Sunday, June 28, 2009

With people seeking comfort and security, an ex-stockbroker makes millions playing the pajama game.

Link of the day - I will pay you $25, if you come up with a cool domain name for me.

When consumers get cold feet, what's an entrepreneur to do? Sell them footed pajamas: a grown-up version of Dr. Denton's kiddie sleepwear.

Four years ago Valerie Johnson started Big Feet Pajama Co. from the basement of her Las Vegas home. The former stockbroker, who says she can't even sew a straight seam, sold $360,000 worth of pajamas in 2005; revenues hit $2 million in 2008. Despite the recession, she expects to top $2.5 million this year, thanks to strong advance orders for next winter's holiday season.

"Fleece and flannel mean comfort and security," she says. "My pajamas are a small, practical indulgence when all the fun has been squeezed out of the family budget."

Johnson, 40, knew little about the apparel business when she plunged in with an initial investment of $50,000 and began selling her wares online, in catalogues and in specialty retail stores. "I know how to sell," she says. "Everything else I outsource."

Like most startups, Big Feet has stumbled a few times, but Johnson has managed to keep her balance.

"One of the first shipments she sent us was delayed when the truck ran into a snowstorm in Pennsylvania," says Ellie Badanes, CEO of the Pajama Store, an online boutique. "She called us with hourly reports. It meant a lot to me that she would be so concerned about my business." Now Badanes orders $100,000 worth of pj's from Johnson each year.

And after Big Feet pajamas were chosen as celebrity gifts for the 2007 Oscars, the stars began to come out. Whoopi Goldberg bought them for everyone on her Christmas list, including the Clintons, Elton John and Robin Williams. Actress Eva Longoria ordered them for a staff slumber party.

"People want to wear what Eva Longoria is wearing," Johnson says cheerfully. "Especially if they can get it for just $44."

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