Feature Story

One Thread at a Time

An entrepreneurial spirit and a curiosity for self-learning have made North Mankato resident Jenna Odegard a success in the children and baby boutiques market.

Odegard owns Bumbelou, a boutique that sells high-quality baby and toddler fashion, maternity and postpartum items, puzzles, art tools and books. The company has brick-and-mortar stores on Riverfront Drive in downtown Mankato and Minnesota Street in downtown New Ulm, as well as a large online presence.

Bumbelou is the second business venture for Odegard, who got her start in the entrepreneurial field at the young age of 17 when she began an e-commerce business in the niche market of crafting handmade clutches for the wedding industry.

“It’s all I’ve ever done,” Odegard said on owning her own business. “It really started as a boot-strapping situation with handmade items. I was curious how to make things and was wondering if I could sell them.”

Odegard began making and selling custom clutches for brides, bridal parties and mothers of the brides on Etsy (an online marketplace for handmade products) before expanding by launching her own website.

“I really found success in that area,” she said. “I’ve always had a creative eye, so I did my own marketing and even taught myself to use a DSLR camera because this was before cellphones came with high-end cameras. I learned how to use Photoshop, how to do email marketing, and everything else owning a business takes, just by being curious.”

The New Ulm native continued to own and operate the business until her first daughter, Lexi, was six months old. At that time, Odegard sold her original business, which allowed her to take time off and be a stay-at-home mom.

“Even though being a mom is the joy of my life and I truly love being a mother and caregiver, I realized I was missing being an entrepreneur,” she said. “I’m the type of person that’s meant to be in the creative entrepreneurial space. Focusing on businesses like these doesn’t drain me, but it refuels me.”

Odegard spent time reflecting on her circumstances and focusing on her knowledge and talents and began making hair accessories for little girls.

“Bumbelou started during my daughter’s naps,” Odegard said with a laugh. “I started marketing the pieces and putting them online. After a while of doing that and then becoming pregnant with my second daughter, Lyra, two years later, I realized that Bumbelou could help put me back in the creative field.”

Making hair accessories quickly expanded to include a children’s clothing line in which Odegard designed and sewed each piece herself. Eventually, Odegard knew she was ready to hire staff to assist her in creating the pieces. Odegard and her team operated out of the basement of her home for nearly four years before they outgrew the space.

Though Bumbelou now operates out of two locations, that wasn’t the original idea that Odegard had in mind when she contacted a realtor in the area.

“I told him I needed a manufacturing space, even if it was a pole barn,” she recalled. “I just wanted some kind of raw space we could work in.”

While touring potential locations, Odegard and her realtor stopped at a site in Old Town Mankato. It was Odegard’s realtor who asked her whether or not she would ever want a storefront for her business.

“I didn’t know about that,” she recalled. “I hadn’t thought about it too much before, but when I saw the building we are in now, I knew I could be ready to add in all of our other brands to include a retail space.”

When deciding whether or not to purchase a storefront, Odegard reflected on what products her family uses and supports in the baby industry.

“It really made sense once I saw the space for the first time,” she said. “There really wasn’t anything available like it in the region – there was absolutely an opening in the baby market. I wouldn’t have done it had there been two or three competitors in the area. It just wouldn’t have made sense. But, when looking at the market, there was a need.”

Bumbelou opened as a baby boutique at 405 North Riverfront Drive in Mankato in September 2018 and embarked on what Odegard called “an interesting first year.”

“In January 2019, there was a polar vortex, and one of the pipes ended up bursting in our building,” she recalled. “We had to close the store only a few months after opening it.

My husband and I did a lot of the renovations ourselves the first time, and we had to gut the whole thing back down to the studs and take up flooring. Thankfully, we had an amazing contractor and were open three months later. They really did an efficient job considering how extensive the damage was.”

Though it would have been easy to toss in the towel on Bumbelou and not go through the expense and stress of renovating for the second time in nearly as many months, Odegard said the decision to continue with the business had a lot to do with who she is as a person.

“I’m used to things not going well, and I just try to make sure to continue,” she said. “Our family motto is ‘do the next right thing,’ meaning, anytime something is hard, just do the next right thing. I had a team working with me, and, thankfully, the online business was already established, so we decided to rebuild even though it was really, really hard.”

By a stroke of good fortune, the back of Bumbelou’s flagship store, where production takes place, wasn’t damaged. Odegard used that space as a temporary warehouse to store merchandise and continue manufacturing during renovations.

“Our online customers continued to support us during that time,” Odegard said. “Three months eventually went past, and then we had a second store grand opening date.”

When looking back to when the Riverfront location opened, Odegard said she doesn’t think they’ve had a “normal year” yet.

“We had a broken pipe that flooded the main floor, a pandemic, and then our basement flooded,” she said. “Now this year, because we are a store with mid- to high-range products, we’re seeing a recession.”

Because people’s budgets have been affected by grocery and gas prices, fewer customers have come into Bumbelou, Odegard said.

“It’s OK,” she said. “I’m at terms with that fact. I don’t like normal anyway. As an entrepreneur, by nature, things aren’t normal ever. We’ve had a nice year. I see a recession and the challenges that come with it as a time to learn and see where we can refine. This year has been more of that, but I wouldn’t be at the level we’re at without that history behind me to help me without the bad things at the beginning.”

In 2019, Odegard expanded Bumbelou by opening the business’s second location at 5 North Minnesota Street in New Ulm after the opportunity presented itself through business friends.

“We really have a lot of customers that are located west of our Mankato location and even west of New Ulm,” she said. “People were driving through New Ulm just to come to our Mankato store.”

After witnessing a once more-vibrant downtown New Ulm in her youth dim to bigger box stores over the past decade, Odegard opened the second location as a way to give back to the community.

“In terms of atmosphere, New Ulm is a very tourist-driven town,” she explained. “A lot of those people coming to town are shopping, and there wasn’t a big baby and kid market. Similar to when I was analyzing a location for the Mankato store, I thought I’d give it a shot.”

Odegard is now three years into the New Ulm store journey and said there is still a lot of room for growth.

“I feel like New Ulm got hit harder during and after the pandemic,” she said. “I see it just with restaurants and other stores in town not being open to capacity. The tourists are still coming here, and we know that because they tell us they’re coming from Iowa, Nebraska and even New York and California. I don’t have store data prior to COVID because we weren’t open, but we’re trying hard to make it successful.”

Odegard and her team prioritize bringing the best attitudes they can to their customers because they want people to have a beautiful experience every time they set foot into one of the stores.

“We want our customers to feel inspired and relaxed when they are in our stores,” she said. “A lot of customers are moms, and we want them to have a peaceful atmosphere while shopping. We also have a lot of people come into the store shopping for gifts, which we think is so special. We want to make sure people find something of nice quality that will last and be a part of the person’s childhood that is receiving the gift.”

The team at Bumbelou has made a name for themselves not only in customer service but also when it comes to gender reveals for expecting couples. Customers provide an unopened card from their doctor in which the sex of their baby is written inside. Bumbelou staff will curate a gift and place it in a gender-neutral white box. The expecting couples will open the box and, for the first time, find out if they are having a boy or a girl based on the contents inside.

“We love when we get these opportunities,” Odegard said. “If there are multiple team members there when the request comes in, there’s always a lot of squeals of delight. We just feel so lucky to be a part of the family’s journey.”

Throughout the tenure of Bumbelou, Odegard said she feels it’s essential to learn as you go and see how things unfold. She said she has a lot of big dreams and goals for the company but nothing in the immediate future.

“I told myself that I needed a year to absorb everything,” she said. “We had so many changes over the past few years. This year I said I was just going to sit tight and really get things under us before we charge forward with any other huge dreams.”

In addition to growing Bumbelou to two stores, Odegard also opened Hazelkin & Co., a gift and lifestyle store, on the same block as her Mankato store.

“That was my sit quiet for a year,” she said with a laugh. “It was to get these three stores really comfortable before we do anything crazy. We’re bringing brands into these communities that people either had to order online or drive to the Cities for. We’re hearing from our customers that they’ve seen these products before, but never in stores. It’s been awesome and really what I’ve been hoping for.”

Giving Back

Over the years, Bumbelou has evolved from 100 percent handmade clothing offerings to 10-15 percent. The change is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed the Bumbelou staff to give back to the community. Odegard closed Bumbelou’s manufacturing facility and used its resources to supply masks to the local communities and communities across the country.

“We realized that we had all the elastic and fabric that people would need to protect themselves with masks,” Odegard said.

Bumbelou staff created a few hundred free mask kits and handed them out in front of their Mankato store during the pandemic. The first instance had 100 cars show up and wrap around the corner of the store for the kits. Seeing the demand, Odegard and her staff asked people to come back the following week after they could make more kits. The second week tripled the number of people.

“It was a huge demand,” she said. “Eventually, people asked if we could sew them for them. I talked with my team, and for nine months, we used all of our production capacity and supplies. We ended up donating more than $20,000 in money and made 150,000 masks that were donated not only locally but to Rochester, Minneapolis and all over the United States. Really, we sent them wherever we could.”

Even though their mask production has ended as the pandemic has slowed and masks have become more readily available, Odegard and Bumbelou have still found a way to give back to the community by donating 10% of profits to support children and families.

“I just know how hard it is to be a new mom and build something, so I just wanted to give back if we were successful,” she said. “Bumbelou didn’t have to succeed. Small businesses constantly fail every day, so I said if we were successful, we needed to give back to the world.”

Each month, Bumbelou gives to Every Mother Counts Compassion International, as well as local organizations, including CADA, My Place, the YMCA and Mankato’s Weekend Backpack Food Program.

“It’s really important for me to support different organizations,” Odegard said. “I just try to keep my ears to the ground with who could use more and be lifted up in our community.”

What’s In a Name

When Odegard sold her first business, the business name was sold along with it. She knew that when it came to choosing a name for her next company, it needed to be strong and memorable.

“Around the time I was envisioning a name for the company Bumbelou, my oldest daughter was about 18 months old,” Odegard said.

At that time, her daughter Lexi’s favorite game was “Bumble Bee,” in which she would run around buzzing, and Odegard and her husband would chase her around. The game resulted in Lexi giving her mom and dad joyful belly laughs.

“That’s my Lexi Lou,” Odegard said. “She was my bumble bee. That’s how Bumbelou became the store’s name. That’s what it’s about … it’s such a clear memory of her childhood.”


Mankato location: 405 N Riverfront Dr
New Ulm location: 5 N Minnesota St
Phone: (507) 594-9072
Web: bumbelou.com

Photos by Susan Bottin

Anna Vangsness

A freelance writer from New Ulm.