Occitan Imports: Woman-Owned, Home-based, eCommerce Business
Looking at already successful, women-owned businesses can provide excellent inspiration for you if you’re a woman who hopes to launch a business. In the small, home-based, multi-channel ecommerce market, Occitan Imports is an outstanding example.
The style, backstory, and woman behind this company make for an inspiring paradigm for aspiring female entrepreneurs.
Occitan Imports: French Tablecloths and Laguiole Cutlery
Occitan Imports is a multi-channel ecommerce operation that’s woman-owned and run entirely from home. It provides French tablecloths and Laguiole cutlery at great prices.
Each piece is of high quality and made by hand in the Provence region of France. The firm is designed to mimic a niche-specific French outdoor market, but online.
This unique business is owned and operated by Laurence Bertone. She was born in France (where Laurence is a reasonably common girl’s name; it helps that in French it’s pronounced “lo-RAWNCE”), and she wanted to bring the charm of French marketplaces to everyone.
When she’s asked how she came up with the idea for her unique and popular ecommerce platform, Laurence says, “I grew up in southern France, and always loved going to the outdoor markets in the villages of Provence, where you can always find beautiful Provençal table linens. Then I moved to the United States and I wanted to make authentic French Provençal table linens available to people in the US.”
Building a Home-Based, Multi-Channel eCommerce Organization
Instead of going the traditional route of a retail outfit that includes a brick-and-mortar shop placed in a prime (but pricey) location in a large city, Laurence decided that a multi-channel ecommerce platform would be preferable.
“I knew that the only way for me to access a nationwide market was to focus on Internet-based retail (e-commerce), so I put all my resources into building an on-line store (presence) rather than into a physical ‘brick and mortar’ retail store,” she said. “I also saw that more and more people were (and are) shopping online rather than in traditional retail stores.”
At the time, the budding entrepreneur was also a full-time mom, so she would consider the idea of having to leave her kids for long periods of time to chase a dream. “I felt that the only way I could run a business and be a fully engaged Mom was to run the business out of my home — I wanted to be at home for my kids,” she explains.
Thus, Occitan Imports opened for business, to service shoppers with an eye for beautiful, unique pieces with a decidedly French theme … all from her home.
Plunging into the Unknown
Laurence was excited about the challenge and opportunity of bringing the best of the French marketplace to the US, but it obviously wasn’t easy. Like most new business owners, she had a fear of failure and a shaky uncertainty about the ultimate success of her operation.
“I think the biggest challenge was really just overcoming the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure — starting a business from scratch, with your own money, is kind of like diving off a cliff into the ocean for the first time — you just have to close your eyes and jump,” she said. “When I started my business, I really had absolutely no idea whether I would ever sell anything at all, let alone become successful (profitable).”
Luckily for Laurence, she wasn’t a failure. Her unique platform grew swiftly, and has delighted customers all over the nation, including in Rhode Island, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and California. It’s a full-service ecommerce business that stretches from coast to coast.
Challenges of Female Entrepreneurship
When asked about the biggest challenges of getting a business launched by a woman, Laurence didn’t refer to the gender pay gap or extra effort required to triumph. Instead, she spoke of something that’s dear to many female entrepreneurs’ hearts: the struggle of balancing motherhood with ambitions for commercial success.
“It was a challenge to balance the needs of my business against the needs of my family (husband and kids),” she explained. “Being a wife and a mother is a full-time job, and my natural instinct as a mother was (and is) to put the needs of my children above everything else. So, as a mother, you always feel a little bit ‘guilty’ when you are focusing on your business rather than focusing on your kids 100 percent of the time.”
Ultimately, Laurence figured out a way to make the demands of her firm work in harmony with the needs of her children, and now she provides a great example to women and mothers everywhere who want to start a business but aren’t sure if they can.
In closing, Laurence wanted to offer a piece of advice to any busy mom or woman in the industry who hopes to start a business from home:
“Bringing my passion to the world and being a great example for my kids has always been very important to me, and that’s what drives me to make Occitan Imports a success. Any woman can do the same if she will hold on to her passion and won’t let negative influences drag her down.”