DotDotSmile’s foundation of gratitude has helped build a culture of success as well as deliver on their purpose of creating smiles and building confidence.
Headquarters: Corona, California
Top Executives: Jeff Thompson, CEO and Founder Nicole Thompson, President
Products: Clothing and Accessories
If you want to change your outlook try a little gratitude. Nicole Thompson resolved to do just that in 2013 when she started a gratitude journal. She sought perspective. What she ultimately found was an entrepreneurial inspiration. “Before you know it, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders even though our situation had not changed,” Nicole says.
She and her husband, Jeff and their two daughters lived in her parent’s basement, tucking away money for a southern California home of their own. Jeff commuted two hours each day and Nicole’s bridal hair and makeup business meant weekends away from family.
Her sketches from that night prompted a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles where she secured a pattern maker and spent their savings on fabric. The resulting little girl’s pink dress and leggings launched Nicole Thompson into the children’s apparel business and gave birth to DotDotSmile.
DotDotSmile launched hot on Instagram in 2013. “We went from zero to 10,000 followers quickly,” Nicole says. However, it wasn’t yet a direct selling company.
Demand was high from online consumers. The soft, comfortable fit and fabrics, as well as the unique prints were a hit with millennial moms. HQ and distribution were a spare bedroom in the Thompsons’ newly purchased home, and Nicole did it all. Life and business rolled along. They eagerly anticipated their third child, and Jeff took a VP of finance position with her parents’ company.
“At first it was simply word of mouth, and it continues to be; however, we have become more intentional about the growth and recruitment.” —Jeff Thompson, CEO & Founder
By 2016, it was clear to Jeff that DotDotSmile was destined for more than the spare bedroom. He joined Nicole full time as CEO and signed a lease for a 1,200 square foot warehouse space.
“It was a huge blessing to have him come on board. He saw the vision. He saw the growth. I’m really creative, but Jeff is very business-minded. He’s made some great decisions and can see the long haul,” Nicole says.
Nicole and Jeff added a capped sleeve dress, then an empire dress, as well as a romper to DotDotSmile’s initial tank dress and leggings product catalog. They looked to an international manufacturer to speed delivery time and lower costs while retaining quality. Their online sales expanded to include retail, then wholesale accounts. Growth was good, then great. In six months, they expanded their warehouse to 3,500 square feet and six months later, pushed it to 22,000.
If there is a gene for entrepreneurism, Nicole Thompson has it. She comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. Nicole’s parents were direct sellers during her childhood, where she experienced the blessings of the direct selling business model, and in 2012, they founded a women’s apparel direct selling company.
While Nicole focused DotDotSmile’s business building online, her parents’ business gained ground in the direct selling space and sought a mother/daughter collaboration of sorts that would introduce children’s items to their women’s clothing catalog.
“Why not? I thought it would be fun,” Nicole says. DotDotSmile maintained its own business, vendors and grew online while this collaborative children’s clothing project spun along for two years. “It was an awesome experience for both of us, and it was really, really fun to see that come together. But in the end, we both agreed we were better off doing our businesses in our separate ways.”
Adopting Direct Selling Model
Faced with more individuals wanting to sell DotDotSmile products, Jeff and Nicole looked for options and business expansion strategies that made the most sense for everyone. It turns out direct selling worked best. In February 2017, DotDotSmile corporate announced its intention to adopt a direct selling business model. By July 2017, software and infrastructure were in place to welcome its first independent merchandisers.
“At first it was simply word of mouth, and it continues to be. However, we have become more intentional about the growth and recruitment,” Jeff says.
His three-year prep with his in-laws’ fast-growing direct selling company helped, but Jeff wanted expertise from direct selling veterans that knew the space. Six months since those hires came aboard, DotDotSmile’s field of independent merchandisers has grown from 1,100 (end of year 2018) to 1,700 (end of April 2019). The goal is 10,000 in three years.
“Everything has happened very organically so far. But since we’ve been here, we’ve started a lot of campaigns—everything from training programs to systems. We just had our first virtual opportunity call and had 69 people register and 45 actually on the call. It’s really impressive how many people are interested,” Silva Benlian, vice president of sales, says.
Gratitude Fuels Growth
Growth has come in many ways since choosing a direct selling business model. They recently committed to 70,000 square feet of warehouse space and now have three product manufacturers, rather than one. They hired an in-house graphics team to take fabric design from concept to print. They opted for a second, more accessible independent merchandiser entry package priced at $199. They’ve just hosted their third annual spring leadership event, as well as a 7-day incentive cruise to the Mexican Riviera for 100 independent merchandisers. They have also been doing introspective work looking into the “whys” of their independent merchandisers, creating a corporate culture based on core values and setting corporate strategy and actions based on their vision and beliefs.
“This whole thing was derived from a gratitude journal,” Jeff says. And gratitude is one of the springboards for DotDotSmile’s culture.
Their core values—gratitude, optimism, accountability, teamwork, fun, integrity, respect, empathy, innovation and quality—encompass the path they want everyone to take toward living out the company’s ultimate purpose, which is to create smiles and build confidence.
“We do that with the clothing. When the girls put them on, they are suddenly confident and twirl. It just happens naturally. At the same time, we expect that to happen for our merchandisers, as they are able to sell these dresses and prove to themselves they can build a business,” Jeff says. They also take their purpose to the world through charitable efforts.
DotDotSmile’s strategic 3-5 year plan is in place and includes road shows to meet with prospects, as well as a deeper look into their social media platform. “We’re looking at every avenue. You can’t just do one thing because that comes back to bite you. In this industry there a lot of tried and true methods, but there are also new ways,” Benlian says.
Now they reach millennial moms—their main customer and merchandiser demographic—where they are, and that’s on social media, sharing directly to merchandisers and prospects and encouraging merchandisers to do the same.
“Everyone can use their creativity on how they want to share and how they want to grow their business. They sell through Instagram, Facebook Live and we encourage them to do inhome pop-ups and live events,” Nicole says.
It’s Bigger Than Dresses
“Why do we exist?” Jeff Thompson, CEO of DotDotSmile, asked. That why becomes more nuanced with every passing year, but always centers on creating smiles and building confidence. They are establishing a culture that includes charitable good works that promote a higher purpose.
They began with a product specific sales campaign raising $50,000 for Children’s Hospital of Orange County, then raised $65,000 and coordinated a hands-on trip to the Philippines with Charity Vision, a Utah-based non-profit that aims to restore vision to people in developing nations.
“That opened up the eyes of our merchandisers to what we’re really doing here,” Thompson says.
At DotDotSmile’s Spring Leadership event, they announced collaboration with Operation Underground Railroad, a rescue and recovery non-profit focused on eradicating child sex trafficking.
“The goal is to raise $100,000. They (merchandisers) get it now. They get the purpose of DotDotSmile. They get that it’s much bigger than dresses at this point and what we’re doing and trying to achieve. We raised $12,000 in a week,” Thompson says.