Collaboration over competition: how working with influencers helped one lady boss find success

Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.

Amanda Penner is one of those mamas.

Even before having her son, Remy, Amanda loved making handcrafted gifts for her friends with new babies. What started out as a single pair of moccasins made from scrap leather became an instant sensation with the help of social media. From a single image sprung a company now headed into it’s fourth year of business, complete with their very own factory and 15 employees.

A large part of Minimoc’s success is due to Amanda’s work with influencers, and her spirit of collaboration. Coupled with her positive, warm attitude, Amanda has a unique way of making you feel at ease. This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons so many bloggers, brands and retail stores are happy to work with her.

With over 400% growth last year, and revenue set to double again this year, Minimoc shows no signs of slowing down. 

To feel is to believe, and the quality of Minimoc’s shoes are stunning. Though each shoe is no longer made by Amanda, having their own factory in the city they live in gives this husband and wife team complete control over quality, and it shows.

Minimoc Moccasin and Shoe in “Dolphin”. Photo credit Julie Christine Photography
Minimoc Moccasin and Shoe in “Dolphin”. Photo credit Julie Christine Photography
Minimoc Moccasin in “Blue Jay”. Photo credit Julie Christine Photography
Minimoc Moccasin in “Blue Jay”. Photo credit Julie Christine Photography

Amanda was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about how working with influencers has helped her grow her business. This is, “Why collaboration works” , in her own words.

Tell me about the growth of Minimoc, what has it been like?

Amanda Penner: It began on a small sewing machine, in a hallway of our home. Jeff and I both worked full time jobs and I would spend my evenings (and late, late nights) fulfilling the increasing amount of orders. A short while later, we were getting enough demand that we decided that I should step back from my job as an Educational Assistant for our local school district, and make a go at doing Minimoc full-time.

It felt like the most life changing decision at the time. Looking back now, yes, it was a life-changer but we had much larger decisions ahead of us. We slowly began to take on more wholesale orders, alongside our existing online orders. I think we contacted about five stores in the early days of Minimoc, asking them if they’d like to stock our product.

Since then, stores have continued to contact us, finding us via social media and word of mouth. You can now find our brand in more than 250 stores across North America.

I’m getting ahead of myself though… We came to a major decision-making time when the leather, boxes, sewing machines and everything else began to dominate our home. I was pregnant with Remy, and Jeff and I decided that he would go on Parental leave for a period of time, when Remy was born.

We would get a warehouse and build a factory of our own and we’d do our very best to make Minimoc into something that could support our family as well as a team of employees.

The other option was to outsource. We strongly believe in keeping things made in Canada and that wasn’t something we were going to compromise on, so for a brief time, we looked into local companies that could help us achieve this. This meant getting someone to cut our leather, getting someone else to sew it and then getting it back and hoping for the best. It just didn’t feel right. So we made the crazy decision to make our own factory!

It’s been a huge learning curve but we are able to keep the entire process under one roof, while overseeing the making of a quality product, every step of the way and that is really important to us. Minimoc is now mine and Jeff’s full time gig and we have a team of 15 employees that work towards the same goal with us, every day.

Photo credit Julie Christine Photography
Photo credit Julie Christine Photography

What have been some of your biggest challenges?

Amanda Penner: The biggest challenge has been everything involved with keeping our product made in Canada. Taking on the task of creating and running a baby shoe factory comes with so much potential for things to go wrong, or large amounts of time to be wasted. Jeff specializes in process improvement and he has worked hard from day one to make sure that if there is a better or more efficient way to do something, he will make sure that we are doing it. It means constantly changing the way things are done. Like weekly.

We are always evolving and improving our processes and it can be exhausting. Many times we’ve said out loud, “Maybe we should just get someone else to make the shoes,” but then we come to our senses and realize that we believe in what we are doing and have so many loyal supporters who feel the same way.

Photo credit Julie Christine Photography
Photo credit Julie Christine Photography

What type of collaborations do you seek?

Amanda Penner: The main type of collaboration that we do is with Bloggers. Either they find us or we find them and we send them our product.

Then, they take it from there. Sometimes they give away a pair of our shoes to their readers, sometimes they do a review of our shoes and sometimes they simply take a photo of our shoes on their child and post it to Instagram.

All of these are good but out of these, the most desirable collaborations are between us and a blogger with a loyal (not necessarily large) following, who genuinely appreciates what we do. The kind that is excited when their Minimoc package arrives and takes the time to dig deeper into what our brand is about and tells their readers about why they chose to put our product on their child’s feet.

The most desirable collaborations are between us and a blogger with a loyal following, who genuinely appreciates what we do.

How do you qualify a potential collaborator?

Amanda Penner: There isn’t a magic formula that we go by when working with people and it’s a little different every time. We’ve seen amazing photographers who are going on a trip and need footwear for their children; when the opportunity presents itself we are on-board. Sometimes it’s all about how we can fit in and help the other person. Say someone is building a business we believe in, we’ll help them get started with a giveaway. We have a budget as to how many giveaways and free product we send out each month. We have a lot of people who ask for product to review and we look at their audience by visiting their social media channels and website and if it feels like a good fit, we move forward on the collaboration.

Photo credit Julie Christine Photography
Photo credit Julie Christine Photography

What is more important, fame and number of followers, or a genuine interest in your brand?

Amanda Penner: This one is easy, especially with all the apps that are out there to unnaturally ‘grow’ your following.

Genuine interest is always more important.

Do you recommend trade collaborations or paid ones?

Amanda Penner: Having a young child and working in the children’s fashion industry is a great combination! It means we are constantly needing new clothes for our little guy and our friends are in the same boat. We’ve had the opportunity to do some awesome product trades with people and this makes for an easy way to get our hands on new products and be able to widen the audience that sees the brands we trade for and vice versa. This also allows other brands to be able to touch and feel our product in person and sometimes that’s all it takes for them to be hooked on Minimoc.

Tell me about your best collaboration experience?

Amanda Penner: Another type of collaboration we’ve had the pleasure of working on is a Special Edition Shoe with Jen from VonBon Apparel.

We began the planning stage of it in early 2015 and debuted to final product at VonBon’s 2 year anniversary party later that year. It was a lot of fun to do! We wanted something perfectly gender neutral, with a luxurious feel. I think we made it happen! It’s a soft, bone coloured leather, with a platinum tab on the back and her signature VonBon Antler design lasered into the front of the shoe. They come in a sleek black box that we designed specifically for this product. When others stand behind what you do and are willing to collaborate, it strengthens all the brands involved.

Tell me about your worst one!

Amanda Penner: I won’t say much on this, only that there have been instances where we collaborate with someone, expecting an amazing result based on their past work. When the time comes for them to do their part of the collaboration, we have the feeling that they didn’t put their best effort forward.

How has collaboration with influencers helped you grow your business faster?

Amanda Penner: The more people that get their hands on our product, directly translates to more sales for us. We can’t even count the number of times that we send a pair of shoes out to an influencer in a town that we’ve never shipped to before and then all of a sudden we will start seeing orders come in from that same little town. It’s pretty amazing!

What is your favorite thing about Minimoc?

Amanda Penner: It feels cliché to say, but I am genuinely amazed at how many wonderful, like minded people have met since starting our company. That is one of my favorite things about running Minimoc. And an unlimited supply of shoes for Remy, of course.

How does being a mother affect the way you run your business?

Amanda Penner: Before I had Remy, I would work almost the entire night and then start back up again in the morning, same time as always. I would let small bumps in the road consume me and they would be all I could focus on.

Now that there is someone who relies on me so greatly, those things just don’t matter like they did before. He keeps me on a normal person’s schedule because I want to be awake and present for him. I used to respond to emails as soon as they came in. Now I have no problem putting work aside and letting it sit until the next morning, while I spend time with my family.

Minimoc is how we are able to support our family and it seems to constantly need our attention. The beauty of it being our own and something that we’ve built means that we get to make the rules. If we go through a busy season where it feels like we aren’t as connected as a family, we make sure to take a day to spend just as a family and enjoy each other. It’s incredibly freeing.

Is there any one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring lady bosses?

Amanda Penner: The advice that I would give, are the same words that I need to remind myself of daily: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Something that is much easier said, than done for myself. When I do something, I want it done right and I want it done now.

Great things take time and most times, begin with a few failed attempts.

What does the word “motherly” mean to you?

Amanda Penner: When I think about the word Motherly, I think of it as a very flattering adjective that can be used to describe anyone with certain qualities, whether they’re a mother or not. Mothers are known to be tender, caring, responsible, protective and patient. If anyone who knows me, is able to consider me to be motherly, then I am doing something right.

Photo credit Julie Christine Photography
Photo credit Julie Christine Photography

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Haley Campbell is the founder of Beluga Baby, and a regular contributor to Motherly. She is is an avid advocate for entrepreneurs, and for the new generation of mothers making the world their own.

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