I sat down with Becca Perren who is one half of the founding partners behind Pehr Designs - a Home and Children’s Decor brand. What started as a hunt for a wedding present for her business partner, Jennifer Kelly, turned into a realization that there was a need for sophisticated, high quality, modern decor and accessories that were well priced. Both Becca and Jen have had a life long passion for home decor and after quietly researching, designing and, sourcing textiles and manufacturers, they launched the brand in 2013. It garnered immediate interest from retailers. Fast forward to today, Pehr and Petit Pehr products are sold in over 1,500 retailers globally including Nordstrom, Indigo, Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s and Anthropologie.
Read on below to see how Becca and Jen got their start and how Becca manages the growing business while staying productive and inspired.
So Becca, you were a buyer before you started Pehr?
Yes, I was a buyer and a product developer for major retailers in the UK, Canada and the US before I started on Pehr. I didn’t know it at the time but in hindsight the experience I had in the industry helped to shape how we set about building our own brand. It still influences how I operate today internally and helped to shape the systems we use.
Where did you start? Give us a brief run down of your career.
I started my career in the UK at Laura Ashley for a number of years. It was a great experience because everything was in house designed and developed. It was a young team of really cool girls working on a brand that was trying to reinvent itself. It was a great spot to be introduced to the industry and to get the experience of in house design with overseas manufacturing. I worked there for a couple of years and then moved back to Toronto where I worked for Blue Notes which was owned by American Eagle. Again, I had great access to design and development teams in New York. I then moved to Holt Renfrew where I worked for five years doing brand buying for contemporary brands. From there, I knew I wanted to get into actual development of product - not just buying established brands. I was getting interested in home and interiors. One that interested me was Indigo because their lifestyle arm. I moved there with the goal to learn the ins and outs of creating products and moving them from idea to in store. After my stint at Indigo I started Pehr Designs with Jen [Kelly], my business partner.
You mentioned you became more and more interested in the interiors space. What spurred you to start Pehr?
Jen and I have been friends forever. We have an almost identical aesthetic and a shared appreciation for what we like and don’t like. We knew we already had that going for us. The idea for Pehr came about when Jen was getting married and I had found these beautiful linen napkins that I really wanted to get her as a wedding present. They were so gorgeous but so expensive. I bought them because I loved them but we realized that there was a gap in the market for sophisticated and well made home textiles that were also affordable. So we thought why don’t we do it ourselves? Fast forward now to today, we are six years in, between us, we have five kids and our Petit Pehr for kids was born out of the same idea. When Pehr was only a couple of years old, we were both starting families and we found another gap - affordably priced but high quality and sophisticated baby and kids textiles. Again, we decided that since we couldn’t find it, we should do it for ourselves. We took a leap hoping other people would respond to it and so far so good!
I own a lot of Petit Pehr and I love how it doesn’t scream “Baby Lives Here”.
That was our intention. Just because you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean your design taste and aesthetic needs to change. We design for what we like just as much as our kids will like them too. It has to feel sophisticated for the parents and playful and fun for the kids. I didn’t want want a bunch of tacky baby stuff in my house and it seems a lot of people share that point of view. The reality is, baby and kid stuff over runs your house so why not make it beautiful?
How do you and Jen divide and delegate?
We were fortunate that our work backgrounds created a natural and organic split in the business. My background is, as I said, product development and buying. I have experience with manufacturing and inventory. Jen has a background in advertising and marketing so she has naturally fallen into the brand building, sales and marketing side. We both share and discuss on the big picture but there is a natural split in the business and the day to day operations. This obviously makes sense from an operational stand point but it also means we each do more of what we love most so we’re very lucky.
Was there anything that held you back from starting the business?
Not really. I think we timed it right in that we both had a good chunk of work experience behind us. We hadn’t yet had families so we didn’t have the stressful obligations that come with having children. This allowed us to be quite bold…or maybe, looking back on it, just naive. We were very quiet about it when we started out - in our free time we designed a product and were sampling it with manufacturers. Then we launched it in New York in 2011 having not shown it to anyone! Looking back, if we were doing it today, I may be a bit more measured but maybe diving right in was a good thing. We were bold and we loved the products and luckily retailers did too.
Was have you found most difficult about being an entrepreneur?
At the beginning it was a bit challenging to do my day job and then come home and work on Pehr but nothing compares to doing it while juggling babies and kids. After a couple of seasons, we had couple hundred retailers ordering from us and we were in a good place to quit our jobs. So we did, we jumped in with both feet. This coincided with both of us growing our families. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked and looking back, was the hardest time of my life so far. I had a new born and a two year old and was trying to get a company off the ground. When you're dealing with a newborn along with production issues in India, it can feel very overwhelming to say the least. So my work life balance is a challenge now but I’m getting sleep now so that makes it a lot easier. But to answer your question, the most difficult thing was not being able to get enough sleep when we were growing our business. Thankfully, I have a partner who can share the load with me when I was exhausted and vice versa.
Would you do anything differently?
Well, I’m always making mistakes but I don’t think I would do things differently. I feel that mistakes help navigate you and if you’ve made an error, you deal with it and you move forward.
How do you set goals?
We have monthly, quarterly and annual goals. Jen and I set our strategy every year. There are always a million things we could be doing and lots of different initiatives but we’re a small, fast growing company and we only have so many people. We try to align with our ultimate goal which is to become a global children’s lifestyle brand that aims to capture the beauty and simplicity of childhood. With that goal and action in mind, we focus on everything that will help us get there. It’s important to have a large goal and mission statement that we can stay focused on and share with our team so that everyone is aligned.
What are your daily rituals?
When you're running a company there are so many operational issues and responsibilities which can bog you down. Things that I had never anticipated when we had the initial idea for Pehr. So the key for me is to go back to basics as much as I can and remember why I started this in the first place - to make beautiful products. If I get away from that for too long, I lose my inspiration. So to answer your question, my ritual is to spend part of my day being creative, researching, getting inspired - some days that part is much smaller than others though.
What helps you stay productive?
The number one thing that keeps me productive is flexibility. We have an office which I love and an amazing team. When I’m there I get inspired and excited; but with three little kids, I have to have flexibility in my schedule. I feel so fortunate that I have a company with that built into it. If I have to run out and drop something off for my son at school, I can do that. If I didn’t have the flexibility, I wouldn’t be productive. I get my best work done at crazy hours - at night when the kids are sleeping or on Saturday mornings when they watch cartoons I will be on the phone with our production team in India. Then I may be at home on a Friday afternoon.
Tell me what inspires you?
What inspires me the most in when I see our products in people’s homes. When we see a baby in our swaddle or we see a newborn on our crib sheet is all we need to keep us going to design more and better and to come up with new ideas for products that people will love. The more I see our brand grow, the more inspired I get. I feel so lucky to have been able to fill a need and to work on something that is so clearly ‘me’. It gets me excited and I love it!