Biz Spotlight: Mary Bauer, President of Bratt Decor
April 29, 2011
I am a woman of many passions, and chief among them is my love of family. When my husband, Stephen, and I were expecting our first child, we were both over joyed, overwhelmed. Both Stephen and I love design, and were not satisfied with what was available in the marketplace for furnishings. So, we designed a beautiful wrought iron baby crib, and that was the beginning of our business, Bratt Decor, and our family.
This company is so tied to my heart. It draws on my love of art and design, and the miraculous time in one’s life when they become a parent. I don’t believe there’s any other single event that changes a person like loving and caring for your own child. I get to work with my husband every day, and together we put reflections of our definition of beauty into the world. It’s a really good job.
We began our company in 1995. But, being an entrepreneur is something both Stephen and I have been since forever. I started my first company at the age of 13, “Mary’s cleaning, babysitting and dog walking service”, and Stephen ran a disco when he was 16. I think there’s an unbridled wildness at the heart of a true entrepreneur. It’s not something you become, it’s something you are.
As any entrepreneur will tell you, it’s a rocky road, filled with highs and lows. One major high happened in December of 1997. While we began our company in 1995, the first 2 years were really research, development, testing, etc. Making cribs has a steep learning crib. But by Spring of 1997 we were stocked and ready for sale. The response was slow but consistent and people loved our fresh take on what nursery furniture could be. Stephen and I happened to be visiting New York for the holidays, and we decided to walk past a little boutique that had recently purchased a few of our designs. There in the window, on Madison Ave, was the most breathtaking display. Our wrought iron basinet, all draped in toile and glitz, glamor and gold, was centered in the middle of a snowy scene, filled with magic. There were beautiful children playing, and everything was white and gold. I actually cried, and thought, hey, if we can make it here, we can make it anywhere. It was one of those magic moments.
We are faced with so many challenges, especially within the last 3 years. Ours is a designer brand, and we are sold primarily to small, designer boutiques. The economy over the last couple of years has wreaked havoc on these small businesses, with about 25% of them going out of business. Also, within the last 2 years there has been major reform in crib regulations as outlined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which result in major, expensive retesting and redevelopment. We’ve been hit on both ends, reduced sales and much greater expenses. We’ve re structured, and rebounded, but it has not been easy.
This company was founded on family, and family has always been a priority. I’ve found that if you’re going to keep your sanity as working mother, you have to priorities and good systems in place. We’ve set up our business so that is totally accessible anywhere in the world via the internet so that I can physically be with the kids from the time they get home from school. I leave work everyday at about 2:45 and pick the boys up. Once home, I work for about another hour pretty steadily, and the kids decompress from a long day. I try and cook dinner most days, and we eat together around the table. I want to be present and not miss a thing. Every choice has consequences, and I think my dedication to the kids has cost me some progress with Bratt Decor. We haven’t grown as big or as quickly as many others, but in my eyes, we’re a huge success.
As a designer of furnishings and interiors, I get to put out into the world what I see as beautiful. It’s a very personal and unique experience. I would advise anyone seeking to become a designer, to really know their own voice, what they love and believe to be true and communicate that through their work. We hear over and over again that our designs don’t look like all the others, and that’s because what we do is completely of us, drawing on our experiences, loves and passions. We’re not looking around at what sells and trying to do that. I don’t believe that you can be successful doing that.