Women in Business: Caroline Eager, Owner of Liz and Roo

Caroline Eager is the owner of Liz and Roo Fine Baby Bedding, which she founded in 2012 with Carol Ann Anderson. Their vision was to create high quality, made in USA baby bedding and accessories that emphasized safety, workmanship, and style. A division of American Made Dorm & Home, Liz and Roo pulled on Eager's expertise as the founder of a leading retailer and manufacturer of made in USA dorm bedding. Liz and Roo's assortment of modern and sophisticated designs are hand made by sewing artisans in North Carolina, supplemented by a small team in Kentucky who specialize in custom bedding. Manufacturing locally has always been of utmost importance to the brand, as it enables them to closely oversee the design process and ensure the highest quality workmanship at every step. In response to the recommendation by the American Pediatric Society, Liz and Roo strongly promotes bumper-free bedding. A women-owned business, Liz and Roo products can be found online and in more than 120 specialty baby stores.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A broad and diverse combination of work, church, and community service has allowed me to develop my leadership skills over the course of 30 years since graduating from college. I have had opportunities to be a part of fundraising, have chaired numerous committees, and have spearheaded new programs. I have served as a committee member in both structured and unstructured environments. I have served on numerous boards and have dealt with all the intricacies (and politics) of board participation. I served as COO of a start up where multi-tasking was the number one required skill.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at American Made and Liz and Roo?
Leadership and organization are two traits I believe I was born with, but I have had numerous opportunities to apply and develop these skills. Out of college, I took a job in a firm that was young and growing and found myself in a sink or swim role with no formal training program. I was given responsibility to build an investment manager research system from the ground up.

At 27, I co-founded a new consulting firm, and learned firsthand all the challenges of starting and building a new company. I served for 17 years as COO, and managed internal staff as well as consulting projects and clients. I learned the importance of planning, scheduling and completing tasks on time and how to juggle a number of deadlines.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at American Made and Liz and Roo?
Challenges -- I was not at all prepared for the challenges of creating a website and the high level requirements for a successful website given Google's influence over organic traffic. Having no retail experience has been a challenge. Those two aspects have required literally running straight up the learning curve, but I have had some wonderful mentors along the way.

Highlights -- after the creation of the concept of made in USA manufacturing, it took six months to find a small mill that was willing to work with a start up. We changed mills after the end of the first year for numerous reasons, and developed a relationship with a plant in North Carolina who is a true partner in our business.

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
Before starting the business, commit sufficient time to background research. Understand the business, the economies of the sector you will work in, and the players. Know your customer base. Know your competition. Spend time on pricing and branding. Define who you want to be and what market you want to serve.

Create an advisory board and get two or three people with relevant experience to complement your own skills. Meet regularly. Set goals. Measure success. Don't be afraid to admit you made a mistake. Learn from mistakes, start over, and persevere! Know that you will work longer hours and harder than ever.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It is one of my biggest challenges, and my family has been extremely supportive over the past two years. I have sacrificed a lot of my personal time in order to make this business what it is today. I do spend time in the mountains of North Carolina, where I find I can re-group by hiking, golfing or spending time in the garden -- anything to unwind for an hour or more is very healthy and a good energizer. The challenge is to make time to do so!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
From my perspective, the baby textiles industry is actually a space where women have a great amount of influence and opportunities available to them!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had several mentors since forming American Made Dorm & Home and Liz and Roo. The trade organization for the juvenile products industry, Brixy, was instrumental in the formation of Liz and Roo. Various people on their board have provided solid advice and direction pertaining to the baby bedding industry. I have also had a few personal mentors who have been instrumental in providing direction.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Oprah Winfrey has always stood out as an inspiring female leader. When you look at how she began, the personal struggles she has bravely shared and what she has made of herself, it is certainly inspiring. I have great admiration for self-made female leaders.

What do you want both brands to accomplish in the next year?
I look forward to expanding our brand recognition over the next year! As we continue to increase our distribution and our product assortment, I hope to see both brands become nationally familiar names.