I recently spoke with Rick Hinnant to get a Grace and Lace Update. Rick is one half of the Grace and Lace brain trust; his wife, Melissa, was busy doing a photo shoot the day we spoke. The Hinnants struck a tender chord with Shark Tank Nation back in episode 511 in season five when they told the world the story of their stillborn child and how Melissa's bed rest inspired creating the first incarnation of Grace and Lace's boot socks. The Hinnants were able to take a personal tragedy and turn it into a business that changed their lives, and hundreds of others.
Even before Rick and Melissa appeared on Shark Tank and did a deal with Barbara, they had an eye for business, as Rick explains.
“We both come from entrepreneurial families. Melissa's mother has had a hand in many ventures that Melissa watched while growing up and both of my parents were successful business owners. Starting businesses is in my blood and I love it! I've started many more businesses than Melissa – I don't want that to come across as diminishing in any way – Melissa is brilliant and so creative. I love the gift of being married to her in every way. She's my perfect match.”
“Business and starting businesses is something I understand and operate in. When things started taking off, I told Melissa, ‘we may have something here.' She is without a question the face of Grace and Lace and my role has always been running and operating it. I was able to recognize that we might have our hands on something big and I knew the steps to take. We're a dynamic combo when it comes to the business. Melissa's core strengths are sales/marketing and creativity – she has an eye for what our demographic likes. My core strengths are sales, vision, putting people in place, direction of operations, scaling and finance.”
Getting to the Tank
Like other businesses who make it to Shark Tank, the Hinnants went through the application process.
“We had our first sale on October 1, 2011 and things took off quick. We did $40K in sales the first 2 months in the business. A friend in the women's apparel industry began mentoring us in February 2012, her company was looking at buying a portion of our company. I told her I think we're destined to be on Shark Tank, and Melissa encouraged me to apply.”
“I applied several times from February to May 2012, but nothing happened. I got a call from an internet marketing buddy of mine and HE said we should be on Shark Tank too. It turned out, he knows a producer, so he made a call for us. 15 minutes later we were on the phone with the producer and he loved the story. We were supposed to be on season 4, but Melissa was pregnant, so we went on season 5.”
Rick explains the story of how Melissa's pregnancy inspired the Hinnants:
“I had a good relationship with God after the tragedy, I'll never forget the day I was holding my baby girl who was gone. I told Melissa we can be mad at God or choose to trust him. As heartbroken as we were, I told God I'd trust something good was going to come of this. That tragedy inspired the business and led to helping hundreds of children in need. We will continue – that is the heartbeat of Grace and Lace, it's not just a women's apparel company, we are here to change the world.”
While talking to Rick and from researching Grace and Lace, it's evident that the Hinnant's spirituality is at the forefront of their business and their lives. I asked Rick why this was so, and he gave me the answers.
“I do because it's part of every fiber of who we are. For us, Jesus is real and has done unbelievable things for us, changing us from people you may not like to who we are today. It's the forefront of everything we do.”
“I grew up in a church and it was boring for me. I understood the Gospel and received Christ, but my parents divorced when I was in the sixth grade. After that, I went on angry destructive path – not living anything closely resembling a Christian life. I had what people thought was a dream life. I went on to be a football player at the University of Texas. After I graduated, I was $10K in debt for partying, was a miserable drunk, spoke like a sailor, and was not living a good life. I came home one night got on my knees and repented and apologized to God; that next morning I was a different person, I had no more desire to drink and womanize and things in my life changed overnight. That's the Genesis of my Christian beliefs.”
I met Barbara Corcoran in the fall of 2014 and off camera, she speaks like a sailor. I asked Rick how he handles it and he answered, laughing.
“I can still hang with the colorful language, Barbara drops F Bombs all the time – she tones it down a bit around us, but it cracks me up when she apologizes! We're meeting up with her soon in Park City where we're attending a ‘Barbara's All Stars business retreat.' Fleetwood from Villy Custom is going to be there as well as the guys from Tom and Chee and Cousins Maine Lobster.”
Grace and Lace Update: Giving Back
“A funny thing happened when our Grace and Lace update segment first aired. People got the vision of what we were doing with orphanages and Shark Tank viewers donated enough money for another 10 Angel House orphanages! We are planning a trip to Nepal in August. We were recently on a call from Missions.me talking about setting up safe houses for taking women out of the sex trade industry. That's our next path. We're ecstatic about helping girls in ways that are life altering.”
“We always knew we wanted to ‘give back' in some way. Melissa was part of a youth ministry called Teen Mania and she met Dominic Russo, who started Missions.me. After working with her and other committed people, and we discovered it it was where we wanted to be.”
Rick's also helping out another funded Shark Tank entrepreneur.
“The Cranes from Bottle Breacher reached out to us before they aired and we hit it off. We even sent a couple of key people to help with logistics and were very excited to help them. Being on Shark Tank is like a bomb going off – it's exciting at first, but it becomes overwhelming. For us, it was two months of hell. The Cranes experienced it too.”
“The Shark Tank Effect was overwhelming for us, but we got people in place quickly. We went from 6 to 36 employees after airing. We scaled back to 30 because we got more efficient and some people didn't fit our culture. Our employees who embrace our culture are very highly motivated and the company culture weeds out the people who don't fit. Nick Saban once said, ‘we have a culture of highly motivated individuals, and if you aren't highly motivated, you won't fit.' That's how our business culture is, highly motivated employees won't tolerate those that aren't; it's self policing.”
“Our own message is how thankful and honored we are to appear on Shark Tank, the enormity of the platform is beyond words and the people support us and the other companies, it opens doors we could have never opened. We went from $850K in sales in 2012 to $5.7 million in 2014.”
“Grace and Lace continues to sell online as much as we can, but our wholesale business is growing; it could be 50% of total revenue soon. I attribute that growth to our appearance. We sell in Altered States, Dry Goods, Apricot Lane, and a ton of boutiques. We've been approached by bigger names but haven't felt like it's what we want to do. Our mentor catered to big box retail stores, but the further we got down line, I don't know if we want to be in big box. They squeeze margins. They may order 100,000 items, but we have no control over how they market it; if it bombs, we don't get paid. We would rather have control and take our own risks.”
Advice for Entrepreneurs
As always, I asked Rick if he has any advice for would-be entrepreneurs. Here's his answer:
“God created me to be entrepreneur. If you want to start a business, I would ask ‘are you called to be a business owner?' You're either called to it or not, if you're not, it's a kick in the rear. If you are called, get a business coach. Every top athlete has a coach – they need help. Get someone you can learn from, seek out mentors, they can teach you. Throughout my life I've sought out people who can teach me. I know I can learn, I am teachable.”
I had one more question for Rick. He answers it on The Hot Dog Truck.