After serving as the youngest Division I head coach in the nation at Virginia Commonwealth University Susan Walvius went on to coach the women's basketball team at the University of South Carolina for more than a decade. She co-founded SHEEX and brought her keen eye and competitive spirit to the realm of performance bedding. We met with Susan to discuss being a woman in the world of business and how her experience as an athlete and coach has influenced her entrepreneurial process.
You thought of the idea for SHEEX while you and Co-Founder Michelle Brooke-Marciniak were coaching basketball together. Can you give us a quick overview of how SHEEX started?
We basically fell in love with a super soft athletic apparel fabric and thought, "wouldn't it be great to have bed sheets made out of this type of fabric?" It made sense to us because the fabric is not only ridiculously soft but it also keeps you cool and dry, which is better for sleep. We went online to buy some performance sheets and no one was making sheets out of performance fabrics. We found a niche market. We then worked with the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina to develop a business plan, patented the idea and started our journey.
How have your experiences as a female athlete and coach prepared you for, or impacted your approach, to running a business?
Starting a business is very challenging, as is winning at the highest level of sports. In both realms, you start with a vision for success and then surround yourself with talented and experienced people with the same passion to achieve your goals. Setbacks are part of the journey. It's important to learn from the losses and work to get better every day. In sports, you start each season working on fundamentals and grow each day. In business, it's also important to start slow and focus on the fundamentals as you crawl and then walk before you run.
What are the top SHEEX moments that stand out most to you?
- Watching the first sales hit our website.
- Flying to Beverly Hills to meet with Bob Damon, the former President of Korn Ferry. We thought we needed a CFO and Bob was leading one of the top search firms in the world. In our first five minutes with Bob, he asked us how much money we had raised. We told him and he laughed out loud. Bob later invested and became a dear friend and Board Member.
- The day Bed Bath & Beyond rolled out SHEEX in 600 stores nationwide.
- The expansion of our products at Bed Bath & Beyond to five different sheet sets, pillows, comforters, and mattress pads.
- Gizmodo.com reviewed our product on two separate occasions and we completely sold out of inventory after both reviews.
- The wild success we have experienced through DRTV after making the decision to ramp up our business through a national television campaign.
What is the most exciting part of running a business? The most challenging?
I really enjoy the strategy, product development and hearing from super happy customers. Our SHEEX team is awesome and their passion and work ethic is inspirational to me as a Founder. The most challenging part of running the business is inventory management and transitioning out of old product and into a new product at retail, especially when you're in 1000 stores.
Which female role models do you look up to in the business realm?
There are so many, especially in the EY Winning Women group. I'm amazed at EY's Beth Brooke's accomplishments in sports, the business world and her contributions to make the world a better place for all people. I also admire Jean Toal, the Chief Justice in the State of South Carolina, and her constant message to "leave the ladder down" for other women.
What advice would you give to girls/women entering the workforce or wanting to start their own business?
Just do it. Find people who have had the success that you want to have and learn as much as you can from them. People will help you. Don't be afraid to ask.
Are there any books, sites, magazines you turn to or recommend for young female entrepreneurs?
Read the book Traction by Gino Wickman. If you're in the consumer product space also read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the creator of Nike. I read INC and Entrepreneur online.
What SHEEX product(s) are you most excited about right now (or the ones that make up your bed)?
I'm always testing new products. I still love the original performance fabric duvet cover, fitted sheet combo (One Collection). I also love our technical suede duvet cover. The original performance comforter and bamboo coverlet are also favorites.
Which challenges have you had to overcome in your professional career in order to be successful?
I really care about people. Making tough decisions around personnel changes is very hard, but often necessary to grow. This part of the job is never easy for me. I find there isn't enough time in the day and it's easy to get distracted and bogged down by the little things. I've had to work hard to focus on accomplishing the larger issues. I feel fortunate to have a strong leadership team around me to help keep the organization on track.