimes you are the deciding factor of where your fate lies. Step out on faith and surround yourself with people that are going to encourage and motivate you.

SHAUNA: It’s one of those things where it has to be on your mind every minute of the day. Every day you need to be taking steps to move your business forward. Even if it’s small steps.

C. Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City, perfecting living the fierce life at The Red Read. She is at your service on Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).

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