Clearco helps Cecil & Lou drive 25% growth in new revenue by funding in-stock inventory

When sisters-in-law Ashley and Blythe McCain became mothers they found themselves faced with the same challenge repeatedly: they could not find custom, high quality, matching children’s clothing for the milestone moments their young families were experiencing together. From this need, they created a company. What started as late-night auctions run on Facebook turned into the multi-million dollar ecommerce empire it is today. Ashley and Blythe take us through their early stage journey, the launch of their private label, and how they fund their fast-growing venture with the support of Clearco.

Founders of Cecil & Lou, Blythe McCain and Ashley McCain.
Founders of Cecil & Lou, Blythe McCain and Ashley McCain. Cecil & Lou offers high end, low cost babywear.

Cecil & Lou in the early days

It was 2011 when Ashley and Blythe first explored the idea of sourcing custom clothing pieces to sell to moms. At the time, Blythe was a real estate agent while Ashley was working in oil and gas. Frustrated by the headache of trying to find children’s clothing made from quality fabrics that allowed for customization, they took matters into their own hands. They reached out to the manufacturers in the labels of the children’s clothing they liked, and an idea was born into a business.

Like many entrepreneurs, Ashley and Blythe’s business began out of their homes - on top of dining room tables and buried inside garages. For the initial few years of operation, they focused on selling other labels they knew were high quality.

The beginning of ecommerce: Selling on Facebook, Invoicing on PayPal

The founders initially sold small inventory runs primarily through Facebook, targeting groups that hosted moms like them. Ashley and Blythe posted items and sold them in auction format. Auctions would launch at 9PM and customers would comment on the posts to bid on their desired size.

Due to limited supply, there was a frenzy around each post. The first to comment would secure their bid. From there, Ashley and Blythe spent late nights collecting customer information, processing invoices manually through PayPal, and organizing orders. They’d wake up the next morning to print shipping labels and handle fulfillment. They would do this 2-3 times per week and it was starting to feel more like a full-time investment than part-time.

“Our intention wasn’t to start a company – we thought it’d be a side gig… but it kept growing.” 

As their operation grew, so did the team who supported them. The team was a group of stay-at-home moms based in their hometown of Tyler, Texas. Ashley and Blythe would drop off inventory or shipping labels and one mom would print, while their husbands would pick up labels. They had monogrammers all across their town, as well. The founders would drive stacks of their different shipments to various post offices as many of the post offices in their town couldn’t handle the shipment load.

Launching their private label and ecommerce business

Demand continued to skyrocket and Ashley and Blythe realized they couldn’t maintain their baby clothing venture as a side hustle. It was time to jump in with both feet: they decided to launch their private label, and in doing so they created Cecil & Lou in 2014.

What started as a dream of a side business to run together grew into a full-blown company. They moved into a 5,000 square foot warehouse. They purchased 18 monogramming machines to move monogramming in-house.

Cecil & Lou high end children's clothing

How Cecil & Lou was funded from startup stage to Clearco

Entrepreneurs in the ecommerce space often wonder how to fund their venture in the early days. It can be daunting to order products, build a website, and invest in a business with your own capital. In 2011, Ashley and Blythe were both newlyweds with young children, and had to make the decision to invest in themselves and their idea.

“When the company started, we each put $5,000 of our own money into it. It was a big investment for both of us at that time in our lives. But, that $10,000 floated us for several years and showed us the value of reinvesting into our business.”

Once they launched their private label, they knew they had to order larger runs of inventory and that there would be upfront costs for samples, fabric swatches, stitching, monogramming, and so much more. While they continued to reinvest the business’s revenue into Cecil & Lou, they turned to their local banks for additional support.

“We have great relationships and appreciate our local banks, however they don’t understand our business model.”

Ecommerce faces ups and downs and its revenue is driven by its ability to sell inventory, which typically requires upfront funding.

The bank would offer them, at most, a $150,000 line of credit. It’s a stark contrast to how Clearco’s funding works for ecommerce companies. Clearco is able to offer Cecil & Lou access to more capital, better repayment terms, and faster turnaround times on their invoice payments.

Clearco enables us to spend $500,000 in 3 days to fund our inventory, while we continue to invest in the business and tend to the everyday overhead of shipping, advertising, and paying bills. Clearco allows us to continue to reinvest in the business, and Clearco has improved our ability to order more in-stock items.”

Blythe Ashley McCain Cecil & Lou cofounders
Blythe McCain and Ashley McCain, Cecil & Lou CoFounders

Clearco enabled a business model shift for Cecil & Lou, which now accounts for 60% of revenue

Cecil & Lou began as an auction in 2011 and still has a large pre-sale orders business. But due to shifting customer expectations, Cecil & Lou also launched in-stock purchases so customers can access products immediately. 

“[Customers] are looking to get a product in 2-3 days. Clearco allows us to get our hands on inventory quickly by funding our inventory. We can serve these customers immediately and place orders with our manufacturers.”

Pre-orders are still popular for Cecil & Lou. The addition of instant purchases of in stock inventory allows their customers to easily plan for future occasions or grab an outfit last minute. It’s opened up a whole new customer segment and allows Ashley and Blythe to better understand who their customers are and what they need.

“We can use Clearco funds and get instant profit rather than wait on profits. The amount we have been funded by Clearco is paid off once we realize the inventory revenue so we never carry debt on our business.”

In the first quarter of 2024, Cecil & Lou notes that 60% of their product sales have come from in stock orders which Clearco has effectively financed, while 40% of sales reflect pre-sale orders on their site. The high growth in their in stock product sales has been a 180 from their auction style in the early days and complements their pre-sale orders.

“We have never had to take outside investors or give away a percent of our company. This is a huge benefit from working with Clearco - our company is ours.”

It’s been 13 years since Ashley and Blythe launched their company, and growth on all fronts has been exponential ever since. Clearco has been a proud partner of Cecil & Lou since 2022, funding their inventory, and enabling a new business model to take root and bring in additional revenue.

What is Cecil & Lou?

Cecil & Lou is a children’s clothing online boutique based in Tyler, Texas. Cecil & Lou prides itself on providing families with timeless children’s clothing that captures cherished memories. They focus on hand-smocked, appliqued, embroidered, and monogrammed clothing for children.

Cecil & Lou has grown organically. We are already seeing the fruits of what Clearco is doing for our company’s growth.”

Who are the founders of Cecil & Lou?

Founders and sisters-in-law, Ashley and Blythe McCain, launched Cecil & Lou on a mission to offer boutique, high-quality children’s clothing at wholesale pricing. Ashley and Blythe are the sole designers at Cecil & Lou.

About the Author

Samantha Lloyd

Samantha Lloyd is the Director of Marketing at Clearco.

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