Today I am very excited to introduce Jean Hussey!Jean is an online business SCORE mentor who specializes in retail and manufacturing, and has worked for many years with Hot Sox and Ralph Lauren.If you are looking for any help in setting up your retail business, Jean is your mentor.Here is our interview:
Hi Jean, what is your role at SCORE?
I am an online business mentor, which means I work over the internet. My clients are not necessarily local- they’re from all over the country, and out of the country.
I have had clients in Afghanistan, leaving the service, and wanting to start a business in the US, and a client from Brazil who is an American.
My background is retail and manufacturing, but I get lots of questions not necessarily relating to my experience.
If it’s something I can’t handle, I get somebody from our SCORE chapter or try to find another online counselor who can help.
How did you get started in business?
After I graduated from Duke, I left the South for New York City and interviewed with many businesses.
I was fascinated by Abraham and Strauss in Brooklyn. I’ll never forget the excitement and energy when I walked into the main store for my interview, even more so when they allowed me on their already full training squad. From there I became an assistant buyer, then, a buyer, then troubleshooter buyer, which I was for 8 years. During that time I cleaned up 12 departments, the last being women’s hosiery, where I met folks at Hot Socks.
They offered a job as VP of Sales and Operations, later President of Operations, basically running a small company with 13 employees but perfect for me because of my experience in their industry and in cleaning up and turning around a multitude of different small accessory areas.
Two couples started Hot Sox from nothing in 1972, and with no business experience grew it to 3 million before sales and profits soured. Once the firm was on solid footing, we luckily met Ralph Lauren and became his first license outside his own businesses. In time we grew Hot Sox to a peak volume 30 times its sales when I arrived.
I LOVED my my job. It was exciting, always challenging, necessitating working with mills all over the world (33 at one time because Ralph loved socks!), pretty much running the business. And we were a family.
When I started at Hot Sox, the entire hosiery industry was in the South of the U.S.. When I retired, the industry volume had mostly shifted to Asia, with only tube socks remaining in Alabama, and specialty socks in Europe. We communicated initially overseas via telex, so the invention of the fax machine was a miracle at the time. Because I have learned how important operations is to the success of a business, systems were a necessity leading us to a mainframe computer system when no small company had one, allowing us to be far ahead of competition and greatly contributing to our profitability.
After 30 years there and retirement here in 2007 I did not want to lose touch with my business instincts, and I wanted to give back, having been helped enormously in my career by two mentors at A&S. Having read about SCORE, and upon meeting a therapist here who had been helped by SCORE, I called SCORE’s then president, and next thing I knew, in early 2008, I was a SCORE counselor.
Currently, in addition to internet mentoring, I do the Facebook postings, and edit the emails that go out on the workshops, about 300 last year.
Occasionally, someone will ask me to co-counsel, and I do enjoy then interacting with and helping live clients.
Just going about life in the Valley I have 6 clients met through services they offer. One practitioner, upon learning I worked with SCORE, asked for my help, but none of the others knew much if anything about SCORE, or the kind of free talent we offer. And most were initially reluctant to admit and then accept assistance.
What attracted you to joining SCORE?
The opportunity to give back, to use my experience to help others struggling with some phase of small business, while keeping my business skills intact.
How do you get help in business?
When I had problems in business, my job has always been to solve problems, and I’ve always been able to do that, so I’m trying to remember that I had to get help with…unless it was something I didn’t understand or had no experience with, if you’ve been in 12 or 13 departments, that means markets.
I realized basic business principles worked, no matter if you’re buying a sweater, or a lamp, it’s about learning about the business.
In 6 to 8 months, I would have the place cleaned up, my job was to solve problems and if I needed any kind of second opinion, one of the mentors that I talked about and I’ve remained in touch all our lives andIi would call him and ask him.
What do you wish you had known before you started your first job/business?
I had a Bachelor of Art’s degree when I joined A &S., which was more interested in a flexible mind than specific training. In recruiting for the store it was obvious that graduates with specific retailing degrees were resistant to A&S procedures vs. what they were taught. After many such experiences we found that those with minds receptive to learning new ways made the best candidates.
That didn’t mean you couldn’t question, or change or improve procedures, one of the things I most liked about the Store ambiance, but you had to be open and flexible, and be willing to work hard. So having no business degree was of no major importance.
Upon graduating I had no idea what I wanted to do, except that it could not be behind a desk. Having never been out of the South, I had no preconceived notions of either NYC or Brooklyn. I only knew that the connection to the vibrancy and electricity of A&S Brooklyn, vs. the NYC businesses with which I interviewed, for me was immediate. Imagine if I had known and been influenced by the fact that Brooklyn, in 2015 the place to be, in 1962 was the place not to be.
What is your favorite memory working at SCORE?
Finding the client I can really help, one in particular with whom I have been communicating for 4 years.
There are many online clients with business ideas that are not thought out- product not different, no background or skills, no money, no possible conception of how hard business is. I try to listen and ask questions, offer information, explain the journey ahead, that owning one’s own small business is not winning the lottery, though there are those who have done just that. Increasingly I am getting clients with good ideas, willing to work and learn, and those are really interesting emails as we go back and forth with multi online sessions.
Who is your ideal client?
The age doesn’t matter. What does is that the idea is thought out, unique in some aspect, and researched (competition studied). It also helps if there is financing, since SCORE is not a bank.
How can you find a good idea?
Find a niche, a need, a reason for the consumer to buy your product vs. what’s already out there, for if you Google most business ideas, you will find not just hundreds of thousands of competing businesses but often millions and even billions.
Hot Sox actually started first the women’s fashion hosiery business and then the men’s. A&S had the largest department store women’s hosiery volume in the country, but all we offered in socks in the 1970’s were plain and cabled knee highs in white black and navy.
Our Catholic population wanted wine knee socks to match their wine uniforms and my major sock vendor would not make them, because no one would wear such a radical color, he said. Of course he did; of course they were successful because there was a need.
So when Hot Sox came along, their styles radically different- rainbow stripes, 5-colored and multi-colored patterns, the original toe sock- it took a few years for people to stop staring and laughing and actually buy them.
As to mens, before Polo Hosiery socks, there was virtually no designer hosiery and nothing but black, brown, charcoal, and navy slack and over -the -calf socks. When we offered in our first season high quality socks in 38 colors, including such as pink, lavender, orange, kelly and lime greens, turquoise, and purple, my industry friends thought we were nuts. But immediately sales proved that there was a large customer base just waiting for something different.
If you have done your homework by thoroughly shopping competition, whether bricks and mortar or online, and your product idea is still unique, and competitive (you have at least attempted to source it and make samples), and still fulfills a need or serves a customer base not being served, you have a head-start at a successful business. SCORE can then help those clients develop a strategy for planning their business, including how to obtain financing, or how to proceed if they don’t have any money, the number 1 problem in starting a business. Just being a sounding board for such a client is rewarding.
And if the client decides this is not for me, that’s o.k. too, in some cases for the best.
Why should people come to SCORE for mentorship?
We have a very talented group of men and women with varied backgrounds and tons of experience in retail, legal, real estate, the internet, marketing, business planning, exporting, etc..
There’s hardly a business question or situation that one of us cannot deal with, and we do work together to make sure we’re helping the client. And our counseling is FREE!
All of us feel incredibly lucky to have achieved some success and are at SCORE to give back and help others starting up or struggling in their small businesses. We have all been there, done that.
Thank you so much for being on this interview Jean, and if you would like to book an appointment with her, you can do so through the mentors page!