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Summer 2009 Little Design Idea Makes Big Impact

Great business ideas can be realized during life’s simplest moments. When Debby Yennaco Peretz’s school-aged son asked her how to spell bug, she made a picture of the creature on her computer, by flipping the letters around then adding a head and antennae. Aidan was so excited that Peretz knew she was on to something.

In just two years the former advertising executive was running a thriving apparel design business with an educational twist. Peretz began by producing various animal T-shirts on a screen printer in the basement of her Hampton, NH home. She sold them from the trunk of her car to parents at her son’s school, at craft fairs and fundraisers, and to high-end boutiques.

Now, she has an expanded line of apparel and accessories and customers in nearly 40 countries.

A new series of animal designs created with children’s names quickly became an overwhelming favorite among customers at home shows and other events. “It was my million-dollar idea,” says Peretz.

In March 2008, she splurged on a more compact and speedier water-based printer, created new name designs in the form of butterflies, cats, dogs and other various animals, and set up shop in a cart in Boston’s Prudential Center, a high-traffic location which draws more than 60,000 business people, locals and tourists from around the globe each day.

“The cart has been successful from the first weekend we opened,” says Peretz. So what sets lit’l Desi9s apart from other T-shirt vendors—besides the fact that her customers find the whimsical and colorful designs to be downright adorable? For one thing, a varied selection of garments, colors, sizes and designs mean the selection is almost limitless. Customizable offerings include onesies, baby blankets, hats, hoodies, children’s and adult-sized T-shirts, tote bags and pillowcases. Second, the apparel is 100 percent organic cotton.

Custom processing

Once shoppers select their garment and design, the final product is printed with earth-friendly inks in a matter of minutes, which further bolsters the appeal among today’s eco-conscious and time-starved consumers. If shoppers don’t find a favorite among the 1,500 name designs displayed on the cart laptop, husband Gal, who runs the cart, will email Peretz at home and tell her what the customer has in mind. She’ll immediately create a new design and email it back to her husband for the customer’s approval before it’s printed. Even the packaging is creative. After printing and heat setting, the final product is packaged in a reusable multi-colored bug catcher. Monogrammed apparel and personalized rubber stamps can also be special ordered.

Peretz came up with the name Lit’l Desi9s because she wanted something catchy, novel and creative, just like her products. “I create art out of letters that inspire kids to think creatively,” she says. “The products are unique, educational, fun and stranger-safe.” Parents often shy away from having their child’s name printed on clothing. Since the letters are an integral part of the design, parents like the fact that a child’s name isn’t easily recognizable by strangers, says Peretz.

Poised for growth

Apparently, shoppers are excited about the concept, too. “I get letters and emails from people all around the world thanking me for inspiring their kids in a creative way, which is why I
do what I do.” The products are especially popular among grandparents. Local moms of school-aged children with a continual need for birthday gifts are great repeat customers.

Given Peretz’s background in advertising, she relies on public relations as her primary marketing vehicle. A supportive friend does public relations work for a small percentage of sales, which has generated positive publicity in print, television and online, and drives shoppers from around the globe to the cart and the lit’l Desi9s website.

On-demand printing enables Peretz to display new products and designs such as Valentine’s Day and big brother/sister shirts without great expense. Maximizing the printer’s potential has helped with product development and new markets. Printing personal photos, graphics, sayings and expressions appeals to adults, and new logo printing services have helped expand into the business market. A new paper printer and production of canvas prints, wall borders, stickers and measuring charts should further broaden lit’l Desi9s’ appeal.

Excited customers from around the globe continually inquire about business opportunities, says Peretz. She currently has one cart licensee in the Crossgates Mall in Albany, NY and works with the owners as the creative director. Peretz and her husband plan on opening a new cart in Faneuil Hall, Boston’s popular urban marketplace. Three more licensing agreements are in the works and she’s ready to franchise. Manufacturing all of the apparel, and opening inline stores in high-traffic locations like Mall of America are also ideas currently on the drawing board.

Starting a business is never easy. The greatest challenge has been the time commitment required. “My husband has worked at the cart seven days a week for a year, and I work from home everyday,” says Peretz. The rewards are, however, worth the effort. “The reaction on a customer’s face, or a recipient calling and placing orders because they are so excited gives us the motivation to continue doing what we love so much.” The fact that sales have held up in today’s troubled economy surely helps, too.

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Mollie Neal

Neal writes about market trends, demographics and advertising issues for a variety of business and consumer publications. She can be reached at .

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