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EVERY DAY’S A MIRACLE FOR LONG ISLAND MOM

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by Meryl Feiner

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Donna Bliss didn’t plan on being a stay-at-home mom running a business from her basement. But sometimes things don’t always go according to plan. Bliss was working at what she calls her “dream job”, in the marketing department at a large computer software company on Long Island. She had just given birth to a healthy baby girl after years of fertility treatments and three miscarriages. Things seemed to be going her way. Then she lost her job. “I didn’t know what I would do,” says Bliss who had never considered the possibility of not returning to her career after giving birth. But soon she found her passion. “I love baby clothes, the look, the feel, the smell.” After years of avoiding the baby departments in stores because of the painful emotions attached, Bliss says she “lived in Babies R Us” after the birth of her daughter, Jillian Nicole. “My daughter was always dressed to the nines,” says Bliss. “A friend suggested that I try to sell the used baby clothing on eBay. I started to dabble and saw that there was a market for discounted children’s clothing.” Soon Bliss bought herself a $500 lot on the auction website and got a good response to her items, but found that she couldn’t make much profit after paying the fees to eBay. “I can’t recall the day I decided to set up my own website. I was comfortable on the computer. There was not much that scared me, but I didn’t know much about designing websites.” So she spent countless hours surfing the Internet. She went to child-related sites, found ones she liked, and contacted the webmasters. Pretty soon, www.mymiraclebaby.com was launched. The site now offers infant, toddler and children’s clothing at deep discounts and also has a large selection of “pre-loved” gently used clothing. With her website up and running, Bliss took her 20 years of marketing experience and put it into action. She set up direct mail campaigns, issued press releases, designed promotions, and researched places to list her site on the Internet. The site has been up for nine months now. “In the first week, I had $41 in orders. Last month I had $20,000.” But she has had to do her homework every step of the way. New to clothing retailing, she had to find sources that would sell items at wholesale to a small company. “I found deals,” she says. “There are clearances and liquidations of last year’s styles.” Bliss sells name brand merchandise including The Gap, Carters and Osh Kosh B’Gosh. All items are first quality unless they are in the “Bargain Bin”, where small irregularities are clearly noted. Bliss is constantly finding new ways to expand her business. She has tapped the resources of many “mom-based” organizations found through her Internet searches. One group that she belongs to, called “Mom Packs”, distributes packets of direct mail advertising for various home-based businesses. She has also teamed up with other mom-based businesses — affiliates — to broaden her product line. For example, she now offers personalized items. Customers place the orders through mymiraclebaby.com and Bliss contracts them out, taking a percentage of the total order. Other affiliates offer gifts, toys, books and videos through mymiraclebaby.com. Bliss says her business has definitely experienced growing pains and she is still learning as she goes, however. “I think I over-bought for Christmas,” she says, adding that orders were heavy through November but then dropped off sharply at the start of December. “Then I added a banner on the website that guarantees delivery by Christmas on orders placed by December 20, and suddenly we got another surge of orders.” Other lessons learned involve the nuances of accepting electronic credit card payments. Bliss uses a service for credit card processing but has found that, on international orders, there is no company that will verify the credit card information. “We recently had an international customer call Visa to dispute a $400 order. The customer claimed they never received it, despite the fact that we had shipping receipts. Visa debited the money from our account and fined us $50. For a small company, that can be devastating. We have to sell $5,000 worth of goods to make up for that loss,” Bliss explains. Mymiraclebaby.com is more than just a shopping site. After all, the inspiration for the site was Bliss’s true miracle baby. Bliss shares her story on the website and invites others to share their miracle baby stories, too — for a $10 gift certificate. Bliss puts in long hours growing her business, which now has five employees, but says, “When you find that thing you love, the hours fly by.” Her advice to other moms considering launching a home-based business is to “pay attention to details, look professional in everything you do.” She advises getting an 800 number, to answer the phone with the company name, and to set up a post office box. “You don’t want to look like a mom and pop shop. People want to deal with reputable companies.” She says one of the hardest things about having a home-based business is drawing the line between business and home. “No matter how much my husband supports me . . . and he supports me a lot . . . it is still hard to draw the line.” But all the reasons that make it difficult to work at home also make it worthwhile. Bliss’s daughter, now 2, goes to day care around the corner. “It’s ideal. I can drop her off late, pick her up early, and I can visit her during the day when I drive by.” And when not at day care, Jillian Nicole always knows where to find her mommy.

 


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