Elizabeth has a background in publishing from early roles with Seventeen and People StyleWatch and lifestyle PR where she worked on the accounts for brands ranging from Eileen Fisher to Nike to AVON. Upon moving to Atlanta from New York City in the Fall of 2014, Elizabeth launched a line of eponymous hair accessories that Spring that has largely serviced as a case study for her creative work as well as led her to be 2017 finalist in Forbes Magazine’ 30 under 30 list in retail & e-commerce. Carried in approx. 70 retail locations nationwide in its prime, the hair accessories, were also seen in publications from Bloomberg Businessweek to Teen Vogue as well as appeared on Good Morning America, HBO GIRLS, and The TODAY Show. With her businesses recently acquired, Elizabeth has refocused her time spent on growing her brand to helping others achieve similar results. Elizabeth leads the Domino team to ensure continuous development and growth of the company, which includes but is not limited to: securing new business, overseeing client related initiatives on a day-to-day basis, and developing strategic action plans for both Domino and clients.
Shantel: Hi, Elizabeth. Welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.
Elizabeth: Hey, Shantel. I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having me on.
Shantel: Of course. We're eager to chat with you and get to know you better. I've had the opportunity to chat just once over coffee, so just know a little bit. For our listeners who don't know you yet, can you tell everyone a little bit about you and how you got started?
| THE DOMINO EFFECT |
Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely. My name is Elizabeth White or Elizabeth Cook. I got married in the fall. I'm still using a little bit of my maiden name and my married name, but Elizabeth Cook. I am the founder of Domino Media Group. We're an Atlanta PR and brand strategy firm specialized in home, beauty, and fashion. With that, a lot of people are like, "What exactly is PR?" I'm kind of just working behind the scenes for a lot of brands that you know, trying to build buzz through digital placements, through print placements, and through broadcast placements. A lot of times too we're also coming up with kind of campaigns and just overall strategy plans throughout the year of things that would be good to help build buzz and kind of maximize everything that they're doing in-house. When they have a product launch, we're behind the scenes pushing that information out and making sure people are well aware of all the hard work that they've been doing. I also founded a hair accessories business. It's a little bit of a niche deal back in 2014. That's really what spearheaded the launch of Domino. I had a small business of my own and realized that everything that goes into a small business, it is just so nice to have the support of other people to help raise awareness. I learned that you can have the best product on the marketplace, but if no one knows about your product, you're not moving units. I was going to these trade shows, and I was meeting people through my small business and started helping them with PR. It kind of became a domino effect, because other people would call and say, "Can you help me with this?" Then I'd like to think PR becomes a domino effect for your business.
Shantel: I love that. I did not know the name origin. I think that's very clever. It's catchy.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
Shantel: Yeah, so the hair accessory line, where does that stand now? Yeah. Let's dive into that.
Elizabeth: I started the hair accessory line in 2014. I moved down from New York to my home state of Georgia and just realized my life needed a little rejuvenating. I was in a relationship I wasn't sure about and was in a job I wasn't crazy about. I'd always loved, A, energizing businesses, and that's really where Domino came about, and then also I really loved hair barrettes, which sounds so funny, but I grew up from swimming to sleeping wearing hair barrettes and always thought that there was this need on the market for niche hair wear and was taking night classes at Parsons while I was in New York. I started hot gluing hair barrettes on my living room floor when I wasn't too excited about everything else that was going on around me. It became almost the best lifeline and learning experience, because when you have a small business and anybody that has one knows that it is such a grind. You're wearing a lot of hats as you need to, because you can't necessarily have a lot of support or bring in a lot of people off the bat. With the hair barrettes, I was making these, and we grew to be in about 75 stores and was going to trade shows, and kind of like I said, I was just meeting all these people with products that were far surpassed my hot glued hair barrettes. But we were the ones that was getting put into magazines and being picked up for orders. People would come and ask me questions. It was really cool to see how the PR services and the hair barrettes kind of merged together a little bit organically. They kind of fed off each other, because simultaneously I was always still doing PR on a freelance basis. I was never just doing the hair barrettes or never just doing PR at the very beginning for about two years. One would sometimes help fund the other and vice versa, but I started taking on a lot more responsibilities with Domino, and we were taking on more clients. At this point, I started to grow a little bit of a team. It was so hard to come away in pack orders. I was so excited when somebody would place an order, but then I was like, "Shoot, I've got to pack that thing up." With the hair barrettes, I have a friend who was looking to extend her product offerings, and she had a lot of time, energy, and funds to invest in the growth of the hair barrettes that I didn't at the point. It was really exciting, because I was able to invest more time in Domino. I sold the company to her to be able to kind of have under her umbrella. That was last spring. It's been about a year since the company's been sold. Just going through the process of starting a business and then selling it I feel like was an invaluable learning experience for me.
Shantel: Oh yeah, absolutely. Congratulations. I imagine selling a business is no easy feat, and having to figure out the logistics and what do you value the company for? What does someone else? That's really exciting?
Elizabeth: It's so funny-
Shantel: Is it ...
Elizabeth: Oh I'm sorry.
Shantel: No, go ahead.
Elizabeth: I was going to say you could value your company completely different than somebody else will. That's what I've learned. There's sort of metrics people use, but really it's sort of objective. I obviously have am more emotionally tied to the business as an owner than somebody else that's looking at it as a third party. But I just learned there's not really one way to sell the company, and there's so many different assets you can take into consideration. Really tried to leverage the press placements the company has garnered or the wholesale accounts and selling lists that have been made throughout the process and contacts as well as even high res imagery to our social media followers to things along those lines.
Shantel: That is really interesting that part of what you and I do every day is this PR and social piece and how that now plays a part in a company acquisition or sale. I think I'd never thought about it like that, but that is a very good point.
Elizabeth: Oh, it's such a big point, and you guys do such a great job at telling a brand story. It kind of is similar to PR, because in the sense that no one knows again knows about that product, then they're not aware to make the purchase for it or go to the restaurant that they're seeing. That's such a big asset when you are selling it, or when you're just trying to drum up business. Either one.
Shantel: Yeah. Absolutely. What is the kind of biggest takeaway that you learned when selling that company? Is there one that comes to mind?
Elizabeth: I think the biggest thing is that I learned that if you ever do plan on selling your company, it's good to think of an exit strategy sooner than later so you can set up your company for success with the sale of a company. I feel like I didn't think about selling the company. It wasn't something that I really planned on from the beginning, and it's not something that I knew how to do, but I was always really fascinated with private equity. I'm not a numbers girl. I just loved the idea of how people build businesses and then they make them stronger and then sell them off. I think coming up with an exit strategy and being confident on who you're selling it to. My dad, who was an entrepreneur, he always said they could look at the CEO of any company and tell if that company will be successful or not. I think that's very true. I had a lot of trust in Taylor Miller, who I sold the hair barrettes to. She's done an incredible job making them stronger and getting them in more locations across the country. I'm just really proud when I go and see them, and also so excited when I see her name behind the hair barrettes. It's very much it's just been very fun to watch.
Shantel: I was going to ask you was it at all difficult at any point to kind of let go of the reins and watch someone else take it, perhaps, in a different direction maybe for the better at the time, but hard to look, just to let it go, because it is something that you built?
Elizabeth: I think that the hair barrettes were so good for me at the time, I knew they probably weren't going to be my lifelong occupation, but I loved that it gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities in building a business and in having a goal and working towards that goal. A lot of excitement when I would see strangers wearing flair in their hair. Those are things that I think the brand, the gifts that they gave me. But again, I knew that it wasn't I for the long haul. This was such a good experiment in having a small business. At the same time Domino was ramping up so much that having a small business of my own now working with small business owners, I feel like really kind of gave me an acute understanding of all the needs that go into having a small business. We offer more than just PR and kind of consult a little bit more on than just PR. That has helped me, I feel like, have a broader understanding. I'm sorry, I kind of got off on a tangent, but it was very exciting to watch somebody else take it away or to watch it grow. I think it's a little bittersweet, but at the same time, knew that it was onto its next chapter and so was I. I was excited that my business wasn't going to maybe fall, because I didn't have the time to invest in it, that it was just going to continue on, but just under somebody else's wing. I think I got incredibly lucky that the person who purchased it was a friend of mine and somebody that I really trusted and works incredibly hard every day for the growth of her company and the growth of the hair barrettes underneath her company that I don't know if everybody who sells their company feel the same, because I think a lot of that has to do with who you sell it to and what their plans are for your business.
Shantel: Yeah, that's very serendipitous that you had a friend that wanted to expand it. I think that's a really great transition and probably felt really natural at that time. Certainly maybe scary too, but exciting that it wasn't just going away or going to someone you didn't know.
Elizabeth: Yeah, definitely.
Shantel: I think it's super fascinating you touched on that your dad has always mentioned that you can kind of just take a quick glance and gauge if that CEO and the business will be successful. Are there any metrics or personality traits that kind of have been instilled in you that he always mentioned were those ticks that made a company successful? What kind of quantified that for him?
| CONSTANTLY TRY TO IMPROVE |
Elizabeth: I think a lot of times he would look at the individual. If they truthfully were ... This is probably a very poor way of describing it, but you'll notice how some people say they can't do something or something's not possible, or I'll meet a lot of people that will dwell on an idea for a very long time. Once they decide to execute, that window has really passed. People that are decisive and they're, "What can I do and," and are very willing to help. My dad has always told us that nothing is to be expected. You very much have to work for whatever you want. Nothing will be handed, but that life is really who wakes up the earliest, and who stays the latest, and who is the most helpful. That will pay in the long run. I really believe that to be true. I think the more that you can do to make somebody else's life easier, the more inclined they would be to work with you. It's the same when people work for us. Anybody that takes something off my plate, I'm always very grateful. I think that's the biggest lesson that he said. Really anybody that's constantly trying to improve themselves, it doesn't matter if they went to the best school or not. I think just somebody that's working to read a book or go to a continuing education class or just constantly curious and learning about different fields, which is why I love these podcasts so much. It's so much fun to learn about entrepreneurs in other areas. I think as somebody that's bound to be more successful than somebody that is kind of letting life happen to them a little bit more.
Shantel: Those are great examples. I think what really resonated with me in all of the great guests that we're chatting with on the podcast is just that eagerness to continue to learn. It seems like for everyone we talk to, that has never turned off, and there's never an excuse of, "Oh, I got too busy, so I couldn't read that extra chapter," or, "I couldn't go to that class at the very end of the day after a very stressful day." There's just no excuses around this continued education for entrepreneurs, which I think is really fascinating and a very good point. Fast forward. Okay, so would love to dive into Domino. You have a team. You relocated, so I gather you wanted ... Okay, you left New York, you quit that job. Did you have anything to help kind of supplement any income during this transition of, "Okay, I'm going to do full-time barrettes and start a PR company?" Or you went all in and then you moved to Atlanta?
Elizabeth: No, so that's a great question. When I moved here, I started with a small firm in Atlanta. It was exciting to have a job. It just wasn't a very good fit for me. Ended up, and this sounds kind of bad, but I just knew it wasn't a good place for me. Ended up leaving not too long after, but as soon as I left, what I did is had maybe I think I had one month's rent under my belt, so not a whole lot. I reached out to two people in Atlanta who I thought were doing really cool things. I told them my background, and I said, "I'd love to work with you for eight weeks complimentary to help. If you feel value at the very end of this, would love to discuss a retainer structure and be brought on as a publicist for your company.” That was great, because A, I didn't know anybody in Atlanta. I met people that I thought were really interesting, and then also out of those two, one ended up coming on as a client. I had that retainer fee. The way Domino is set up is that people pay me a retainer fee. I'm available all throughout the week and we're kind of always on and off of emails or off of calls, but I'm constantly there. This was my first full-time client that came about because of that. At the same time, it kind of works out well, I sort of thing, when you really need to make money and you really need to ... It kind of forces you to do more things maybe than you would right off the bat. I ended up needing to move home for a little bit. I was from Columbus, Georgia, which is about two hours south of Atlanta. At that time, I was like, "I have got to get out of here.” I just did a trade show in January at AmericasMart. I knew that in order for the hair barrettes to grow and to really sell the number that I knew that we needed in order to get that growth and also get the dollars behind it, I knew the power of TV from working in PR, and I contacted Good Morning America and the Today Show. Essentially Good Morning America wrote me back and said, "Thank you, but no thank you." Both of them do these segments where they'll discount a product to 50%, and they'll put you on TV, like a Deals and Steals is the name of the program, but they're huge. I worked with them in New York. Clients that we worked with that were on those shows just moved an astronomical amount of units. They said, "Thank you, but no thank you." Then I saw that the host was going to be in Atlanta for AmericasMart, this trade show that I was going to. I went to Kinko's, and at this point, I'm living at home, so I'm not paying rent somewhere else, which has been really helpful, but I'm still doing PR. I think at this point too, I even had two or three clients in the PR side. I made foam board copies of hair barrettes in girls' hair, and put them all together, and maybe had seven of them. She did a discussion. Went to her discussion, then afterwards, I was the very last person, and introduced myself and showed her what the hair barrettes look in her hair, brought her a package of hair barrettes, and gave her these visual examples. It started an email conversation about two weeks later. She said, "We've got a slot open at the end of February. Would you like it?" She said, "You need about 4,000 hair barrettes for initial orders," she estimated. With how it works with a Good Morning America segment is if you don't get out all your orders within a certain number of days, you're financially obligated to pay people back and pay ABC.
Elizabeth: Which is good again, because it's like a little bit of pressure. Also from a customer service standpoint, you want to get those out in a certain timeframe, but I had about 400 barrettes to my name, and again, I needed 4,000. I am very much one of those people that says, "Yes, and you kind of figure it out afterwards." I thought she was so gracious to give us the opportunity. I went home and rented an apartment. I hired two girls from the apartment complex that wanted extra hours. One of them doesn't drink after one bad night at Hooligans, and the other one, which is a local steak bar in south Georgia, and the other one was a professional body builder. I stress eat. She was like, "Put down those Wheat Thins, Elizabeth.” My younger sister flew home from Texas, and the four of us were like the Motley Crue. We made a huge production line in this apartment in Columbus. Then I had local businesses that were so willing to help and so excited, which now when I think about it, was such a blessing and so amazing. I was going to these 3D printers, and I would be putting my name on the back of hair barrettes when they're really supposed to be doing invitations for people. Another company in Columbus who does chi straws went and picked up all of our packaging in Atlanta. We had this huge operation and ended up selling I think it was 8,000 hair barrettes or something.
Shantel: Oh wow.
Elizabeth: It was great, because A, it was just this huge surge where people got to know what the brand was, and moved a lot of units, but it also gave us a little bit of money in order to help invest in more orders. My dad had given me a $2,000 loan to buy product before Good Morning America. I paid him back and then had a little bit of money left over where I put down six months of rent at an apartment in Atlanta, and then moved back up here. That was really what ... It's so funny when you start, you also have to be financially able to be able to afford to start your own business. That's what's hard for a lot of people is to make that leap. Go ahead.
Elizabeth: No, no, go for it.
Shantel: No, I think it's really neat. You said yes, and then you figured it out. There may have been other people in the past that had that same opportunity, and simply hesitated or said, "Oh, I don't know. I don't have 4,000," and didn't have the mentality to just make it work and figure it out. Here you are today, simply because you kind of took a chance on yourself and realized that you would put in all the time and effort you needed to make it happen, which I think is very commendable.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
Elizabeth: I think it is a big thing. It's, again, just saying yes and what else can we do? But opportunities only come around ... I think you make your own luck, and they come around because of that. But if you don't jump on them, then it's your loss. That would was such a big thing for me at the time. It was definitely very fun, but it was crazy. I actually saw the girl, Shantel, who put us on Good Morning America. Her name is Tori Johnson. I'll never forget her. Always eternally grateful for her taking the chance to put us on TV. Came up to her at AmericasMart and felt like ... You would have thought she was Barbara Streisand. I was so excited. She was like, "Who are you?" Anyway, I told her thank you, but was so giddy and so nervous.
Shantel: Speaking of kind of that yes mentality, now that you are strictly in PR and the Domino and your company, has it been a struggle sometimes to unplug, and maybe not say yes to everything, because you're starting to realize maybe that particular client wouldn't be the best fit for the company and the growth and where you see the company scaling to?
Elizabeth: Definitely. I think it's a learning process. I am constantly still learning what the best practice is and how to best use of my time and team's time, but I feel like I said yes to a lot of things off the bat in order to be involved in them. I think it's more taking clients on. Then I've said yes to helping them with different things that are really outside of our scope or outside of especially what we are signed on to do for them. That takes time away from other clients. It's been trying to be a little bit of a balancing act stepping back at times. I'm not the best at negotiating. Really tried to be better at being firm to say, "This is what this amount of time would take, and these are what kind of the results would vary, but this is what it would all look like. This is what the retainer cost would be." That's something I struggle with, but I'm still learning. Feel fortunate that we work with a lot of primarily strong women entrepreneurs around the country, but we've had a couple clients where we've made partnerships, and it hasn't been the best fit. That was because I think I just jumped, because it was so exciting to get this account or to have somebody that wanted to invest so much in us. But it just turned out to not necessarily be the best fit.
Shantel: I certainly can relate to that. I'd be curious if a lot of service businesses in the first few years of starting a company, if it is really difficult to differentiate or to determine if I am the best for that, or if someone else would be better, because you see it as an opportunity to help them as just that person that loves to generate ideas and help people, but then also you see it as an opportunity for additional revenue and to grow the team and to help that vision come to life. I bet everyone ... I certainly struggled with that initially and still sometimes do, because I may have that shiny penny syndrome a little bit where I see something come in, and it seems super exciting, and then I have to kind of get reeled in by the rest of the team to say, "Okay, well this is not the niche, and we need to stay focused." Yeah, I bet that's a very common trend in starting a company.
Elizabeth: Well I'm glad I'm not alone.
Shantel: Love to dive a little bit into your day-to-day now. Can you talk about the team structure and how you have delegated and kind of differentiated the roles?
Elizabeth: Yeah. We have two full-time team members, an account director and an account coordinator. We all work on all of our accounts. We've got 18 accounts right now across the country. We have two people that freelance, we have a girl that helps with graphic design and then one that helps with our finance. She handles all of our numbers. Then right now we have a slew of interns that are helping throughout the summer, which has been really helpful, but one of the best things that I ever did is when we started Domino probably about four months in is brought on our account director, Sarah Slaughter, who I'd worked with in New York, which was really nice, because we were servicing clients who paid a million dollars a year in PR services. We would go about it in the same type of practice as we do to clients that we work with today for obviously a lot less, but it would be a similar structure. I think that took a lot of time away that might have had to be put into training, because we meshed really well together. Then we also had that same background training to be able to just jump in and help. It also helps so much when you have somebody there to be able to bounce things off of. I think even just from a sanity perspective, it's been really helpful. Then we brought on McKenzie, so our account coordinator, who's been wonderful. Just graduated from Georgia and has helped us out so much. Essentially how we split the three roles is I am talking to clients usually all day. My day-to-day is a lot busier than when we first started where I was kind of on emails all day. Now I'm on and off of emails, but primarily on calls and meetings. I rely heavily on my team to kind of step in between. Sarah is a really great writer, and she does a lot of our writing. We also outsource a lot of writing to a girl in Los Angeles who will help write us press releases when things are really busy, so I guess we have three freelancers. But she helps with a lot of the writing, and then she also helps with clients, plant management, and will be pitching. Then McKenzie is just full-time pitching. It's really nice, because if I'm on calls all day, our ultimate job at the end of the day is to really be pitching clients out non stop. You're really celebrating the work that they're doing and getting people excited. A lot of times I'll come up with kind of maybe how we're going to go about that and different ideas of who to target. Then she's the one that executes it, along with Sarah. Then I pop in throughout the week, but they're on it full-time.
Shantel: Do you miss the pitching side of things, or were you happy to find a good fit for that?
Elizabeth: Well, I'm definitely still pitching. I think at some point I'll probably need to stop. Just as we grow, it's hard to be as deep into emails and also be on calls all day. I'm definitely I'm still doing both, but I like pitching a lot. I think it's very fun to frame it in a certain way and try to ... It's just really about how you can add value to somebody else. It's just like in life, but with pitching, you're looking to see what somebody covers. Then you're looking at your client to see if that would be a relevant fit. Then you say this is a thought for this column that you work on, bi-monthly column, and want to put it on your radar. It makes it a little bit easier for them to want to use, because you have given them the exact area of that publication, exact area of the outlet. Then you give them the high res images. I always say, "Please find high res images here." That takes a lot of time off all of our belts, because if somebody's working on it at 9:00 at night, they don't have to email us and say, "Do you have the high res image you could send me?" Also, I think makes it more apt for them to include, just because it makes it more accessible. I think I don't miss pitching full-time, but I still get definitely a taste.
Shantel: That's fair. Yeah. Well, I only have a couple more questions to wrap things up, Elizabeth. The first is what is next on the horizon for Domino Media Group?
| NEXT ON THE HORIZON |
Elizabeth: I think we're all still trying to figure it out, which isn't the best answer. But Domino came about because it just was a flow where people just kept asking us for PR help. It's the same thing now. We don't go after clients, and I need to start being better at promoting myself and promoting the business and reaching out to different businesses. Right now, I feel like we have a lot going on. I think it's really trying to sustain the growth without growing too fast. The next step would be we need to hire another full-time member to kind of help support everything that's going on. Then we're really deep in holiday gift guides right now. It's like once we get through this holiday season, which is really funny, because it goes from now until December, but it essentially goes from now until end of September when you're working on print holiday gift guides. Take a deep breath, and then kind of re-evaluate what our plan is for the next year ahead.
Shantel: I think it's a true testament to your team and you that all the business has been word of mouth and no frills and just coming in organically. I think that, again, speaks to the service that you guys are providing and the value. That's amazing.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
Shantel: Then last but not least, how can people get in touch with you, learn more? If they're interested in a position down the line or just curious more about the acquisition and how you've built your companies, how can they get in touch?
Elizabeth: Yes. I'm happy to talk to anybody and everybody. My email is Elizabeth, E-L-I-Z-A-B-E-T-H @dominomediagroup.com. That's my direct email. You would get me every time.
Shantel: Perfect. Thank you so much for being on the show and helping guide us. We all are learning new things. We really appreciate it.
Elizabeth: I really appreciate you having me on, Shantel. It means so much. Again, if anybody has any questions that's listening, please reach out.