Article

Leap of Faith

How Steals.com Became a Smashing Success

By Tom Haraldsen

October 7, 2014


Nearly seven years ago, Jana Francis had a pretty normal life. She was working full time, raising two sons and expecting her third child—a girl. Because there were no hand-me-downs for her new daughter, Francis began searching online for products to purchase for the baby. It didn’t take long for her to realize the internet was lacking something she—and probably many other mothers—was looking for when it came to baby items: great steals.

That’s when Francis decided to create a deal website where moms from around the world could get good deals on baby clothing and other supplies. That’s also when Francis traded in her role as a traditional 9-to-5 employee and became an entrepreneur.

Today, Francis’ website, which has evolved into the Steals.com network, is one of the nation’s most successful e-commerce sites—with literally hundreds of thousands of followers in the United States, Canada and overseas turning to its posts twice a day for the latest, greatest deals. The sites carry a gamut of items, from shoes for babies to beauty products for moms.

Francis and her business partner, Rett Clevenger, launched Steals.com in April 2008. For the first year, it was just the two of them—with assistance from a webmaster—buying product, posting daily deals online, taking orders and shipping items out of Francis’ garage. They took no paychecks that first year, instead investing their profits back into the business. After renting a small warehouse for a year and adding a few staff members, the company eventually moved to its current 35,000-square-foot warehouse location on the west side of Salt Lake City in 2010.

Francis has some useful advice for those looking to take the plunge and launch their own companies:

Grow at the Right Pace

“I actually worked on creating this idea for 18 months before we launched it,” Francis says. “I was working full time, and every night after the boys were in bed, I’d sit at my computer and begin assembling components of a business plan, just one tiny step at a time.” When she partnered up with Clevenger, whom she’d met when he was online media manager for Backcountry.com, they grew the business in small increments as well.

“We didn’t go after any loans or take on any debt, and we grew the company very slowly,” she says. “There was wisdom in that, I’m sure. Still, if I had known how huge this market was going to be, I probably would have assembled a bigger team right out of the gate, left my job the minute I had the idea, and launched it much, much faster. If we had acquired some funding so we could have gone out and marketed it, assuming we did things the way we do them now, then I think we would be much larger now—huge.”

Be Convincing

Because Steals.com buys and brings in products directly from the manufacturers at cost, turnaround time for customers’ orders is immediate. That’s unlike many e-commerce sites that don’t actually possess the merchandise they sell. Francis’ biggest challenge in the beginning was convincing manufacturers to sell her products at cost, so she could turn them around at huge discounts. “I told them we would be their best marketing tool, and that’s proven to be true,” she says.

Keep Staff on Site

Francis learned rather painfully that there was importance in having staff members actually at the office, not just working remotely, as many companies now do. “A lot of our employees worked out of their homes to begin with, but you really need to be able to communicate with them as a team in an office,” she says. “Working remotely created a sort of entitlement for some of our employees. I like to hire people who are passionate about our business—that’s more important than a big, fancy resume. And you can sense that passion when you are all working together face to face.”

Be Prepared to Work Hard

Francis’ desire to spend more time at home with her family has often been sacrificed due to 80- or 90-hour work weeks. “People look at the life of an entrepreneur and think they want that for themselves,” she wrote recently in a blog detailing things she’s learned as a business owner. “They don’t understand the risk and hard work that really comes with it. Companies are teams, not families. You can’t pick your family, but a team gets to pick [its members], and holds each other accountable for their spot on the team. And I’ve learned that there is as much reward in seeing someone on your team reach their goals as it is to reach your own.”

Choose Your Partner Wisely

Both Francis and Clevenger come from similar backgrounds. Both have spouses and both are parents, which has helped them work together as business partners. “When you choose to have a business partner, choose them wisely,” Francis says. “Make sure it is someone that has skills you cannot hire and fire. Also, never buy anything as a business that you can’t afford. Those two mistakes are reasons why most startups fail.”

Be the Brand

Francis’ Steals.com network has ultimately become a trusted e-commerce supplier with an ever-growing customer base, thanks to her sound leadership and good business decisions. “Everything you do becomes a reflection of your company. You are the brand,” she says. “Leadership has more to do with instilling confidence and setting direction than telling [someone] exactly what to do.” 

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