A wide variety of companies in the lifestyle market make it difficult to stand out. Auburn Alumna Megan Smalley, CEO and founder of Scarlet & Gold, has mastered setting her business apart.
In two years, Scarlet & Gold has gone from an idea to a thriving retail, wholesale and online business.
“We established our brand by making sure everything we do is executed well and that we are attentive to every detail,” Smalley said. “We have also partnered with some really great people and gifted a lot of celebrities to grow our business.”
Scarlet & Gold is a gift and lifestyle brand that primarily sells 100 percent original artwork produced on prints, greeting cards, apparel and iPhone cases. The business started as an online retail store out of Smalley’s home in September 2013, and quickly grew. The wholesale line opened in January 2015, and eight months later, Smalley opened a store with an office in Auburn, Alabama.
“We were busting at the seams in my house,” Smalley said. “I am a big believer that you can start small, and that is what allowed us to open the store front so quickly.”
Although the business has flourished, it was not always in Smalley’s plan. She worked as a public relations practitioner for a clothing company her first year out of college. She spent the next two years working in pharmaceutical sales.
“I thrived off of the competitive environment in pharmaceutical sales. I love sales because it is the only job where you are 100 percent paid what you are worth, and the sky’s the limit,” Smalley said.
However, Smalley still needed a creative outlet. While in college, she picked up photography as a hobby, and after researching to find out what people want and what will sale, she got the idea of print design, which led her to Scarlet & Gold.
“I never thought I would be able to go in somewhere and ask for business because I am shy, but when you believe in your product and love it, it is really easy,” Smalley said. “It is all about networking and building relationships.”
Smalley worked both jobs, spending her nights and weekends packing and shipping orders. Four months later, she was laid off from her pharmaceutical sales position and Scarlet & Gold took off.
To ensure survival in the early stages, Scarlet & Gold operated on a low budget and did not stock product so that they did not have a huge investment in inventory.
“I believe you do not have to have all the bells and whistles to operate a successful business. You can do it on a really low budget, but you have to be wise with every dime you spend and make sure it is necessary so that you can grow,” Smalley said.
Smalley has sacrificed a lot along the path, but managing the money after funding the business herself along with her husband was her greatest challenge.
“I did not draw a salary for a year and a half, and now I draw a really low salary. I am the lowest paid person on this team,” Smalley said. “To continue to grow the business, we have to pour as much profit as we can back into it so that we can keep getting products on the shelf.”
In addition, Smalley has many techniques she incorporates to keep the business thriving, including seeking wise counsel in all business decisions, hiring the right people and properly training them.
“It is easy to relinquish control when you hire people you can trust and who you can train so that they can make the wheel turn without you,” Smalley said. “You have to let people make decisions. Sometimes they will fall on their face but that is part of the growing process.”
As far as keys to success for someone looking to start a business, she said to never give up, to always strive for excellence and to never be afraid of stepping out of a comfort zone to get there.
Scarlet & Gold may have established a name for itself, but Smalley does not plan to sit back and relax anytime soon.
"If you ever think that you made it, well that is a scary place to be. I still don’t feel like we are in the clear completely, because I always want to take it to the next level. You do not grow by being okay with the status quo,” Smalley said. “For me, this is a ministry and I want to continuously be used for the Kingdom. I will go wherever the Lord leads.”