Last week I got an email from Hope Gray and I was so excited. She is the owner of alistgreek.com and I’ve wanted to partner with them ever since I joined my organization and discovered her affordable sorority products. I love interviewing business owners and other bloggers for my blog because it gives my readers an insight for so many things: starting your own business, beauty and fashion tips, how to’s, etc. It’s a lot easier to showcase people who are successful and know how to make something work instead of something I put together that is probably less than accurate.
This interview was conducted over email but it didn’t stop me from getting a great vibe from Hope. From the products she sells and the exchange of emails we’ve had, I can tell that I ever had the chance to meet her and interview her again, I wouldn’t be disappoint. So sit back and relax, grab yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy mine and Hope’s interview. It’s one for the books.
- What are your goals you yourself have and for the company over the next 3-5 years?
We’ve already exceeded where we thought we would be in 5 years! We started A-List Greek in the summer of 2013, and since then we’ve been scrambling to keep up with customer demand. We’ve grown so quickly that we haven’t had a chance yet to tackle all the great ideas and projects that we’ve thought up along the way. 2015 was a big year for A-List. We expanded our staff and our offices; now we’re bicoastal, operating out of Florida and California! With our growing pains behind us (fingers-crossed), we can now focus more on product development and innovative marketing techniques to keep our customers excited and eager for new sorority jewelry and accessory options that are delicate, understated, and obviously, pretty to wear!
- If you were to design the perfect team of 4 people to help you run your company, what characteristics would they have?
Oh that’s a fun one! I consulted with my current A-List team and we agreed on these four as additions to the company– First, Ellen DeGeneres because she would keep the humor coming and she’s also been a long supporter of collegiate Greek Life. We would also love to have Lauren Conrad on our team. She’s a fellow Orange County girl who has her ear to the ground for up and coming fashions and trends! Kris Jenner is next on our list for her business saavy tricks of the trade. And lastly, we would more than welcome Harry Styles to the office. He’s pretty to look at and would make a really good salesperson at shows with all these sorority ladies around. In all seriousness though, our A-List team now is as close to perfect as I could hope for. We are a small team running a start-up, so we all have to wear many hats to keep things going, but that keeps us on our toes and keeps things fresh! Our team members need to be positive, energetic, flexible and able to multi-task. Most importantly, anyone who joins the A-List family has to share a passion for Greek life. We can talk all day long about bigs and littles and Greek Skit themes. Our sorority experience has given each of us a lot of skills that we use to run A-List Greek from social media management to event planning and merchandising (brag tables, anyone?). We also work long hours with each other so our team members have to have a sense of humor and ability to listen.
- What message do you want to send to your customers who buy your products?
When I tell people about A-List I always mention that we have the nicest customers. Personal contact with our customers keeps us going and can revive our energy when we’re tired. We really do feed off our customers’ energy and that motivates us to keep going! We want our customers to know that we are real, relatable sorority women and that we support other sorority women. We design jewelry using their direct feedback and make products that we would have wanted when we were in college. We know how important it is for Greek women to market our sorority affiliation! We want to encourage chapter pride!
- What gave you the inspiration to start your own company?
Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to have my own business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and the flexible schedule my parents seemed to have appealed to me. Plus, I can be just a tad bit bossy – so I never really enjoyed having a “boss.” After college I went to law school and when I started working at a law firm, I realized that I wasn’t cut out for constant conflict and billable hours. I knew I needed another option and my sorority had always been a source of support and community. As a collegian and alumna volunteer, I’d seen the same traditional jewelry options for over a decade, and I wanted to rock the boat and think of something new for the trendy sorority girl. I decided that I would draw support from my sorority network to start my own business designing and making modern, fashionable sorority jewelry.
- It’s great that you have so many sororities on your website, have you thought about adding things for fraternities as well?
We have thought about adding collections for fraternities, but we have so many more ideas that we want to develop for sorority women first. Our main priority is developing products that are really trendy and stylish and as a team of sorority women we really understand our customers and what they want. When considering fraternity items, we don’t even know where to start! Men’s fashion isn’ t my forte – so when we branch out in that direction we’ll have to recruit a team who can really help us tap into what the Fraternity men are looking for. I do think this will be part of our long-term plan eventually!
- What is your social media strategy?
As sorority women, we love our social media! One of our main strategies, especially during the holidays, is to host giveaways to engage our current followers and welcome new ones into our community. We also love reading and sharing articles, pictures, and GIFs on relevant pop culture topics that we think our followers would enjoy! (I mean, who doesn’t love a good gossip girl reference?). Our favorite thing about social media is that we get to share with our followers–and they share back with us! It’s so rewarding and so much fun to see a chapter or sorority woman tagging us in photos wearing our products. If you have any A-List swag, tag us and you could be the next social media feature!
- Do you feel like you have competition with your company and your products? If so, what do you try to do to make sure you stand out?
Absolutely! We face competition from other Greek vendors who design for sororities and from general fashion brands that become popular with sorority women. We stand out in the market by coming up with products that are completely unique. I never want to copy products or have products that look like any other brand out there. We’re constantly thinking of and creating new things to keep on-trend. We don’t want to be another face in the crowd! We also work directly with our customers to get ideas; they send us design sketches and inspiration…we make their requests come to life.
- What have been some of your failures with the business, and what have you learned from them?
We grew faster than I was ready for, so many of our hiccups were behind the scenes — all the non-glamorous aspects of business. Things all happened so fast that I had to learn hard lessons as they came up – and now I feel like I could teach a course on all the things you need to know about starting a business! It’s pretty crazy! The biggest lesson has been that it’s almost impossible to predict all the time what will be popular – even if we think we’re being really smart and clever with a design…it may flop! We’ve developed test strategies to help us narrow down our vision and make things more efficient in the long run. We have learned quickly what our customers like and narrowed our collection down to the most popular items so we can focus our resources on designing the next “hot” item. Any suggestions from the readers out there?
- How do you generate new ideas for products? What is your thought process behind it?
We are always on the lookout for new product ideas. We scour social media to see what sorority women are wearing in their posts, we follow fashion bloggers to see what the trends are and we really try to stay relevant and predict future trends. We really wish we had a Bill Gates sized fortune– we have more ideas than we have money to invest in all their creations! It can be tricky to narrow down our ideas into a manageable number. We get ideas from our customers who email us, from chapters who want custom items made just for them, from headquarters who email us and tell us they’d like to see something new. New ideas come to us everyday in a variety of ways. It’s a long and slow process that involves designing, testing, and re-creating but we hope that we ultimately succeed in offering something totally new that our customers will love!
- What 3 pieces of advice would you give college students who are thinking about starting their own business?
Starting a business has been tough, but so rewarding. My top pearls of wisdom would be:
- Be ready to teach yourself everything – The internet, and especially Google will become your best friends. There are articles on every topic that you will need to know. When I have a question I always start by looking for the answer myself before asking other people for help. Every day I get a mini crash course on SEO, web development, email marketing campaigns, social media, etc. Before I start any project, I scour the internet to find tips and see how everyone else is doing it. I take the best ideas and notes and apply them to my own business. If you have a question about something, you’ll be able to find the answer online.
- Although you are your own boss and your time is “flexible” there is nothing more time consuming than being an entrepreneur. You will be working LONG hours and you will never be able to turn your brain off from work. You need to start a business that incorporates something you love – otherwise you won’t be able to sustain the level of commitment and long hours that you’ll need to be happy and successful.
- Have a team of family and friends ready to support you. Starting your own business can be really scary so include them in your brainstorming and planning from the beginning so you don’t feel alone. Your network will be an important resource to draw from when you have questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions!
Thanks so much for reading! I would also like to apologize to my readers for the lack of content. I have been very busy with school and got very sick and had to go to the hospital and was put on bed rest for a few weeks. Hopefully you are all willing to stick it out a few weeks longer and we will be going back to posting 3 times a week! xoxo