Entrepreneurial Journey: Mary Beth Greene of mb greene
We have all heard the term, “If you see a need in the market, fill it”. Well that is exactly what Mary Beth Greene did with mb greene bags. As a 1995 graduate of Auburn University (War Eagle), she followed what she thought was the correct career course for her and became a teacher. She taught school for three years and started a family before changing career paths. She had been tagging along with her sister, an accomplished artist, to the gift market for years and really enjoyed its fast-paced energy and personal interaction.
In 2005, Mary Beth decided to jump right in and took a sales job for a showroom at the Atlanta Market. For 11 years, she worked her territory in Alabama and Mississippi selling gift items. Mary Beth became a master at understanding what her clients were looking for and, more importantly, what would sell. Over the years, she received requests from her retailers for a collection of durable but stylish bags, duffles, cosmetic cases etc. So began her journey in designing the perfect bag to meet her clients’ needs while filling a gap in the market place.
After long days of work and taking care of her family, Mary Beth would sit at her kitchen table with paper, scissors and tape, assembling designs for the future bag line.
“I took it slow, baby steps because it was important to get it right.” – Mary Beth Greene
With no design experience–but armed with an entrepreneurial drive and 11 years of contacts–she set out to make her bag line a reality. She contacted manufacturers overseas and by October 2014, she was finalizing samples and getting ready for her first show at the Atlanta and Dallas markets in January of 2015. With the confidence that she had a bag that customers would love–and knowing from experience that available inventory was one of the keys to success–Mary Beth ordered 17,000 bags in November of 2014, which filled her garage and three storage units waiting for market. That was a huge step. I asked Mary Beth if she was scared with such a big investment. “I was never scared, but my husband may have thought I was a little crazy.”
The rest is history. Her line was so successful at the January 2015 Atlanta and Dallas markets that she was able to quit her sales job and go fulltime running mb greene. “Knowing that there was a void in the market that I was hopeful I could fill and a little luck has helped me reach my goals”. To that point, in March of 2015 after the Dallas Show, Neiman Marcus called and wanted to include her bags in their online monogram shop and catalog. Since then, her bags have been featured on Good Morning America, in InStyle magazine, the LA Times and the Olive and Cocoa catalog to name a few. mb greene now has two fulltime employees, 3-4 part timers depending on the season and in April of 2017, they moved into new warehouse space.
I had the pleasure recently to talk with Mary Beth about her entrepreneurial journey.
What drove you to start mb greene bags?
After ten years representing other products to retailers, I felt I had a clear vision of a hole in the market and a firm idea on a product to fill it. In other words, know your market!
What did you learn from your previous career that helped you with being an entrepreneur?
I knew the energy it would take. I also had a firm understanding of the sales, and the marketing tools needed to get the sales. From my previous position, I had developed the strong contact list needed to have a fast start. I also knew I needed a catalog and sales team from day one.
What was your biggest surprise or most difficult thing about starting a business?
Hands down, managing inventory. It is something I am still trying to perfect. It can be difficult to stagger orders to keep inventory on the shelves. My system is to check inventory reports the first week of each month.
What is your Distinctive Selling Point or how do you distinguish yourself from others in your space?
All our bags are solid color, waxed canvas with the same stylized zipper. It’s also a collection. In a couple of words: simple, functional style. Most of our competition offers bright patterns and a higher price point.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone starting a new business?
Be passionate, be professional and the other stuff will take care of itself. You have to be more than just a business selling a product.
What is your favorite part of owning your business?
It does not feel like work. I am here because I want to be.
What is the best investment (money or time) you have made in your business to date?
Don’t be afraid. Take a risk. In January 2017, I took a risk and introduced the Be Clear Collection because of the security trends at football stadiums. I ordered 1000 bags in April 2017 and they were sold out in May of 2017. To date we have sold over 15,000 clear bags.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
Through deliberate thought everyday. When I am home, I like to be present and engaged. I try to leave my work at the office. My previous career as a travelling sales rep prepared me for this.
What is your personal definition of success?
Success is measured differently for everyone. I am goal driven and I write my goals down so I know when I have met them. It’s also surrounding yourself with a supportive team. I especially like helping others who are starting businesses.
On a side note, you might notice on the mb greene website that part of their profits go to the M. Bagwell Foundation. On the evening that Mary Beth was celebrating the upcoming launch of her bag line, her sister Mandy Bagwell passed way. Mandy was an amazing artist and her loss was staggering to Mary Beth’s family. Finding it hard to press on, her family decided to honor her sister by through the foundation. A portion of all mb greene sales is donated to support graduating high school students. And original art from her sister adorns the beautiful hangtags on mb greene products.