Smeal Alumni in Profile: Trotman Uses Business Logistics Background to Fill Need in Online Marketplace
While Karla Trotman ‘98 was a Business Logistics major—a precursor to today’s Supply Chain and Information Systems major—in the Penn State Smeal College of Business, she took an independent study course examining how growing use of the Internet might change consumer behavior in the coming years.
“My independent study course was focused on the question of whether or not people would eventually buy things online, so I did a lot of research into how people were projecting that e-commerce would develop.”
About 10 years later, Trotman was launching her own online store. BellyButtonBoutique.com, an online store that connects women to products that will help ease their discomfort through pregnancy and after, combines her logistics background and her interest in e-commerce to respond to a real need in the marketplace.
“I was pregnant and uncomfortable, and I couldn’t find products that would help,” she said. “There’s a lot of shame around women talking about the discomforts of pregnancy, but the reality is that it doesn’t feel all that great.”
“You have to be fearless, not afraid to take risks. You have to be able to be relentless in pursuing your goals.”
Trotman says she’s thankful that Penn State offered her the opportunity to pursue her interests through the independent study in addition to providing her with a foundation in logistics.
Attending Penn State was a natural decision for Trotman; there are a lot of Penn State graduates in her family, she says. She chose to major in business logistics after sitting in a class with Dr. Robert Novack, associate professor of business logistics.
“He just had a tremendous personality, and his class made me see that I could be fully engaged in a program in the Smeal College of Business,” Trotman said.
After graduating, she got a job with a major retailer, where she put her knowledge in distribution, purchasing, and supply chain management to work. Ten years later, while pregnant with her first child, BellyButtonBoutique.com was born. “Like many people, I had to work, so I created an online store where I could glean an additional source of income while maintaining my career.” A few years later, her father made an announcement. When he was interested in retiring from his business, Trotman stepped in.
“I knew I could make a greater impact in a smaller business, wear more hats, and get more specific results,” she said.
Trotman plans on running both businesses simultaneously. Her goal is to create a legacy for her family. Of her entrepreneurial mindset, Trotman credits her experience in working with her father, including something he said to her soon after she started working at Electro Soft, Inc.
“I was of the corporate mindset where you have lots of meetings to solve small problems. In small business, you have the ability to be more nimble. My father trained me in the art of execution, so barriers are non-existent in my world. Specifically he would say, ‘You just have to do it,’” said Trotman. “It was a defining moment for me – there was no one to ask for permission.”
This kind of mindset shift set Trotman up to allow her boutique to grow internationally, despite the risks and hard work.
“Lots of people have dreams and ability, but what they lack is execution. I was fortunate to not only see that modeled in my father, but encouraged to push beyond my self-imposed boundaries,” she said. “You have to be fearless, not afraid to take risks. You have to be able to be relentless in pursuing your goals.”