How a 15-year-old entrepreneur got her product into Nordstrom

Fish-Flops-picnic-smShe launched her business two years ago, but Houston teenager Madison Robinson has yet to face something most new entrepreneurs do: rejection. Every store buyer she has approached has placed an order for her Fish Flops for Kids shoe brand.

Robinson came up with the idea for her sea-creature-adorned flip-flops with battery-operated lights when she was just 8, living at the beach in Galveston Island, Tex. Her dad Dan, a former banker turned t-shirt designer, helped her turn her drawings into a product and get samples made. More than 30 stores placed orders the first time they exhibited at a trade show, so he hired an overseas manufacturer and started shipping in May 2011.

Launched with “friends and family” financing, the enterprise is already profitable, the elder Robinson says. The shoes now sell online, in various retail boutiques, and at 60 Nordstrom stores nationwide for around $20 a pair. They’re also coming soon to, and Macy’s buyers in New York recently asked Madison to design a line for women. More than 60,000 pairs sold in 2012, making for retail sales of at least $1.2 million. That’s not all Fish Flops’ income; the Robinsons sell wholesale. But Dan Robinson says it’s safe to say that his daughter, who is about to complete 9th grade, has already socked away enough profits to cover her college tuition.

The 15-year-old draws all of her own designs and chooses color combinations digitally, but has also learned how to pack shipments, stock the warehouse, explain her pricing, host a tradeshow booth, and make a sales pitch.

She has also mastered social media marketing: Through Tweeting from @FishFlops she got the young daughter of Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell to wear the shoes, and captured the attention of HSN fitness personality Tony Little. (Tweeting is also how she got this reporter interested in her story.)

But to get into Nordstrom, Robinson employed an old-fashioned sales technique. “I wrote a letter to the buyers,” she told a Houston Fox reporter. “I didn’t think I would get in, but I did.” >more