By Robin Gallaher Branch | Photography courtesy of Susan Hardin
Cozy and creative pillows can instantly freshen up a room, and the Little Birdie might just have a message to inspire you as well.
Susan Hardin loves birds. “I always have,” says the native Mississippian who has spent most of her life in Calhoun City.
A perky silhouette of a puffed up little bird is the signature of her pillow company, The Little Birdie. The three-year-old start up is now a busy factory with 15 workers in a downtown building of Calhoun City. Susan and her husband, Tony, co-own the business.
Little Birdie started on faith in God and in response to a need. The Hardins’ faith told them that God seemed to be leading them in a direction to quit their jobs — Susan as a high school English teacher and Tony as a production and marketing coordinator — and go full sway, full time, and full energy into a new business.
As with many things in life, the direction was not entirely new. For years Susan had made her daughters’ clothes and had taken numerous sewing classes. Pretty pillows became gifts. Friends positively raved. At their urging, Susan took pillow samples to markets in Mississippi and received very favorable responses.
For Tony, his marketing experience, leadership abilities, and business acumen acquired in many venues indicated the solid training required to operate a business.
As for the need, well, it just kept growing. The couple has six children, one of them adopted from Guatemala. At the time, two were in college, two waited in the wings, and two were in a local secondary school. The couple saw a future with years of college payments.
Yet looking realistically at the opportunity, the skills already in place, and the ongoing financial needs of a growing family, the couple faced the risk.
“It took a lot of faith for me to stop teaching and for Tony to quit his job and for us to go full time with pillows,” Susan says.
The couple plunged, and the rest became a blur of mega-packed years of a growing family and a wholesale business that happened to spiral upward. “We now sell to businesses in all the states except Rhode Island,” Susan says. “We ship thousands of pillows a week.”
She broke that down to an understandable time and number. “One pillow takes one-to-two minutes to make,” she says. That includes cutting, design transfer, sewing, stuffing, and packaging.
The business is a family enterprise. Walker, a son in high school, gets work-study credit for helping out at Little Birdie. Daughters Sarah, Reagan, and Emily design many of the pillows.
Susan goes to market six-plus weeks a year, spending two weeks each in Dallas, Las Vegas, and Atlanta and several days at the Mississippi wholesale market in Jackson. The time is well spent, offering her numerous contacts and enabling her to spot any competition.
“So far, nobody’s doing exactly what we’re doing,” she says.
Anne Cannon, owner of Deco Direct, a 10-year-old retail and wholesale home decorating store in Tupelo, loves Little Birdie’s versatility and creativity. “I’ve been buying Susan’s pillows since she started. She’s always doing new things. Her work always sells. She’s on top of current trends,” Cannon says.
In addition to selling in stores and online, the Hardins also work with mission groups to create custom-designed pillows for fundraising.
Little Birdie pillows have some standardization. Products come in two sizes, 18 inches for the popular square pillow and 16×22 inches for the rectangular or lumbar version. The fabric and stuffing are polyester and are washable. Prices start at $30.
The most popular pillow, “our bestseller” as Susan puts it, is “Be Still.” A green wreath rings the black words. “It’s part of a Bible verse (Psalm 46:10), ‘Be still and know that I am God’,” Susan explains.
Almost anything can go on a pillow, including many of today’s trendy phrases, bible verses, town names and even zip codes. State-specific pillows are also popular, especially a gray-and-white one for the Magnolia State that says “Mississippi – 100% Made Local Y’all.”
Cannon appreciates Little Birdie’s “sweet pillows for babies” and the sports pillows plugging Ole Miss and Mississippi State. A top seller last year in Tupelo was one with the phrase, “from cowbells to cowboys,” a pillow honoring Dak Prescott, a Mississippi State quarterback who became a Dallas Cowboy.
Susan looks forward to Little Birdie’s upcoming fourth year. “We’ll keep going. We’ll see where God takes Little Birdie from here,” she says. “We’re excited about what He has in store for us.”
littlebirdiearts.comRead More in DeSoto Magazine online.