Doreen Marr is the owner and founder of Elie Promos, a customized wholesale product agency that aims to help their clients find a suitable manufacturer.
Marr started her business two years ago. She’d been a stay-at-home mom for 14 years, but when her youngest kid went to kindergarten last year, she felt lonely seeing how empty the house was. So she thought she needed to do something.
Marr had no idea what to do for a business at the beginning. She said most of her friends were doing business through Amazon and eBay, obtaining products from China and selling them on these platforms. Marr said she felt like she was “not good at selling” because she had no business background at that time as well. She graduated from college majoring in English and French – not business.
“I had nothing to do with business,” she said. “And I am not really good at selling. But I am good at making stuff. So I was like, maybe I could help people make their products.”
Marr was hoping to begin her business by using her manufacturing connections back in her hometown, Yiwu, China, which has been known as the biggest wholesale market in the country. Marr said many of her family and friends there were manufactory owners, and this allowed her to have more options when choosing the right factory for her customers.
She was soon referred to the Idaho Women’s Business Center (IWBC), a program of the Small Business Administration, by a friend of hers who worked at the center. The center serves women from all cultures and communities in helping them achieve their educational, professional and entrepreneurial goals.
When she was participating in one of the center’s events, a worker told Marr that they offered a free six-week program for new entrepreneurs, including instructions on creating business plans, website design and business registration. Marr said the program helped her, as well as other women who were worried about the complicated procedures of starting a business, in taking the first step to entrepreneurship.
“The center offers hands-on teaching – from naming your company, registering for the business, to the potential costs of your services,” she said. “Things just become much easier when someone teaches you step by step.”
Marr said her favorite thing about IWBC is that all the professionals are volunteers.
“They give us recommendations for free,” she said. “Especially when you have no website developing background, you have to spend thousands of money to hire someone to build a website for your business. But there are volunteers in the center who are willing to teach us on building our own websites, which saved me a large amount of money.”
Throughout the creative framework six-week introductory business series, Marr wrote out her business plan, officially registered her company, and created her business website – leading her to the next step: promotion.
Promotions have always been a big obstacle for many start-up companies to connect with potential customers. In Marr’s case, she said the program has helped her in making connections before she actually finished planning the business side of it.
Marr said every time she took a class with the IWBC, it always began with introductions about the members’ businesses. And that was how she got to meet a number of potential customers when she was preparing for her business.
“I have met a number of women like me, who are getting ready to start their own business and are willing to share our experiences with one another when I was taking classes in IWBC,” she said. “This is why right after I got everything ready for my business, I’ve already got customers who came to me and asked for services.”
Looking back into her business journey, Marr said her first order with the Nez Perce Tribe was exceptionally memorable because she saw how “racial minority communities are willing to help each other out.”
“I still remember when I was having a conversation with them during our first meeting, they said ‘you are a racial minority in Idaho, and so are we,’” she said.
Marr currently helps the tribe make products that they sell in museums.
“Being an Asian and a member of the racial minority communities, I just feel like we need to help each other out,” she said. “That’s why whenever they have products they need, they come to me in the first place.”
Marr also shared another story about how she spent 20 minutes solving an issue that her customer was struggling with for weeks.
She said the customer had her design layout ready on a canvas paper. While most manufacturers nowadays only accept digital layout with a PDF file, the customer had asked a couple designers to help her in transferring her design into a digital painting. None of the designs she received resembled her original design.
For most cases, Marr required her customers to send her a complete PDF design layout before she could order the products. She decided to help the customer on her own by using her Photoshop skills that she’d acquired through the IWBC trainings.
“I just took a picture of her design and uploaded it to Photoshop, slightly adjusted it and fixed the details, which took me only 20 minutes,” she said. “I did not charge her any money because I believe it is my responsibility to help as her manufacturing agent.”
Marr said the customer was grateful for the favor and immediately ordered her goods right after the issue was solved. This wasn’t the only time she’d helped her customers out in this one-on-one way. A lot of her customers had gone to multiple manufacturing agencies before they came to her.
“I’ve met customers who searched for manufacturers on Alibaba [an online wholesale supplier] on their own. And oftentimes they don’t know what to do when they encounter quality and delivery issues,” she said. “When the customers come to me, I directly communicate with them and use my exclusive connections with the manufacturers to help them find the suitable ones.”
She believed her guarantee on product quality and punctuality of delivery was the reasons why she has earned a number of loyal customers. But mostly, her sincerity in assisting her customers.
“I believe if you are dedicated to help your clients wholeheartedly, your clients would promote you to other friends, earning yourself more potential customers,” Marr said. “Honesty and sincerity is extremely important in American culture.”