A stylish backpack is giving students more than just an efficient way transport their books, but a chance to be their own boss. Columbus-based Laine Avenue is introducing teens to entrepreneurship through its social selling model centering around its proprietary bag design.
What started as a savvy teen trying to think of new ways to earn money for college has evolved into a network of students earning extra cash while learning valuable life skills not often taught in schools.
Now 16 years old, Emily Laine Miller was a regular with the cottage industries, making trinkets to sell to her friends for extra cash. But at 13, she just couldn’t make one more teddy bear keychain.
“I was kind of running out of ideas and kind of wanted to do something bigger,” she says. Not yet old enough to get a part-time job, she got creative.
The entrepreneurial savvy runs in the family. Dad has his own business, as does mom, Lisa Laine Miller. Lisa is is Co-Founder of Powell-based advertising agency LaineGabriel and Emily’s partner in the new venture.
The process has taken about two and a half years to go from idea, to quietly operating, to making a splash.
“It’s taken awhile to get there, but the time has led to us knowing exactly where we are as a business,” Emily says.
Laine Avenue partners with teens as young as 13 (with the help of a parent or guardian) to become “Backers.” The network of Backers takes the backpack to the masses, directing sales online to the Laine Avenue website. While the bags themselves are sold online, they are not sold directly from the company.
“That way every bag that we sell, 25 percent of the purchase price goes to the Backer,” Lisa says.
The set-up also positions students to focus on the selling, while Laine Avenue takes care of the rest. Lisa says it’s a great way for teens and their parents to jump into entrepreneurship without having to manage a site or customer database.
Emily decided on a backpack because it was always a pain point in back-to-school shopping. She couldn’t find something that fit all of the supplies she needed, while being stylish and not too heavy. Building on her experience and with input from friends, the unique design of Laine Avenue’s bag addresses the trio of issues. The square top makes room for binders, a laptop and more, with the load supported by padded straps for comfortable wear.
Students show their style through the 24 patterns and colors of a customizable flap that drapes across the top of the $58 gray canvas backpack. If a student springs for the convertible backpack, $68, the flap also zips off and transforms to a cross-body bag.
To produce the backpacks, Laine Avenue partnered with a manufacturer in Johnstown that also has a facility in China.
“A big part of our initial struggle was we wanted to make it locally in the Unites States,” Lisa says. Stateside manufacturing proved to be cost prohibitive, but the Johnstown connection does provide a local, direct line of communication to its producer.
As the duo developed the idea, Emily was initially going to be the solo-seller. However as she wore the backpack around her school and the business turned to peer focus groups to get feedback about the design, “There was so much interest form these teens,” Lisa says. They wanted the opportunity to sell.
Lisa and Emily realized, ‘Why not give more teens the opportunity to make money?’ And in an environment more flexible, and likely educational, than a traditional part-time job. Backers can sell to students at school or through social media, where they already are, anytime of day.
Laine Avenue looks to arm its Backers with more than dollars. The company also launched the Laine Avenue Life Academy.
“What we found is that not everyone has the skills that are needed to run a business, especially at a young age,” Lisa says.
The Life Academy offers short, two-to-three minute videos once a week that dive into topics like goal setting, time management and understanding money and checking accounts. Initially the videos were open to backers, but, “We realized that these are skills everyone needs whether or not they are selling our backpacks,” Lisa says.
Just $5 a month gives non-Backers access, and, “We also wanted to give the parents an outlet for their kids to hear it from someone else,” Lisa adds.
As the company moves from soft launch to full-scale operation, the feedback and interest from outside their bubble has been validation for the idea. It has even landed teen Emily a feature in Entrepreneur Magazine.
“That was huge validation,” Lisa says.
As the number of backers grows every day, Emily says, “Not only is the company about the backpack, but I feel like one of the main components of this company is just the opportunity that it offers to such a wide age group.”
She wants other teens and young adults to see that it’s ok to take a risk early in life on something that could pave the way for their future.
For more information, visit laineavenue.com.