After many years designing for large, well-known retailers, Kane decided to break out on her own to launch her unique vision for a children’s garment line not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. “After 9/11, I— like many other Americans—found myself re-evaluating what was most important insofar as my own life, goals and values. I thought back to how many years I had already spent running the rat race, living life in a big fast city while working for others. I knew then it was time to leave The Big Apple and seek out or create new experiences and goals for myself both professionally and personally.”
Kane didn’t waste any time transitioning from New York City to the Philadelphia suburbs where she had family. “I took a little fashion-related job near my grandmother’s home but didn’t last long there,” Kane admits. “I just couldn’t shake free from the entrepreneurial bug. I knew I had to break out on my own and give myself the time and chance to create what I foresaw as an entirely new, upscale line in children’s fashion.”
Kane then spent about a year holed up at home doing extensive research and developing her line, which she affectionately named Olive Juice, from scratch. Kane found inspiration in the timeless, classic lines of yesteryear and gave them her own, unique modern twist. “It just kind of took off from there,” she recollects. “The line quickly grew from zero to three million annual revenue in just a few short years.”
Because the line was originally launched in Philadelphia, Kane established her business headquarters in Pennsylvania. As recently as a few months ago, however, Kane decided to close Olive Juice’s Philadelphia doors and completely relocate near the Northern Virginia area to re-energize not only the Olive Juice brand but her entire marketing and fulfillment operations.
“As with most businesses large and small, the challenging economy has forced us to re-evaluate every aspect of how we run our business,” shares Kane, a self-proclaimed “ruralist” who has fled urban city life for country living in Rixeyville, Virginia—an area located in Culpepper County and just 30-minutes southwest outside of Warrenton. “Moving our entire operation to these country parts has been a purposeful and strategic decision,” explains Kane. “The Philadelphia commercial leases were not cheap. We had to ask ourselves do we continue leasing commercial space year-to-year or do we purchase our own lot and build?”
The answer: Kane and her husband, Keith Butler—who is also the clothing line’s lead photographer as well as Kane’s business partner—purchased more than six acres of land in the heart of Rixeyville where they are presently constructing what will eventually be the new Olive Juice offices. “Right now the property we’re in is just a small structure in need of a complete gut and total overhaul. It’s rather cramped quarters but it’s completely temporary. By this time next year, the space will be fully transformed into an official commercial office space with meeting rooms and much, much more space for my many fabrics, textiles, patterns and model forms.”
Across from the small building is a recently-installed gravel walkway leading to a warehouse. Upon entering the building and seeing rack upon rack of children’s clothing, it becomes clear the space inside houses Olive Juice’s entire fulfillment center. Countless deep shelves store the season’s inventory along with past seasonal merchandise. “In Philadelphia, our inventory was spread out across numerous buildings,” explains Butler. “Not here. We learned from our Philadelphia experience the importance of centralizing as much of the fulfillment and inventory as possible. Here, in this one building, we house not only all our inventory, but we also manage fulfillment and customer returns right on the grounds.”
As I toured the warehouse facility in tandem with Kane and Butler, I couldn’t help but wonder, of all the places to relocate, why Rixeyville? “Before purchasing the lot and property, we had done extensive research and due diligence. We learned Rixeyville is one of the very few areas not requiring special zoning or specific permits or licenses to establish a business. So, unlike all the restrictions we had in Philadelphia or that most would face in any urban city, here we can literally do just about any- thing we want. The only limits to what we can achieve and construct on this lot are budget and our own imagination,” said Kane.
Kane, whose exquisite designs combine her love of quiet beauty and understated elegance, is using this new Rixeyville chapter in Olive Juice’s operations to also re-address her company’s entire marketing approach. “As an independent fashion line, we’ve always had our core base of repeat and loyal customers, but the economy has changed consumer buying behavior and patterns. I want to use this exciting transition in our business to revisit how we market our brand and how we can introduce Olive Juice garments, styles and ensembles to entirely new audiences and demographics.”
As part of the marketing overhaul, Kane acknowledges she and the Olive Juice team weren’t quick to jump on the social media bandwagon. “We saw many fellow retailers immersing deeply into social but we opted to hold back. At the time, we felt we didn’t need social and really kind of just kept doing what we had always done since 2003,” explains Kane, who has realized this caused some missed opportunities. “We started noticing the shift in how customers were behaving online around 2008. By 2010, we still hadn’t yet immersed heavily into digital and social beyond email. We now recognize we need to do better with our marketing and engagement. We have a great brand and we have a strong follower base, but we certainly could make improvements all across the entire marketing board.”
To that end, Olive Juice has recently retained a local, Northern Virginia based digital agency specializing not just in social and digital communications but in overall marketing strategy and integration. “We are excited to work with our new marketing team and open to new ways of getting the word out about our brand and our company.”
Another aspect of Olive Juice operations receiving renewed attention: retail partnerships. “While we’ve been great at being responsive to wholesale orders for our 30+ retail partner locations, we haven’t been as strategic with these existing relationships as we’d like,” shares Kane, who not only seeks to grow her network of retail partners in the USA, but further expand into Japan. “Olive Juice clothes seem to be really well received in Japan,” states Kane. “We need to improve our efforts to expand our line in that market.” And Europe? “There are countless of opportunities for Olive Juice in Europe. We have one retail partner in England, but we have received many inquiries from other locations in England as well as France and beyond. And we haven’t even touched Canada yet, but we are looking at all possibilities as we move into 2013.”
As the list for what could be done better and smarter seems to grow for the Olive Juice family, one thing is clear: the sky’s the limit for this long-beloved children’s apparel brand. “We are turning a new leaf here in Virginia,” says Kane. “While it sometimes seems like we’re starting over, it’s really more like we’re starting a new chapter of a really good book we’ve been reading for some time. Many more new and undiscovered adventures await us. We’ll just have to take each step one page at a time.”
Mayra Ruiz-McPherson is the founder of Ruiz McPherson Communications, a marketing ingenuity and digital PR company based in Dulles. You can follow her on Twitter at @mayraruiz, via her practice’s Twitter handle @ruizmcpherson or on Facebook at facebook.com/ruizmcpherson.