Ruffles Make Waves
A new cart concept focuses on baby and girls’ party apparel.
In 2009, Tom and Colleen Lutes started an online custom birthday decoration business, Sweet Celebrations. It offered high-end party packages—with customized banners, centerpieces and other party supplies exclusively for young girls’ birthday parties. “It was a complete turnkey package so moms didn’t have to run to the store and everything was put together for them,” says Tom Lutes. “It was and still is a very successful business.”
Then in 2001, the Lutes decided to add a category focused on party apparel for young girls. They began selling decorative clothing like flower-girl dresses, birthday and special occasion dresses, baby ruffle bums and rompers, hair bows and leg warmers. The response was far greater than they expected and it led to a new business—Ruffled Bum.
“People just loved the product and asked for more, so we created a new company and that was how the idea for Ruffled Bum was born,” says Tom Lutes, president of The Ruffled Bum, based in Highlands Ranch, CO. “We began developing, designing and importing products under The Ruffled Bum brand, and recently have taken it from wholesale to retail with a carts and kiosk processing program.”
Specialty retail arm
The husband and wife team contacted specialty leasing agents, targeted RMU cart operators, and pitched their Ruffled Bum product line. The couple also offered a special deal that would allow their carts to better attract the customers. “There’s a lady out of Indianapolis who has been in the merchandise and design business for some time, and she designed a fixture that we can modify [for] the RMU carts so they become essentially baby girl closets—pink and white with hanging areas on them,” Tom Lutes says. “We’ve said to customers, if you have a minimum order of $10,000 we will pay for the design and all the fixtures and they pay for the freight to get it there.”
In less than a year, approximately a dozen cart vendors have taken advantage of the offer and product is flying off the kiosks. “Those running the carts aren’t franchisees per se, they are authorized dealers. The only thing we ask in the creation of the cart for the customer is that they not carry a competitive product line to what we offer on the carts,” Lutes says. “They must stick with our line. The fixtures belong to us so if they decide to switch roads or are no longer operating, we would carry it on somewhere else. Everyone has been so happy, we don’t anticipate that problem.”
The first kiosk cart opened in The Mall of America center in Minneapolis, in August 2014 and the Lutes expect the business to continue to grow.
“Our goal is to grow this business significantly. We are beginning to build an incredible momentum with our product line and fully expect to have hundreds of dealers across the U.S. within the next few years,” he says. “The sales are doing very well, the margins are excellent and the market is fulltime and permanent. It’s not a flash in the pan by any means.” The typical mark up is 65% of the retail gross sale. The average transaction for a single item is $25.00 to $30.00. But with a little add-on sales, the dress or romper sale can add a hair bow, leg warmers, leggings or bloomers and become a $50.00 to $70.00 sale.
With girls’ sizes ranging from newborn to age 5T, The Ruffled Bum products are perfect for taking professional photos and as partywear for babies and young girls. The line offers fashions with new designs for Valentine’s Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas and for each new season.
“Our philosophy has always been to provide extreme cuteness for your precious little one at affordable prices,” Tom Lutes says. “From Ruffle Bum bloomers to bloomer sets to adorable girls dresses and rompers, we work very hard to provide designs that everyone will love.”
The next step for the company is to add a line of boys’ clothes. “Our kiosk operators are telling us that people are walking by and being stopped in their tracks to look at our products,” Tom Lutes says. “Many request boys’ items, so we will be adding that to the product line in 2015.”
With very limited competition—especially in the mall space—Tom Lutes feels The Ruffled Bum products are far superior to the specialty items that many kiosks offer, because the clothes are popular all season long.
“We want people to know we are extremely viable for the RMU market that is pretty underserved,” Tom Lutes says. “A lot of folks are looking for new and exciting products that really sell, and ours do. We are very serious players who can help these folks grow with a high volume.”
For more information, please visit theruffledbum.com.