Ryan Larson’s first take as a business owner was with Savoir Flair, which was launched in 2001 and quickly earned her a reputation as a talented wedding and event coordinator specializing in distinctive celebrations ranging from intimate destination weddings to large-scale events at Los Angeles landmarks. Her love of event design made party goods a natural next step on her entrepreneurial path. She launched Tin Parade with graphic designer and former art director Kristen Gara in 2008, specializing in vintage-inspired prepackaged parties. In 2013, they shifted their focus to wholesale party goods and launched their collection of Table Banners, a first in party décor that struck a chord with party planners everywhere and was quickly picked up by such retailers as Anthropologie’s BHLDN and Paper Source. Ryan’s vast events experience and her distinctive eye have made her an innovator in the party goods space, and next month Tin Parade will unveil their Table Top Garland Stands, another first in the marketplace that will get décor up and off of the tabletop. We can’t wait to see what fashionable fix for event design dilemmas that Ryan comes up with next!
Did your original business plan change along the way or are you doing exactly what you set out to do? If it changed, how so? It totally changed. We set out to produce artisanally-made party goods, but we realized we couldn’t make any money doing it. It was fun for awhile but we wanted to expand and try to actually make some money, so we ended up producing in China and that really changed the whole nature of the business and everything about it. It was almost like starting a new company when we changed how we produced. There was so much more to know about producing overseas and customs and shipping. We also used to sell straight to the consumer, but when we changed directions we started selling wholesale to retailers large and small, which is a completely different type of service with a different type of marketing. So our business plan changed on every level.
What makes you different from your competition? I think that having an actual background in parties and events of every scale gives me an insight about party goods that goes beyond just being someone who was creative and loved to throw my own parties at home and decided to get into the party goods business. My world was the events business, so I’ve had a better sense of what will and won’t work and why.
What has been your biggest challenge to date? Cash flow is always the biggest challenge, which is not something I anticipated prior to relaunching. I did not know that cash flow would be such an issue. I assumed that the more we sold, the better the cash flow would be. But instead, the more we have sold, the more have had to produce, and therefore the more funds we have to come up with in chunks at a time in order to produce. Also, the bigger we are getting, the more gift shows we’re showing at. They’re all very expensive, so our costs are going up as well. We’ve gotten a lot better about figuring out cash flow, but at the beginning it was very difficult.
How did you fund your dream? We initially started with a Kickstarter campaign and raised a certain amount there and then put in enough of our own money to start selling and getting revenue to fund the rest of the operations. At certain points when we’ve needed more cash flow, we have also used Kabbage, which I recommend, as well as a Wells Fargo business line of credit and a Paypal business loan.
What three factors have most contributed to your success in business and in life? Hope, Drive, and Scrappiness.
The key to balancing it all is…
“My goal is to live a life of balance – some days I do and some days I don’t. And when I have days that I don’t, I make a decision that the next day I will. That’s really all I can do. I try to say no more often than I used to, but I try not to say no so much that I’m not living a full life.”
How do you organize your day to best optimize your time? Describe a day in your life. Every single morning my husband brings me a latte in bed. And I like to just sit there with 10 minutes to myself to organize my thoughts before I walk out of my bedroom to start my day. If I don’t have that time for any reason, I have a more stressful day. After getting the kids to school I come back and straighten up a bit around the house, just 15 minutes to give myself enough order not to think about the disorder. If I skip that, I’m less productive during the day. Then I sit down and I prioritize emails, delete any I don’t need, answer anything that needs immediate response, and then I look at a to-do list that sets out my priorities and make sure I’ve got my day planned out.
I wish someone had told me… How much travel is involved in launching a product line.
My proudest professional moment to date is… Getting the first shipment box from China and then one month later receiving a $32,000 order. I cried when the order came in.
The most important thing I have learned so far is… The importance of enjoying it enough that it doesn’t matter when you’re not making much, if any, money. Make sure you are doing something you will enjoy even in the moments when you aren’t making money.
LET’S GET PERSONAL:
The three words that best describe me are… Focused, Mindful, Excited.
My favorite place to go on vacation is… Europe, and Paris in particular. I went to high school in Europe, so anytime I travel there it makes me feel at home.
While on vacation I always… Have hot chocolate.
My favorite TV show… Downton Abbey.
My favorite type of workout is… Running.
Who is a teacher or boss who inspired you and why? I had a history teacher in high school in Germany who used to act out scenes from history. One day he came to class wearing a long trench coat and holding a ruler underneath…Doc Holliday with a gun!
Being a mom and an entrepreneur means… Being able to create the days that you want instead of having someone else create them for you.
One thing I hope to pass along to my children is… Having a strong work ethic and taking pride in everything they do.
Lately I’m inspired by… Historical paintings. I can’t explain why exactly, but it’s true. This time last year I would have said interior design, but this year I’m really excited by historical paintings.
WHAT’S IN YOUR OFFICE?
Bliss High Intensity Hand Cream.
My new booth design for the Atlanta Gift Show in January, where we will launch the Tin Parade 2015 Winter Collection.
A small stack of targeted business cards to follow up with from the August New York Gift Show.
Clipboards with specific projects on them. I have a deep love for clipboards.
A sample we just received from our factory for a custom banner for a great catalog. We aren’t sure yet if they will pick it up. Crossing fingers.
And finally, tell us what LIVING THE DREAM means to you: Being able to speak to exactly who I am in what I do and how I live my days.
Want to connect with Ryan?
Images: [ 2, 4 + slider Jodee Debes Photography]