By Cathie Anderson
The Sacramento Bee.
Sacramento native Stephanie Su continues to pound away at getting her Persu Collection of chic gym bags off the ground, experiencing her share of stunning successes and painful setbacks in the process.
When Su appeared in this column on Jan. 27, 2015, she had just seen her first-ever Kickstarter campaign blow past its $30,000 fundraising goal in less than two weeks, long before it was scheduled to end. She went on to raise more than three times that sum.
In the spring, local television viewers will get to see Su compete for startup funding on a new television show called “Quit Your Day Job” on the Oxygen network. It premieres March 30, Su said, but she doesn’t yet know which date her episode will air.
“I started filming the day that I quit my job,” Su told me. “I was working at CNN in marketing, and I quit my job. The show was the chance to get an investment from a group of four investors — Ido Leffler, Lauren Maillian, Sarah Prevette and Randi Zuckerberg. The producers actually reached out to me during my Kickstarter campaign.”
It might seem as though Su has led a charmed life when it comes to launching her business, but nothing could be further from the truth. The 27-year-old entrepreneur has learned her share of hard lessons.
After a Kickstarter backer wrote to her complaining about the cost of shipping, she decided to subsidize that fee for her backers. That decision proved costly.
“I really didn’t make any profit at all from the campaign because of the shipping subsidy,” said Su, who has lived in Los Angeles since graduating from UCLA. “If you’re going to have free shipping, you have to calculate that into your margins to make enough money to afford to do that. The cost of making my bags was pretty high, so that was tough on me.”
Su also got a nasty surprise in December when Kitson, the Los Angeles boutique chain that once drew Hollywood celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashian sisters, suddenly announced that it was going out of business. It had seemed like a coup to get her products sold in the company’s stores, Su said, but she never received payment for some gym bags the retailer had ordered.
Still, Su said, she’s grateful because she’s seen social media posts by other small manufacturers who lost much more money than she did. Even without unexpected upsets like this one, Su said, it was difficult to find the right formula for retail success.
The John F. Kennedy High School graduate competed in the Calling All Dreamers contest, a business plan competition started by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership in 2012. If she had won, she said, she planned to move back to Sacramento and open up a shop where she would sell her bags.
She ended up as a finalist, she said, and in hindsight, she’s glad she didn’t win. She learned while selling her bags at Kitson that if she wanted to realize the retail markup expected on her bags, she would have to greatly reduce her share of the sale or drastically raise the price. By selling her product only online at persucollection.com, she said, she was able to cut out the middleman and keep prices below those of big-name competitors.
“I don’t have a name yet,” Su said, “and even though I feel that my bags are comparable or better than some other brands, if I price at their price point, then people are like, ‘Well, I can buy a name brand. I don’t know who she is.’ ”
Su said she has opted to build brand awareness online, and so far, she is breaking even. She continues to post updates at her Kickstarter campaign, she said, and she also uses social media. She recently ordered up the Jessica bag from her manufacturer in two new colors, and she’s taking pre-orders at her company website.
The Persu gym bags stand out as chic rather than sporty. They have a removable liner that can be washed, separate storage bags for shoes and dirty clothes and separate compartments for electronics.
The designer can’t say yet how she fared on Oxygen’s “Quit Your Day Job,” she said. But even if she doesn’t win, it’s a chance to introduce a national audience to her products.
She’s also busy working on designs for a sleek backpack, something suggested by the Kickstarter backers who funded her gym bags. She said she plans to unveil the new product on Kickstarter.