Yesterday morning, I received an email from a vendor saying, “Congratulations on all of your success partnering with Robert Petril.” And several others have inquired about my affiliation with Mod Life, which led me to the realization it’s something I really need to address.
Essentially, the question is, “What is your business partnership with Mod Life Collection?”
Let’s go back to High Point, NC in 2014. After my licensing deal died with Stanley Furniture, I met Robert, a freelance furniture designer, and partnered with him on two fronts—personal and business.
After meeting Robert, he offered to come on board Mod Mom to help me scale the company (because I was now out of a licensing deal) and then shortly thereafter, suggested he hold the title of President—in name only—until the business ramped up, then he would get some kind of compensation. That made sense to me since Mod Mom was at a standstill at that point. His extensive experience in the furniture industry and our affinity for one another made it seem like a match made in heaven. I stopped looking for licensing opportunities and we started down our “mod dream” road.
We pursued getting Mod Mom produced in large quantities through a contact we had in North Carolina, since I was in need of a new manufacturer. It became apparent that it wasn’t going to be possible so the conversation switched, with Robert on board, to producing his upholstery in the US. It’s much easier and more lucrative to manufacturer sofas in the States than it is case goods (hard goods like Mod Mom). Our contact is part owner of an upholstery factory in North Carolina, so it seemed like a great way to go.
Robert came to the table with renderings of multiple sofa and chair designs and one design he produced through another company already, as well. With this opportunity at hand, he suggested we build up the upholstery brand in order to then help fund the kids’ furniture side that I had built out of my garage. We gave it a lot of thought and decided that capitalizing on the Mod Mom brand was a good idea. After all, there was the continued press and multiple re-airings of my Shark Tank episode and that would only help the sofa collection. Instead of using Robert Petril Designs for his line, we decided on Mod Life Collection—ultimately his entity because it’s his line of upholstery. I designed the logo to look similar to Mod Mom and we bought a website, and off we went. It became our focus and was considered part of the Mod Group we dreamed of building.
Mod Life is not legally part of Mod Mom in any form but it made sense to promote it as an off-shoot of Mod Mom and to think more globally about how we could grow in multiple areas of home furnishings, independently and together, as a couple.
- Living room/home furnishings = Mod Life (Robert)
- Kids line of furniture and hopes of growing into other categories = Mod Mom (K)
In addition to Robert’s designs, a very talented designer in Spain, named Ari Signes, had partnered with Robert prior to he and I meeting and created the 3-D renderings he shared with our contact. They collaborated on a few designs but she also designed a few on her own called Aria, Sia and Suri. Ari created all of the gorgeous 3-D renderings for all of the designs “on spec,” meaning she didn’t get paid for them upfront and agreed to wait until his designs took off to get paid. She’s still waiting.
We managed to secure a production deal for the upholstery line and part of a showroom in 2015 in High Point, NC. The samples were built and the showroom was set up and off we went into what looked to be a very bright future. We geared up to pre-sale around the country. Robert pulled himself out of the running for a big design director job in San Francisco because this looked to be the ticket the future he’d been working towards since he left China in 2008. He put all he had into Mod Life. I think at that point, I’d probably sunk about 10K into us and Mod Life, my parents invested 8K, and my dad jumped in to help us at Market and be a Mod Life representative. That Market, we sold 13 stores which is a good start; however, production took 33 weeks and the manufacturing partnership dissolved. As you can imagine, that stopped Mod Life dead in its tracks. I was barely keeping Mod Mom going and appreciative of my dad, who helped find a new manufacturer for Mod Mom in Ohio.
We were back to the drawing board with Mod Life. Robert partnered with a California manufacturer through a friend of his in January 2016 and this time, things looked more promising. In order to better support us, I got a full-time job as a writer for the local university and rented an apartment for us, where Robert would be able to stay and work out of as we were re-launching Mod Life with the second manufacturer. He worked different jobs as well while he led Mod Life. This happened at the end of March 2016. I worked my 9-5 job and did a lot of PR/marketing for Mod Life, kept Mod Mom barely alive, and worked some contract gigs to help pay bills. The plan was for me to keep my job as long as was needed and he would go out on the road and sell Mod Life until I could join him and we could continue with our grand plan of building Mod Life, then building Mod Mom.
The Vegas Market came around and we were so excited. We were very kindly given a showroom space by our manufacturer for Mod Life and scraped together money to eat and sleep, as well as outfit the showroom. The Market came and went and despite press and accolades for Robert and Ari’s designs, the line didn’t produce sales after Market. We lacked swatch racks, which are apparently needed to sell custom upholstery. And sadly again, a few months after Market, that manufacturing partnership went up in flames for a number of reasons.
We recently split up personally (and professionally) which means a lot of changes are happening. I’m going to re-tool Mod Mom and create a resurrection plan for my little garage company/brand. While I believed in the grand plan of Mod Life first, then Mod Mom, it’s my own fault for taking my eye off the ball and not continuing to build my own brand over the last three years. I figure if I can build an international brand out of my garage with zero carpentry or design skill, I can figure this out!
So what is my role in Mod Life now? It’s non-existent. He is sole owner of his collection, as it should be. They are his designs (and Ari’s, of course) and his life’s work. From what I hear, he is re-launching all of the designs as Mod Life Collection by Robert Petril.
I’m going back into the garage and am looking for a manufacturer locally, as well as talking to a few companies about licensing the brand. I’m also in the process of writing a book. Turns out, Shark Tank wasn’t the bravest thing I’ve had to do in my life, and I’m excited to tell the story.
I will make sure my parents get their investment in Mod Life back. They are far from wealthy, as two retired teachers, and invested because they believed in my belief in us.
I’m thrilled for what the future holds and if I’ve learned anything in my 43 years, it’s to continue to follow my heart, work my tail off, believe in myself, and trust that even when the road looks crooked and long, there’s a reason for it. There’s always a bigger picture that we can’t see in the moment and lots of lessons to learn along the way.