Reusable sandwich bags. It was a simple idea that turned into a fast-growing entrepreneurial endeavor for Sherrie Smith and Ciara Cates.
As a nurse, Ciara was used to packing lunches for herself and her husband every day. As most of us can sympathize, that leads to the use of box upon box of little plastic sandwich bags. One of her co-workers brought reusable bags to her attention, but Cates wasn’t comfortable with the quality or materials used for the product, so she decided to make her own. Once friends and family started asking for their own bags as well, Ciara began working with her mother Sherrie to build the product and the company.
That’s the story behind Re-Pac Bags, the company that Ciara and her mom founded in August of 2010 and have seen grow at a phenomenal rate ever since. They’ve been featured in Self, Fashion Indie, and the LA Times.
Just in time for Mother’s Day, we at The Grindstone decided to sit down with this impressive mother-daughter duo to talk about family business and how they make it work so well.
Be prepared, this interview might just make you drive on over to your mother’s house and give her a big old hug.
So, when you started the company, was it Ciara’s project and she asked for help? Or was it a joint effort from the beginning?
Ciara: Well, my mother has a backround in commercial sewing. So before it was even a company, I asked for advice. Just on the sewing, it wasn’t something where I could run to Jo-Ann’s and buy a pattern. But for the business, it was pretty collaborative from the beginning. It was so nice just being able to talk about to someone.
Sherri: It’s definitely a family business. My husband has been involved. My son has been involved. Aunts and uncles if they live around here. Everyone else has regular jobs. But we’ve asked for advice. They’ve gone with us to [trade] shows. It’s a family business.
So do you guys have set roles within the company or do you both do a little of everything?
Ciara: There’s a lot of divide and conquer. We don’t want to overlap on our work. But it really is a partnership. There’s a lot we do together. We both worked on design and production. I do more of the sales, marketing and logistics of getting the product out. Mom is an accounting whiz and she normally handles purchasing and HR.
Sherri: We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so that makes it a lot easier to know who should do what. It’s easy to say, “You should handle that,” or “I really want to do this.” It helps when you’ve known each other your whole life.
Did you two ever consider starting a company before? Was entrepreneurship in the blood?
Sherie: I homeschooled my kids. I came from a commercial backround in sewing. So I took in some work from home some for other people. In 2000, we started a business to make money but also to give actual examples of, ya know, putting algebra to use. Or company was in manufacturing. We made diaper bags for about five years. It really helped us with this business. We had already made a lot of contacts, made a lot of mistakes. I would say that it was really good training wheels. It was definitely on a smaller scale than this.
Ciara: I worked for my mom in high school. So we already had some idea of the process when I came ot her with this idea, we already had some groundwork laid. I always thought that our family business early on was a great learning experience though.
Sherrie: And even then, in high school, she was very involved.
Ciara: Yeah, when I thought about starting a company, I could say, “Been there, done that.” I think it definitely alleviated some of the nerves.