Brenda Dronkers made her mark by starting the highly successful inflatable party place for kids called Pump It Up http://www.pumpitupparty.com. She started the business on a shoestring budget as a California mother of three who struggled to make ends meet with no college degree and no money. Today, Pump It Up has about 160 franchises in 38 states, with the business earning more than $55 million last year. [Read the story of how Brenda started the business in our blog]
Eight years after she successfully started Pump It Up, Brenda is ready for new challenges. She sold her stake in Pump It Up and is starting a new business — this time an apparel line called Thriving Ink . Her clothing line, which will be launched on February 29, 2008, will initially offer uniquely designed t-shirts.
We interviewed Brenda about her new business, and how a successful business changed her life.
What lessons did you learn from starting and running a business as successful as Pump It Up?
I think the most valuable lessons that I learned were to use professionals from the very beginning. Don’t skimp. At the beginning of your business, you tend to want to pinch pennies, and compromise on some very important aspects of the business, such as trademarks, consultants, attorneys, accountants, marketing etc. However, in my experience, many of the things that I did to save money in the beginning, actually ended up costing me so much in the end. If I had done it right the first time, I would have save so much money!
How did having a successful business change your life?
The biggest changes have been in the relationships in my life, both business and personal. As you become successful, it really can take a toll on friendships. No matter how much you stay the same, people’s perception of you still changes. My advice is to stay true to yourself, your loved ones, and your family. Everything else will work itself out if God intends. As far as business relationships, I have built some incredible business relationships that have become long-term friendships.
What was the best part of starting and running Pump It Up?
Well, when I opened the first Pump It Up, it was the joy of doing something that my kids LOVED. They wanted to come to work with me every day! It was wonderful. As I worked the business daily, it was the parents and the kids that I served, and hearing children smile and laugh, as well as seeing the parent’s faces and relief that everything was taken care of by us. When I franchised the business, it was meeting my franchisees and building the culture and concept that would become Pump It Up with and among hundreds of wonderful franchisees across the country. Now that I have stepped aside as the Founder, it is relishing in the fact that over 6 million kids (and growing) visit a Pump It Up every year! Now that is exciting!
What was the most difficult part of starting and running Pump It Up?
Because I developed the first-ever indoor inflatable facility, had no college degree, was a women with children, and very little money, it was difficult to be taken seriously! I had to really prove myself every step of the way, right through to the end.
What made you decide to sell the business and launch a new one?
Like every entrepreneur, I was ready for another challenge! Also, once the business got to 150 franchises open, I brought in a professional staff to run the business. I knew at that time it was about time to move on to something new.
What made you decide to open a clothing line? Did you always wanted to start an apparel business?
I have three children, Jenelle, Matt and Jake. Jenelle and Matt, my two older children (now 20 and 18) have always been fashion, music and art lovers. When we were trying to figure out a new business to launch, we decided to utilize my business knowledge, coupled with their clothing, art and music passion.
Your children are now grown up. How did you manage raising kids while running a successful business? Are they going to be involved in Thriving Ink?
It wasn’t easy. When I first opened Pump It Up, the kids used to come after school and color or watch TV in my office on the days my husband was working. He worked for the fire department, so he had a lot of time off. Within a couple years, we were blessed enough that my husband was able to leave the fire department and stay home with the kids. He helped me with the business and the kids. He still does!
What are your plans for Thriving Ink? How will it be different from other t-shirt lines out there?
Thriving Ink is very different in that we put our artists at the forefront of our business. After all, where would we be without them? We currently work with 10 artists from all over the world. Many of them have designed for the big brands like Obey, RVCA, Tank Theory, Triple 5 Soul, Rocawear, and more. They are incredible, Yet never, have they received recognition for their designs. With us, they get their own hangtag, which they designed, they sign their shirts, we have an Artist Bio Page for each artist on our website. Our artists have already told us that they are getting lots of work from our press. We only HOPE they don’t need us in a year. There are plenty more extremely talented artists in the world!
Will you be focusing on t-shirts, or will you be branching out to other apparel and accessories line?
We currently carry t-shirts. We are testing one thermal. Once we perfect our t-shirts, will definitely be expanding our line to include hats, accessories, jackets and more.
How are you planning to distribute and market your t-shirt line?
We currently sell wholesale, online and will eventually open retail.
Your Thriving Ink website looks gorgeous. How are you planning to leverage the Web to jumpstart your new clothing line business?
Thanks so much! We are very proud of it! We have hired a great company to optimize the search capabilities for the site. We have a working and personal relationship with CT from Real World. He wears and promotes our clothing. He was just nominated for a MTV Award. He is wearing Thriving Ink to the awards show. We have been given the opportunity to gift the Bachelors on the upcoming Bachelorette show with our shirts, so we are excited to see how that works for us. We have so much going on to drive folks to the website. We have a Blog, and event section. Lots!
What experiences did you have in Pump It Up that can help the new business Thriving Ink become successful?
I believe every work/business experience you have prepares you for the next. I simply can’t think of anything at Pump It Up that WON’T help me with Thriving Ink.
Will you be running this new business from home? If so, how will you manage this business and keep the business separate from your home life?
We are currently working our business from home, and it is nearly impossible to separate the two. My kids work with me, my husband helps, and my 12 year old, Jake wears the clothes and consults when he can. I don’t foresee this home-based business staying this way for long. 🙂
Based on your experiences, what lessons can you share to other budding entrepreneurs?
As a woman, you need to be a bit more aggressive than you would sometimes find yourself to be. In order to be taken seriously in some industries, especially male dominated industries, we need to lead with both our heart and our head. Something that I personally think women can do incredibly well! Never compromise who you are as a mom, wife, friend, neighbor or family member. Remember, family always comes first!!
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Category: Success Stories