Stacy Harfert, Bobee
Bobee of Arvada, Colo., is a wall-mounted diaper and wipe caddy that features smart product design making mom’s life easier.
‘Ah ha’ moment that led to launching this business: I came up with the idea when I was eight months pregnant, with an 18-month old crawling around the apartment. Space was limited, and I looked both online and in stores for a solution that could be mounted on the wall, out of the way of my older child’s curious little hands. When I found no products that met the need, I fabricated a simple prototype out of cardboard (an old diaper box) and then followed up with a Plexiglas version, which I made with superglue and a Dremel. The dispenser worked so well that I contacted a local industrial designer and reviewed my idea with many friends and family, and decided to move forward with the development to take Bobee to market.
Ideal Customer: The first-time mom. With more than 4 million babies born each year and 1.6 million of those being first time moms, Bobee helps make the diaper changing experience more enjoyable.
First Customer: I did quite a bit of consumer research through mommy blogs, friends and family prior to going into production. Many of those who participated in the surveys ended up being my first customers; either for themselves or a friend or family member. I have been selling my product primarily through Amazon.com. This summer, I will be entering the brick and mortar retail environment via baby boutiques. I exhibited at the Spring ABC trade show in Las Vegas this year, and even though I didn’t have retail packaging produced, I took several orders from interested boutique owners and have sales reps lined up for my July retail launch.
Measuring Success: My primary measure of success is not only the monthly sales in units, but also the number of retail outlets I’m featured in. I’ve continued to outpace my monthly sales targets, and have already lined up multiple baby boutiques that want to carry the Bobee once we have our retail packaging completed in July. I continue to have “mommy bloggers” interested in my product and continue to receive great feedback. In fact, our Amazon.com customer review score is a 4.9 / 5.0.
Biggest Struggle: Funding has been our biggest obstacle. We overcame it by using our retirement savings, credit cards, and I even went back to work and took a hiatus from the business. We were recently able to acquire an angel investor who is funding the next production run and the fabrication of retail packaging. I also received a 2012 Huggies MomInspired grant of $15,000 earlier this year which helped cover the costs of product photography and graphic design of our website and packaging.
Surprise!: I discovered how self-motivated I am. One of my fears was that it would be very easy to get distracted as the sole employee. But I’ve been very conscious about how I structure my time, and make sure that my Bobee activities do not interfere with being a mom, or vice-versa. I have specific days and times that I focus on the job; Monday accounting, Tuesday sales, Wednesday PR, etc. Finally, I recognize where my strengths are and focus on those while engaging experts from other disciplines to help me move the company forward. As an example, I contracted with a retail consultant who has helped guide the process in preparing Bobee for the retail market.
Promoting Business: Given that we haven’t entered the brick and mortar environment yet, my focus on social media has really spread awareness and generated interest. The real momentum will start with the launch of my retail packaging and the engagement of seasoned sales representatives from within the baby industry.
Two things I wish I would’ve known: 1. The cost of machining and fabricating the tool (the plastic-injection mold that is used to produce our product) was a big surprise. 2. Overall startup cost – I figured it might take $30,000 to launch the business but wasn’t prepared for it to cost more than $100,000.
What keeps you up at night (business-wise!): Believe it or not, I’m not very worried about the business, and it continues to evolve like I thought it would. From the start, I decided that I would do as much as possible to keep this endeavor from being stressful. I applied for a patent early on, and have no competition at this point; nobody has a product like mine. I’m also very confident that I can keep up with the business needs; from production/manufacturing to sales fulfillment. I’m more excited than anything else and think about the opportunities this invention might provide for my family and myself.
Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial side to me. My father was constantly involved in start-ups and acquisitions, so having the ownership and responsibility is nothing new to me. But I’d be lying if I said that working for yourself is easy. It’s also a little different when you’re taking the entire financial risk yourself and how that gamble might affect my family. I’ve worked for many different employers and would much rather work for myself despite the risk and long hours it sometimes requires.
Moving Forward: Over the next 12 months my goal is to be in dozens of baby boutiques across the country. I will meet this goal by acquiring sales representatives from within the baby products industry. Additionally, I will be firming up my marketing plan with a potential marketing intern to help.
Pricing, Getting It Right: Test the market. I used SurveyMonkey.com initially before we had a product to gain insight into my target market and their price sensitivity. Once I had a design, I again surveyed not only friends and family but also potential customers sourced through CraigsList and mommy blogs to provide feedback on pricing. Finally, once I had product and an online sales venue, I tested pricing with different MSRP / discount strategies to see where the product should ultimately land. This has been invaluable given that I’m preparing to enter the brick and mortar retail environment; I know what the market will pay and can support the pricing with proven sales history when going to the retailers.
A Few Good Tips: I’ve learned that we won’t save money producing our product overseas once you factor in shipping and import tariffs. This allows me to keep it local for now. I’m proud to say that we’re 100% Made in America and plan to stay that way.
Must-Read: Both Sides of the Retail Table (www.retailtable.com). This is the best resource for getting viewpoints from a retail buyer and a product company. Seeing where the other side is coming from is helpful when buying or selling and can assist in bringing the two together.
The absolute best part of owning my business is: having flexibility and independence.
If I had to start over again, I would have: doubled my budget for launching the company.
I never imagined: injecting molding, tooling, and the plastic industry would be so difficult.
If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout: “If I can do it, you can do it, too. Keep going, you can do it.