In the process of launching her new business last year, Ashley Zimmerman wrote a 40-page business plan, did a soft opening, undertook market research and recruited partner businesses. And she did deliveries deliveries as well.
Zimmerman's brand is Heyou, a gifting business headed straight into what she figures will be its first peak season.
"We had some good sales through the holidays," she says, "But Valentine's Day is going to be big. That, and Mother's Day -- those will be more of our holidays than Christmas."
A Texas native, Zimmerman moved to Chattanooga with her husband, Caldwell, in 2018. She says gift-giving has always been her "love language," but the distance between Chattanooga and her family and friends back in Texas made it difficult -- until she concocted what she calls her "secret sauce" for gift-giving.
"I'd call stores near the people I wanted to send gifts to," she said. "I'd give them a budget, ask them to put something together for me and pay them $20 to deliver.
"Ninety percent of the time, (the business) would say 'yes,' and I got to give a gift that felt authentic."
Zimmerman recalls that in January 2022, a friend reached out to her for gifting advice. She shared her strategy.
"She thought it was brilliant," Zimmerman says. "Then she told me she'd pay for that service. I thought maybe I could do something with this and solve my own problem."
Zimmerman says that moved her to talk to her husband, a "really practical guy" to whom she was constantly pitching business ideas.
"Half the time, he just laughs," she says, "But this time he said, 'Let's think on that. If the market tells us it's something we should do, we'll give it our best shot.'"
Zimmerman put together a business plan and did considerable market research, including surveying 100 individuals about how they give gifts.
"One question we asked was whether people were think-ahead or last-minute gifters," she says. "Seventy-one percent said last-minute. And 56 percent said they'd prefer using local shops to companies like Amazon."
Last June, Zimmerman says, she started reaching out to local businesses about the prospect of selling their products online. She says she got her first 'yes' from Liza Greever at Fox & Fern Florals.
"No branding yet, no website. Just my word," Zimmerman remembers. "Then I walked into Plum Nelly, told Catherine Daniels what I was doing, and she signed up on the spot."
Zimmerman says she went on to sign Danshire Market, Center MedSpa and A Child's Garden. Chattanooga Cookie and BlowUp balloon bouquets came on board not long after, she says, and now there's a wait list of merchants ready to participate.
"We're in talks with a few other stores," she says, "but right now we want to stick with the people who've trusted us. Keep it a little bit exclusive."
Zimmerman says she's "really happy" with Heyou's early growth, but knows she's still on a learning curve -- and, frankly, tired.
"Being a business owner and mom of (two) young kids is a challenge," she says. "I work every morning, then spend the afternoons with my kids. Later on, I make up for that time I wasn't working while I was playing with them. Sometimes I'll work into the wee hours."