Leading Ladies of Louisville: Alli Truttmann of Wicked Sheets
Wicked Sheets in the News
Written by: Aimee Jewell, Louisville.com LifeStyle, Posted on May 8, 2015, 8:44 am, Read original article here.
Anyone who knows Alli Truttmann knows that wherever she goes, the party follows. She is a terrific, accomplished, hilarious woman in the Louisville community, so I wanted to highlight her amazing, bubbly personality and learn more about how she began her highly successful company, Wicked Sheets. Basically, Wicked Sheets are designed to wick away moisture from those who suffer from night sweats: athletes, people going through hormone changes like menopause, or those who just…sweat. Truttman came up with the concept of Wicked Sheets and started the company herself with just $10,000.
LC: WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
AT: “When I grow up, you mean like in 40 years when I grow up? Because I think I’m still growing! When I was a kid, I started out wanting to be a hairstylist because my cool Aunt was one, but then I quickly realized I don’t like the smell of perms and I certainly do not like touching people’s heads. Then, I thought wanted to be a marine biologist. I would set up little experiments in my house and my
mom, who is a nurse, would bring home empty plastic syringes for me and I’d fill them with lotion and give the “medicine” to the little figurines that I had. So that’s probably where my need to be a “caretaker” came into play. But when I went to college at Bellarmine University I decided to study psychology and behavior. Just to make sure that I wasn’t giving up on marine biology totally, I enrolled in a marine biology course which took us to San Salvador, Bahamas to study animal behavior for 10 days. I was sold on the sun and swimming, but when it came to “collecting” the species of study (i.e. an octopus and a sea cucumber), I got all of this salt water up my nose and realized that I liked traveling and learning about people much more than swimming with the fishes. It was that class that reassured me that I picked the right path: human behavior. When I look back I see that pattern that I always wanted to be in the helping or provider role; I wanted to figure out what people needed and help them to solve problems, I just had no idea that it was going to be in the form of bed sheets.”
LC: WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET THE IDEA OF WICKED SHEETS?
AT: “This is my favorite story to tell. It was family Easter brunch in
2008 in St. Louis at my Aunt’s house. We were sitting around chatting when my cousin, who was pregnant at the time, and in her second trimester, told me about her recent increase in night sweats due to the pregnancy. Now, the Truttmann side of my family is very loud and we talk about pretty much everything so this conversation didn’t surprise me. So, as we’re talking about our sweaty family disposition at the brunch table, my cousin says to me, ‘With this pregnancy, I’m so hot. I’m sweating constantly and I have to change our sheets every morning and I feel gross, how do you cope?’
Then we starting talking about how everybody has this story of, ‘Oh, I was so hot last night, and I was fanning my sheets and had one leg in and one leg out,’ and at that moment, her husband walked past me. He is a golfer so he was wearing a Nike DriFit golf shirt, and I was like, ‘Jason, you’re gonna come home sometime and we’re going to have cut up your golf shirts and sewn them into bed sheets.’ Everybody just erupted into laughter and said, ‘Oh, there’s another silly idea from Alli,’ because, well, I was always coming up with random ideas. And sure enough, my dad who’s been in sales and marketing his entire life, just looks at me and says, ‘That’s not a bad idea! Maybe you should think about how to use that fabric in a new application.’
Sure enough, as I made the drive back to Louisville later that afternoon from St. Louis, which is about a four-and-a-half hour drive down 64, I filled up an entire notebook with ideas about how I was going to come up with this entire company. My first name for my new company was going to be Dry-Fitted Sheets, but then I spoke to an attorney and he immediately turned that idea down since it sounded too much like Nike’s Dri-FIT. So then I figured I needed a lesson in legal before I did anything else.
Hence why that was one of the first things I did when I got back to Louisville. I was making lot of phone calls and called some people that I knew that had started companies before. Their advice was to have people sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement and then told me I needed to talk to an attorney to see if this product exists. They told me to make sure all of my t’s were crossed and my i’s were dotted before I went out and started talking about this to people.
From a joke to legal clearance to experimentation and R&D, six weeks later I had my first set of Wicked Sheets! I found a company that had the fabric. They were discontinued colors from performance fabric companies and textile distributors. When I first called the saleswomen there, I was like, ‘So just out of curiosity, how many yards of fabric do you think it will take for me to create a set of sheets?’ And she started laughing and she said, ‘You’re gonna use this fabric for sheets?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah!’ And she said, ‘That’s a really good idea! I’m in menopause right now and could use a set of them!’ So I ended up having this whole conversation about menopause with this woman. After that conversation, she sent me a couple of swatches of different fabric types, colors, and feels and then from there it started. I ordered 12 yards, which seems like a lot now. We’ve since figured out the perfect measurements for each piece/set and have little to no waste now. Yay!
Next came Craigslist. Yes, I ‘Craigslist’ed’ seamstresses and started having people around Louisville sew them for me. I don’t know if I would have found such talent or these little hidden gems with these sewing specialties in any other cities. There are a lot of older folks here who used to be seamstresses or tailors or folks who used to work on farms and sew all the clothes for their families, so sheets weren’t going to be a problem to move on to. Obviously that model wasn’t sustainable since we were growing, but regardless, finding this pool of talent I was finally able to start my first production line.
LC: WHY DID YOU START WICKED SHEETS IN LOUISVILLE?
AT: “Going to both undergraduate and graduate school here, I felt like I could not replicate the professional network of folks that I had
found in Louisville. I had already built trust and support systems within this city, and even though my parents are well-connected in St. Louis and Southern Illinois, I just didn’t think anything that I had already done here, could be replicated any other place. The resources and the price points and cost of living just made sense for a start-up.”
LC: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT YOUR JOB?
AT: “Oh, I love talking to my customers. I love hearing that these people have stories or experiences just like I do and that they are generally surprised when somebody actually understands them and is offering a resolution that doesn’t involve medication. So, everything that we’re doing, most of the people we see, are customers that have medical conditions that elicit night sweats. And so when I finally say, ‘I think I can help you with this and you don’t have to take a pill for it,’ they get really excited because they’re tired of taking medicine or trying new experimental treatments that might not help in the end. They always get excited when we tell them about our 100% customer satisfaction guarantee, too. They think that they can take a small risk and it might have a big reward, but they still have that reassurance that if it doesn’t work out, this company is
here for them and that we’re able to refund their money if this experience isn’t a good one. Which is actually, I think, one of my biggest pride points with this company; we have a very low return rate. We have such satisfied customers, and we always take those extra steps to make sure they’re satisfied. I’m proud that I know my customers and that they believe in the product.”
LC: CAN YOU GIVE ME YOUR GREATEST SUCCESS AND YOUR GREATEST STRUGGLE?
AT: “It’s always easier to talk about the struggles because they remain uneasy in my system. But there was a time where I did not have a contract signed with the textile manufacturer and they were providing us with some product, and they sent some damaged product to us and since I did not have a contract in place, we took a 40% loss on the fabric. So I realized that any time that I’m doing anything with money and/or transfer of goods, I have to have a signed contract in place.
So that was a struggle. And it’s sometimes a struggle because in the manufacturing world, I am one of the only females. You know, the people I deal with are foreman and manufacturers and engineers and shippers and things like that, and generally, I’m the only woman in those places. Balancing my want to kill with kindness and my want to be a people-pleaser, with my drive to make this company successful is always a struggle, because I don’t to become across as a ball-buster the first time I meet someone. But sometimes that’s necessary.
Successes are always really hard for me to talk about; because we haven’t had ‘the big one’ yet. I think we’ve been very successful at keeping the products American-made, handcrafted in the old U.S. of A., and that’s something I’m super proud of! I’m also proud that sales have grown and that we haven’t had any major setbacks. I mean, obviously buying damaged fabric was a set-back, but they’re all mistakes that have become learning experiences. Oh, and customer reviews, good or bad, I celebrate those too. I think it’s important to celebrate the little ones (successes) along the way because that’s continued immediate reinforcement that keeps me going and going and growing, so that’s good.”
LC: WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS?
AT: “That’s a really good one. I’ve only come up with something really good for that question once before and it was, ‘The shortening of your learning curve.’ So, knowing that you’ve made a mistake and not doing it again, not making that same mistake the next time, is learning. I don’t think there is a big, big success bubble out there that’s waiting for me to pop it; I just don’t feel like that’s real. I have tons of goals for myself and for the company, but I think it if you set one giant goal for yourself and it’s unattainable or unrealistic then you set yourself up for disappointment. So I think little things along the way build big successes overall.”
LC: WHO INSPIRES YOU?
AT: “Well, a lot of people in my family inspire me in my life; my never-tiring, always supportive, Mom and Dad to be specific. But in business, it’s all about other entrepreneurs. I love the story of Sarah
Blakely, who started Spanx. If you took carbon copies of how and why we both created our first products and first started our companies, then laid them over one another, they’d be eerily similar. Except when it comes to our bank accounts, of course. We both started by noticing a problem, understanding that these people are coming to each of us and saying, ‘I’ve got the same problem,’ and then worked on figuring out a solution. So, I like her story. I like how she figured it out.
Same thing with Kevin Plank, who founded of Under Armour. He is another person whose story I just idolize. I think it was something like, he had developed this awesome t-shirt for his football practices, but he was down to his last couple $100 or $1,000. He knew that he needed to market the product so he asked his friends to help him get $10,000 to get started. I laugh now because I hear that it really took some convincing from these friends but he ended up getting the $10,000 he needed and he turned it into a $4 billion dollar company. Wow. He just never gave up. Now that’s an inspiration to any young entrepreneur.
LC: WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
AT: “Competition. I like to be competitive and I like to win.”
LC: HOW DO YOU RELIEVE STRESS?
AT: “Three things: exercise, my friends, and wine. Exercise is the most important one though. I’ve always been a firm believer in maintaining your health so you can be the best you can be in everything else.”