The “.com” after the PoshTots business name was the kiss of death as far as Barbara Wertz was concerned.
Wertz, co-owner of Plenty’s Horn, an upscale children’s-furniture manufacturer that offers many horse-related items in Pittsburg, Texas, was having no part of PoshTots.com or its owners Karen Booth Adams and Andrea Edmunds. Wertz had been tricked before by someone who finagled some of her one-of-a-kind furniture from her and copied it.
Wertz was manning her booth at the biannual furniture market in High Point, N.C., when the two attractive blondes from Richmond approached her.
“People [who come to High Point] are supposed to be retail buyers, but you meet all kinds,” Wertz says in a distinct Texas drawl. She admits she found the women quite friendly but she was in no way ready to cozy up to them. “I remember these young ladies saying they were a new business and they wanted to do business with us, but I was skeptical and leery. I just had a bad experience with another company.”
The April 2000 show was Adams’ and Edmunds’ first time at the market. Adams and Edmunds met in fall 1999 and opened PoshTots.com in March 2000; by April 2000 they were getting ready to launch their new upscale children’s-furnishings Web site. They went to High Point to secure deals with vendors like Wertz. They had no idea what they would be up against. “The first two markets we went to, no one knew who we were,” says Edmunds, president of PoshTots. “They were like ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ When Barbara Wertz saw us coming, she would turn around and walk away.”
Like wrinkles in linen, Adams and Edmunds wouldn’t go away. “By our third time at the market, Barbara looked at us and said, ‘Are you still here?’ ” Edmunds recalls.
“They kept coming back,” Wertz says, admitting she was impressed by their determination. “Because of their kindly persistence, I finally said yes.” Today, with sales of around $10 million annually and more than 200 artisans on its vendor list, PoshTots.com is not only well known at market but also is one of Wertz’s top five customers.
Adams, 35, and Edmunds, 37, make a great tag team. “We have a healthy respect for one another as well as the strengths and weaknesses of one another,” says PoshTots CEO Adams. The duo’s tenacity is outweighed only by their optimism. “I see the glass as half full,” Adams remarks. “I see the world full of opportunities. There are many people with great ideas, but it takes a lot of long hours and dedication to make an idea into a successful business.”
Finding the Angle
The two moms — Adams has two daughters, Sarah, 7, and Olivia, 6; Edmunds also has two daughters, Madison, 8, and Emma, 4, as well as a 16-month-old son, Evan — met in October 1999, when one of Adams’ business partners from another venture, Fahrenheit Technology, asked her to have lunch with Edmunds, who was being considered for a recruiter position. Three hours later, Adams suggested the two start a new business that was in some way related to children. “I didn’t know what we would do but I knew that we would figure something out,” Adams says.
When Adams shared her news with Rich O’Hallaron, managing partner of Fahrenheit Technology, he wasn’t surprised. “I knew she was in the middle of decorating and I knew that the two of them had common ground and they would like each other. But I didn’t think they would be starting a business that quickly. That was Karen’s foresight in seeing that niche.”
A self-made millionaire by the age of 25, Karen Adams, who worked in human-resources recruiting after college, partnered with North Carolinian Tom Hoshko to open her first company, Computer Professionals Inc. (CPI), in 1993 when she was 23. The company placed their employees, computer professionals, in businesses as consultants. “I didn’t realize what kind of challenges there would be,” Adams confesses. “I had never made a sales call. I had never been in marketing.” She began cold calling information-technology managers, taking many of them to lunch. “I ate a lot back then,” she jokes.
Mary Fowlkes, vice president of Peter Blair Accessories, remembers her days as a recruiter at CPI. Describing Adams, she uses words like “intuitive,” “entrepreneurial” and “persistent.” “I’ve never worked with anybody that is as committed to making something work as she is,” Fowlkes says.
Adams sold CPI in 1995 to Accustaff (now Modis) and headed Accustaff’s acquisitions division for a couple of years before opening and running two more technology-related businesses — Fahrenheit Technology and Ironworks Consulting. Scott Warren, who grew up with Adams and is a partner in both Fahrenheit and Ironworks, sees Adams’ focus as one of her biggest strengths.
“She doesn’t let it go until she finds an angle,” Warren comments. “She has incredible passion for her work and goes with her gut. She’s constantly thirsty for more knowledge, experiences and interaction with people. She never wants to sit still. She’s always doing something.”
Adams’ early successes gave her the ability to put up $1 million of her own money to start PoshTots.com, which has been a moneymaker since its start. “We turned a profit on our monthly profit and loss statement during our first year and we’ve grown the business with the profit we left in it,” Adams says. “Our sales are running [at] a 40 percent increase from last year. Our profits are about the same.”
The Home Office
In early spring 2004, PoshTots broke virgin ground once again, producing its first mail-order catalog. “That was the most exhausting project I’ve ever done,” confides Adams. “At home I had thousands of pictures taped up on the walls, trying to organize them into spreads for the catalog. I would move them around. I looked like the guy in the movie A Beautiful Mind,” she says, laughing at the memory. “I took pictures [of the walls] of my house to remind myself never to do that again.”
Adams and Edmunds are now in the midst of shooting the second PoshTots catalog. When they finish, they will begin shooting the first catalog for PoshLiving, a new spinoff company featuring upscale, custom-made adult furnishings. “We’ve wanted to do this for a couple of years,” Adams remarks. “It’s a logical progression.”
What complicates the process is the fact that Adams recently moved with her husband, Dru, and her two daughters from their home in Richmond’s Wyndham neighborhood to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where the family had its summer home. Once owned by Oscar-winning actor Gene Hackman, the renovated Italian-style home overlooks the Intercoastal Waterway, where it converges with the New River. The family’s 55-foot yacht and 28-foot open-bow boat are anchored at the end of the back yard. Like its Wyndham counterpart, the home is kid-friendly. The children’s playroom sits in the middle of the house. “We designed it around travel, an explore-our-world theme,” Adams says. “We’re always reading books about different places and cultures.”
Adams’ still-furnished Wyndham home — she has no plans to sell the luxurious stucco home with media room, outdoor pool, hot tub and band room (Dru, her husband, plays bass guitar) — is perfect for the company’s catalog shoots.
Clad in sweats and red-and-green-plaid bedroom slippers, Adams, pushing her straight blond hair behind her ears, is urging a toddler, who at this time is serving as a model in a nursery shoot, to blow bubbles at a frightened fish, circling a small fishbowl. “Tuck the baby’s diaper in. It’s driving me crazy,” Adams says in a half-joking, half-serious manner. Adams’ home is, at this moment, a packrat’s paradise, bulging with props, furniture and boxes and bags of accessories; there’s even a carousel horse in the hallway. As each session wraps, Adams, Edmunds and their staff members switch out the décor with the finesse of a NASCAR pit crew. “Karen’s the visual,” Edmunds says, smiling as she slips a crib mattress on its side and jerks the sheets off. “We’re the grunts.” The team works until late into the night. Around 2 a.m. Adams heads to the Short Pump Wal-Mart to pick up some more toys, greenery and fabric.
“Karen is driven,” O’Hallaron remarks when he hears that Adams ran to the store in the middle of the night. “I don’t know when she sleeps. I get e-mails from her at all kinds of hours — late evenings and early mornings.”
Prepared for the Worst
Born and raised in Farmville, Adams recollects the 10th-grade career day that started her on her chosen pathway. “An industrial organizational psychologist came to speak to us on career day,” she says, noting that industrial organizational (IO) psychology teaches you how to make businesses more efficient as well as how to structure them. “After hearing her talk, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” Inspired, Adams got permission to take an IO class at Longwood while still in high school. She followed the same track at college, majoring in psychology and sociology at U.Va., where she graduated in 1990, finishing in three years.
Fearless in many ways, at age 18
Adams asked her parents’ permission to take flying lessons. Her father, an entrepreneur himself, flew planes when Adams was young. The diversion was the only time that Adams considered changing her career. “I was hooked” on flying, she says. “During my second year of college, I spent more time at the Charlottesville airport than in school. I was convinced I wanted to be a pilot. My parents were really supportive. As a parent, I wouldn’t be as supportive of my 18-year-old doing something that dangerous.”
Adams nixed the notion of becoming a pilot after experiencing a near crash when landing a small plane. “We got into a really bad thunderstorm and we almost didn’t make it. It scared me quite good,” she says.
Today as in the past, Adams operates under a worst-case-scenario mindset. If she can handle the worst that can happen, so be it — she forges ahead. Edmunds is of the same ilk.
It’s the second day of the photo shoot, and Edmunds is coaxing her youngest daughter, Emma, and her toddler, Evan, who are sitting at a kids’ table in a Western-themed bedroom, to blow bubbles for the camera. Emma is decked out in a blue ballet tutu, cowboy hat and boots. Evan is in jeans. Stretched on the floor to avoid being in the shot, Edmunds, wearing flared jeans and a sand-colored V-neck shirt with her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, is pleading with her children to look at the camera. “You’re a great model Evan,” Edmunds tells her son, hoping for a smile.
Baby With the Bathwater
Raised in Chesterfield, Edmunds began working at age 15 — she had a part-time job at Bon Air Cleaners and also served as a lifeguard in the summer. “I was always ready to get out of school and work,” she confides. “I liked feeling independent. I guess I wanted to grow up too soon.” After graduating from Manchester High in 1985, Edmunds enrolled in VCU as an education
major, later switching to a criminal-justice track after volunteering in a victim/witness program. While at VCU, Edmunds also worked part-time as a waitress at Lightfoots at the Hyatt [now Sheraton] in Henrico. It’s there that she met her husband, Andy, who was, at the time, playing in the band Spectrum. The couple married in 1989. “We had been friends,” Edmunds says. “I always would get him a Coke during his break. After we started dating, I knew right away” that he was the one.
For the next few years, Edmunds worked for the Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney, helping abuse victims to get through the court process. “It was an awesome job, very rewarding,” Edmunds says. Later she worked in probation and parole, preparing pre-sentencing reports for judges. It was during this time that Edmunds got the idea for her first business venture. She and her sister Lisa both gave birth to their first children and constantly commiserated about their fussing babies, eventually turning to their grandmother for advice.
“She used to tell me to run the bathwater to help Madison sleep,” Edmunds says, noting that the suggestion really did work. Realizing they may be on to something, the sisters formed Two Sisters Productions and coerced Edmund’s husband Andy to record various white-noise sounds — a vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, running bathwater, etc. — onto a CD. They shared the CD with other moms and doctors.
From her desk at home, Edmunds began sending out press releases to the media. Her efforts paid off when The Today Show called, wanting Edmunds to fly to New York to be interviewed by Ann Curry. That was followed by a spot on Leeza starring Leeza Gibbons and mentions in magazines such as Glamour and Fit Pregnancy. Edmunds worked with the business until she turned it over to a fulfillment house after starting PoshTots.
Edmunds discovered she was a natural marketer. “I loved talking to producers about something that I was passionate about,” she says. The experience served as a springboard for her work at PoshTots, where she was in charge of promoting the online business that carries everything from nursery bed linens to a $39,500 Cinderella-esque pumpkin- coach bed.
Edmunds remembers the first few months after the site went live. Her daughter Emma was only 4 weeks old at the time, Adams was in Florida and PoshTots.com had only one employee, Lesley Johnson. Edmunds and Johnson handled the day-to-day operations. “I kept Emma in a Moses basket in the office,” Edmunds says. “I brought her to work every day. Madison was in preschool.” Edmunds and Johnson handled all of the orders manually.
“We were answering the phones, taking orders and faxing them to vendors. We quickly learned that we needed more people.”
Johnson, now director of product development, shared a small office with Edmunds at Fahrenheit Technology — PoshTots’ office now is adjacent to Fahrenheit. “It was a tough sell for
[Adams and Edmunds] back then,” Johnson recalls. “They had to do a lot of convincing.” To help Edmunds when she was pitching the business to editors, Johnson would take care of Emma. “We were a family,” she says. “It was just the two of us and Emma.”
The atmosphere hasn’t changed much, she adds. “I feel fortunate to work for two young mothers who understand what it means to be a mother. There’s a lot of flexibility. They understand that as busy as we are, family comes first. That has remained constant.”
Posh Tots in Primetime
Johnson credits Edmunds with getting the company noticed. “She took the concept and nurtured it and made it thrive,” she says. “It wouldn’t be where it is today without her.”
Edmunds scored her first major coup when the set designer for the film Stuart Little 2 called after browsing the PoshTots Web site. He asked Edmunds if the company could supply a crib for the opening scene, which was filming the following week. “Absolutely!” she answered, wondering how she was going to pull this off when there was no inventory. The answer: Ship the crib that was in
Adams’ daughter’s room. Edmunds, a whiz at product placement, parlayed that event into an article in People magazine.
Relating to people is one of Edmunds’ strengths, says Peggy Cummings, executive vice president for local advertising agency Carter Ryley Thomas Inc. “There are no strangers in Andrea’s world. People want to open their doors to her. I wish I could bottle her enthusiasm and no-strangers attitude and sprinkle it around here.” In the years that Cummings has known Edmunds, she’s never seen her stressed or harried. “Everything seems to flow around her,” she says. “She’s really smart but I sometimes wonder if she knows how smart she really is.”
The company’s next big break came in the form of a call from the producers of the hit NBC television show Friends. One of Edmunds’ friends had mentioned PoshTots in a meeting with producers. The show ended up using several items for Rachel’s baby Emma, including a “Princess Emma” wall hanging.
“When Andrea got the call, she came out of her office and said ‘You’re not going to believe this!” Johnson recalls. “Everybody in the office was screaming. It was like Elvis had walked into the room.”
Since its inception, PoshTots has attracted a host of celebrity clients — including Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Williams, Marc Anthony, Debra Messing, and Courteney Cox Arquette. “I remember when we got an order from our first celebrity, photographer Annie Leibowitz,” Johnson says. “Andrea calmed me down because I was so nervous. No matter who it is, Andrea can connect with them.” Some celebrities discovered the PoshTots Web site on their own; others either received gifts or gift certificates that Edmunds doled out, or met with Edmunds at one of the Hollywood parties that bring celebrities and vendors together. “Through the buzz, other celebrities hear about us,” Edmunds says. Edmunds leverages those ties, making appearances on shows such as Access Hollywood, The Other Half, and Living it Up! With Ali and Jack to dish about what the stars are buying for their kids. “We don’t share names or information unless we have the person’s permission,” she explains. “We respect our customers’ privacy.”
Albeit a successful marketing ploy, sending gifts to celebrities and providing free merchandise for television shows is an area that causes Adams angst. “Public relations is a real education for me,” she admits. “Andrea got it pretty quickly.”
“We have had some sisterly battles when we give things to celebrities,” Edmunds adds. “When the Dr. Phil show called, Karen wanted to know what the return on investment was. She’ll ask me, ‘Why do we have to give it for free?’ She’s more the nuts and bolts. I’m the yes girl.”
Sometimes, though, Edmunds says yes when Adams would have said no. “We’ve had a couple of requests from people who are on a television show who have looked at our Web site and want $10,000 to $20,000 of furniture,” Adams says. “It’s a complicated issue. It’s wonderful to have celebrity clients and it drives PR, but you have to be smart and think about how you spend your resources.” What the two do agree on is giving back to children in need through donations of money, time or merchandise and providing a family-friendly work atmosphere for their employees.
“Seventy-five percent of our employees are working mothers,” Johnson says. “Andrea and Karen have a special level of care and compassion.” Edmunds is quick to point out that the whole business revolves around moms and that children are always welcome. “There’s always a place in the office for kids.”
A Soft Touch
When it comes to helping children in need, Johnson remembers the day a customer e-mailed the company about an 8-month-old girl dying of leukemia who loved giraffes. Adams and Edmunds sent the family a stuffed, life-size giraffe. “They got our vendors to donate money and everyone in the office walked in the Light the Night Walk for cancer research. They also donated part of the proceeds of all of our giraffe-related products to fight leukemia,” Johnson says.
In early October this year, Edmunds was driving home to Varina — she and her family live on 14 acres overlooking the James River in a large, inviting white-frame farmhouse with oversized rooms and lots of play areas for the kids — when her cell phone rang. It was her office with the news that the producers of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition had called with a request. Edmunds surmised that they likely heard about the company from its exposure on the TLC show While You Were Out.
The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team was about to start a new project, rebuilding a dilapidated farmhouse for a young family in Bakersfield, Calif.. They wanted PoshTots to create a fantasy bedroom for 6-year-old Ashley Elcano, who loves horses and whose father had been killed in an automobile accident in June. Immediately touched by the story — Edmunds has ridden since childhood and owns an American Saddlebred named Fancy — Edmunds gave her usual response of “Absolutely!”
Edmunds immediately called Barbara Wertz of Plenty’s Horn to ask if she would work with PoshTots.com to provide the little girl with their “Lone Star” bedroom collection — retailing for around $20,000, the collection is hand-carved and hand-painted, with a horse-barn motif that includes real horseshoes for drawer pulls. She agreed to donate the items.
The relationship between PoshTots and Wertz has come a long way since 2000. Wertz doesn’t walk the other way any more. Quite the opposite.
“When Andrea called, asking if we could donate the products, we immediately figured out a way to do it,” Wertz says. “The workers here are bouncing. They’re all excited. PoshTots.com will get the credit, but we know they will handle it professionally and funnel the success to us. Andrea always kids me by saying, ‘Guess we fooled you.”