December 02, 2011
by Brittany Glenn
Founded in 2006 by Alicia and Jim Storbeck, Initial Outfitters is a small company with a big dream. That dream is to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them achieve their personal best.
Like all dreams, the Storbecks’ dream required personal sacrifice and hardship. Deeply entrenched in corporate America, the couple dreamed of a world where they would not be victims of corporate downsizing, layoffs and buyouts. They dreamed of taking control of their future. And they did.
“Preparing for this, Jim and I rented an apartment, shared a car, lived on less than one salary and saved the rest,” says Co-Founder Alicia Storbeck. “In 1997, we started our first company—HeartStrings—in the lunchroom of my mother’s gift shop. We shared a fax line and a phone line, and we had one engraving machine. The most popular item in our line was our engraved silver jewelry.”
A Natural Fit
The Storbecks didn’t initially set out to create a direct selling company. Instead, much to their surprise, direct selling found them.
“As we were building HeartStrings, people started having home parties with our line of products,” Storbeck says. “They were sending in massive orders. We said to them, ‘What exactly are you doing?’ They would describe this process to us and we would scratch our heads and say, ‘Wow, that’s intriguing.’ Then they started asking us for a plan where they could build a downline and where they could pay out commissions. Our customers were teaching us what it was they wanted us to do. It was an absolute natural fit.”
When the Storbecks began researching the direct selling industry, they realized HeartStrings was not structured for that kind of business model. So, in 2006, they founded Initial Outfitters, a company designed to support women in building their own businesses by offering jewelry and personalized gifts in home-party settings.
“When we got into this industry, we didn’t know what to expect,” Storbeck says. “We had heard the stories about how it changed people’s lives. But we didn’t understand the magnitude of those stories until we got into this company, met our consultants and saw the difference it truly does make in their lives.”
But, according to Storbeck, that’s not even the best part about the direct selling business model. “The coolest part of the business structure itself is the fact that you succeed when others succeed,” she says. “And the more others succeed, the more you succeed. You benefit by reaching a hand out and teaching someone, and bringing them along with you. That, to me, is awesome. That’s what I love about this business. I love it.”
|Initial Outfitters offers a range of exclusive jewelry and gift items, many of which can be personalized.|
Headquartered in Auburn, Ala., Initial Outfitters offers a wide range of products—from sterling jewelry that can be engraved with a person’s name or initials to an assortment of gifts that can be monogrammed, including bags, umbrellas, lunchboxes, caps, towels, slippers, soaps, can coolers, scarves and car tags, to name a few.
“What makes us unique is our personalization,” Storbeck says. “Our line has a lot of breadth to it. We have a wide range of products that apply to everyone who crosses your path, with the common bond of personalization. We are more like a traveling gift boutique that can be personalized. Whether you need a gift for a wedding shower, a baby shower or a birthday present, you can take care of all of that in one place.”
What inspired the Storbecks to create a direct selling company that specialized in personalization?
“We’re from the South, and everybody in the South loves personalization,” Storbeck says. “Also, when you have a name like Alicia—and you grow up in the 1970s in the United States—you’re the only person in the world with that name as far as you’re concerned. You can’t find it on those little pre-printed pencils or pads or anywhere.
“One day, I was at Disney World and I found this little bicycle with a license tag that had my name on it,” Storbeck continues. “It was as if somebody had just handed me Cinderella’s castle. Somebody put my name on something! Everybody likes to see their name on something. So it did not surprise us that our monogrammed jewelry was so popular. We found that offering personalized products met a need that both retailers and their customers had. This allowed us to provide a service, which in turn sold the product and solved a need for everyone.”
“We have a wide range of products that apply to everyone who crosses your path, with the common bond of personalization.”
—Alicia Storbeck, Co-Founder
Even the company’s name—Initial Outfitters—captures the spirit of personalization. “We were brainstorming names for our company and we realized we’re outfitting people, we’re outfitting their house and we’re outfitting their world with initials,” Storbeck says. “So we became Initial Outfitters.”
The company’s customer-service philosophy is also marked by a personal touch. “What our consultants love about our company is when they call the home office they get a person,” Storbeck says. “And they get a person who knows their name and who’s familiar with what they’ve been doing. They don’t get voice mail. They don’t get ‘press one for….’ They get a person who can handle their question immediately. Our consultants get very personal attention.”
Fluent in Spanish, Storbeck was eager to pair Initial Outfitters with a charity that would bring an even greater connection to this culture and help Hispanic people in need. She found that charity in Charlie’s Lunch Ministries, a charity that helps feed hungry children throughout the world.
“We knew we wanted this to be a company with a purpose that was a lot bigger than just making money,” Storbeck says. “So we started looking around for a charity that was our size, and Charlie’s Lunch was perfect. We agreed to corporately sponsor a lunchroom, and began immediately working on how to get our consultants involved, too.”
Through the sale of Charlie’s Lunchboxes—personalized lunch bags, designed by the company and sold through consultants—and Charlie’s Lunch Cookbooks, which are filled with recipes from the sponsored areas and artwork from the program’s children, Initial Outfitters fully sponsors eight lunchrooms every year, each of which supports the feeding of more than 500 kids.
“Charlie’s Lunchbox is a six-can cooler that can be embroidered,” Storbeck explains. “It’s the perfect size for lunch or snacks. It comes in 16 different colors and patterns now. One hundred percent of our profits from Charlie’s Lunchboxes and Charlie’s Lunch Cookbooks are used to fund new and existing lunchrooms.”
In 2008, when the company’s founders first decided to support Charlie’s Lunch, they determined they would need to sell 1,137 lunchboxes in order to fund a new lunchroom for a year.
“We thought we could do that in a year,” Storbeck says. “But three months later, we had already done it. By the end of that first year, we had sponsored five lunchrooms. That was just more confirmation that our consultants really were looking for something bigger than themselves that they could be part of, a place where they could give and do for others.”
Today, the company’s goal is to fund a lunchroom a month, or 12 lunchrooms a year. The lunchrooms are located in highly impoverished areas.
According to Storbeck, the first objective of the program is to feed and nourish children in these underserved areas. “But the other purpose is reaching not only the kids but also their families and ultimately changing the face of the community,” she adds.
The Storbecks have personally visited all of their corporately sponsored lunchrooms located in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. “We’ve been able to personally love on all of those kids, and we’ve been able to see a lot of changes happen,” Storbeck says. “Initial Outfitters offers a business model that allows people to make a difference in their own lives as well as in the lives of their families, team members and people around the world.”
While Initial Outfitters is still a relatively small company, it is enjoying impressive growth. “We are seeing double- and triple-digit increases in sales, and we have party averages of more than $500,” Storbeck says. “And new consultants are joining us at a record pace.”
However, Initial Outfitters is still small enough to offer its consultants a true ground-floor opportunity. And, according to Storbeck, the company plans to stay that way, at least for the foreseeable future.
“This business has made a difference already for so many of our consultants,” Storbeck says. “To see the difference it makes in their lives—higher self-esteem and confidence, the enhanced sense of self-respect and self-worth—is what drives us. They’re really reaching for their personal best. That drives us to keep going, to keep getting better and to keep doing more.”
Training Technique: Female Focus
As a direct selling company with a party-plan model, Initial Outfitters is driven to help women achieve their goals and experience success while maintaining work-life balance. With this goal in mind, the company designed a training program flexible enough to fit into any woman’s schedule.
“We offer personalized training that can be custom-tailored to fit our consultants’ needs,” says Initial Outfitters Co-Founder Alicia Storbeck. “We try to minimize the expense and the time away from their families because the reason they did this was to make money and be with their families. We want to make the training very accessible to them.”
When a woman first signs up as an Initial Outfitters consultant, she gets training through High Heel Camp, the company’s version of a basic-training boot camp.
“High Heel Camp may be completed live via a conference call or online, so they can work through it at their own pace,” Storbeck says. “They can sit down and—before their kit ever gets to them—have completed High Heel Camp online. It’s all recorded in segments, with questions to submit after completing each one. When they have completed that, they have really learned the core things they need to know about Initial Outfitters and direct selling.”
Initial Outfitters also hosts training via weekly conference calls every Monday night. “Everyone can come to the call, and they do,” Storbeck says. “We offer a different training topic every Monday. We also have a corporate Facebook page that is really fun and very interactive. Additionally, we provide extensive training at our regional trainings events and national conference.”
According to Storbeck, perhaps the most gratifying reward for completing Initial Outfitters’ training program is the opportunity for personal growth.
“At Initial Outfitters we provide opportunities for women to really grow as people,” she says. “We all want to continue learning and growing. And we have a platform in place that allows us to do that. We encourage consultants to challenge themselves to grow personally and professionally. It’s limitless what they can achieve. And we offer the training to help them get there.”