“Never in a million years did I think I’d start this business,” said Melissa Hinnant, founder of Grace and Lace. What started as a creative distraction has turned into an e-commerce sensation that will take center stage on ABC’s Shark Tank tonight, Nov. 22, at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the tank, but we expect the Sharks will be impressed by this Bigcommerce client and her fashionably frilly accessories.
Melissa started crocheting and knitting while on bed rest for a high-risk pregnancy. She didn’t plan to sell her creations, but her lacey boot socks were a huge hit among family and friends. They received so many compliments that she put them online and immediately got her first sale. Within 72 hours she had more than 400 purchase requests for her socks, nicknamed the PITA because they took her so long to make.
“I promised my husband I would never make another pair,” she said. “And two years later we’ve sold almost 60,000.”
Melissa’s husband, Rick, has been a successful business owner for over 20 years. As soon as the orders started coming in, he suggest she train other people to make her socks, and on day two she hired her first employee. Melissa focused primarily on design and implementation while Rick took on finances and forecasting. They began bringing in friends, family and anyone who could knit to help them scale.
“Up until August we were still fully operating out of our homes and office,” said Melissa. “We shipped out of my garage and my neighbor’s garage, we converted two rooms to sewing rooms, it completely took over our house.”
So three months ago Grace and Lace opened a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Cedar Park, TX. Even with 25 employees they struggle to keep up with high demand — the company generated $1.25 million in sales during the 12 months leading up to their Shark Tank taping. That incredibly fast growth led Jeff Usner, a family friend who appeared on ABC’s Secret Millionaire, to recommend Grace and Lace to the show’s producers.
The Hinnants have been fans of Shark Tank since season one. Rick wanted to do it, but Melissa wasn’t so sure. “I’ve always thought that these people are crazy, they share all their numbers and then get butchered alive,” she said. “But it’s funny, whenever I say never in a million years, I end up doing it.”
The producers rushed Grace and Lace through the application process and gave the couple five days notice before flying them to LA in June. “It’s been a good experience for us, both for the business and just as a life experience,” said Melissa. “We do believe God has a purpose in this. All the people we’ve met, all the people we’ve hired, it has been such a blessing.”
As the company continues to expand, helping others is what keeps Melissa motivated. She has hired 10 local moms that now work from home, including a friend from her weekly Bible study. “Every Thursday, she would ask for a prayer that she’d be able to find a job where she could stay home and raise her girls,” Melissa recalled. “I prayed that one day I could hire her. And I did. She now runs the wholesale department.”
Grace and Lace also donates a portion of every sale towards helping orphans in India. As a teenager, Melissa spent her summers doing mission trips around world. She was especially touched by her time at the Mother Teresa Home. “And here it is again, never in a million years did I dream I could ever possibly build an orphanage,” she said. But in August she crossed that off her list as well, partnering with Angel House to begin construction on a home for 50 children in need.
Want to see how the Sharks react to Melissa and her inspiring company? Tune in to ABC on Nov. 22, 2013, at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT or catch the episode starting Saturday on Hulu. In the meantime, join the wait list for our free ebook on alternative funding for your SMB. You’ll get great tips from successful e-commerce entrepreneurs on how they used Shark Tank, Kickstarter, social media bootstrapping and more to fund their business.
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