Mumpreneur Profile: Arabella of Natural Nursery

Tell us about your family

I am Arabella, married to Paul with one daughter, aged 7.

As a family, we moved back to Devon where I was born a couple of years ago so we could have a bigger garden and be closer to the sea.  Exeter is lovely for children and feels far more like a big village than a proper city – the river and canal are fantastic for walks and it is easy to get out to the moors and the beach.

Despite living in the city centre, we are lucky enough to have part of next door’s garden, meaning we have a good sized veggie patch which has proved to be great fun – at the moment we are eating peas, mangtout, onions, leeks, beetroot and asparagus from the garden and it won’t be long before the strawberries are ready.

Also in the family is Sooty, our dog and our 6 chickens plus to chicks we hatched from eggs and 2 stray cats we seem to have adopted.

What did you do before coming up with your business idea?

Although it I find it hard to believe now, I originally qualified as a solicitor and specialised in private client tax.  After 5 years I decided that this was not for me so started looking for a new career.

When did you launch?

The first site, went live in 2005 and our new site, last year.

How did you get started?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed – I had spent lots of time researching and knew that this would be the best start for my baby.  I wanted her to receive all the health benefits, such as lower long term obesity rates, less chance of developing diabetes or breast cancer, less gastric problems and I also knew it was better for me as it would help to prevent me developing certain types of cancer.

I had seen many of my family and friends breastfeed and I knew what a wonderful experience it was for both mother and child.

In addition, I am a long standing boycotter of Nestle and other formula companies, so it would have felt very strange giving formula to my baby.

I found it hard to source all the products that I wanted for my baby, such as cloth nappies, breastfeeding aids and slings on the high street and most shops hadn’t heard of the concept of fair trade toys, so the original idea for the shop was born.

What research did you do before launching?

Probably not enough!  I knew the products that I wanted to sell and that there was a market for them but I skimped a bit on the business planning side.  The concepts of shopping carts and website builders were very new to me to I learnt the hard way, but it does mean that I know about html and even now can get involved in the nuts and bolts of managing the websites.

How have you funded the business?

From savings and a small loan – by starting small and reinvesting the profits for the first year, we were able to grow quickly and sustainably.

How do you promote your business? What has worked best?

We do some paid magazine advertising but that is more to support publications that we like, such as Breastfeeding Matters.

We do work very hard on our SEO – it is time consuming but it does pay dividends in the long run.

What has worked well about your business?

Our personal service that we give to customers – in the last 2 days we have been able to give support to a number of women who are having difficulties with their breastfeeding.

Sometimes this is just an ear to listen to their problems, other times, we are able to put them in touch with their local breastfeeding counselor.

Yes, this does take time away from our core “job” of selling things, but if I was just in this for the money, then I would have remained working as a solicitor.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?

Never ever having enough time to do all the things that I want.  We would love to get more involved in the local natural parenting and breastfeeding groups but I find this very hard to juggle with all the other demands on my time.

How do you fit in work with the family?

With difficulty!  It was easier when my daughter was younger – I learnt to type very fast one handed so that I could nurse her while working.

Just as you are constantly thinking, have I got enough peanut butter for after school snack, or did I remember to put the washing machine on, you are always thinking, did I reply to that email from the customer, I wonder if we should buy that new range of slings.

It takes a lot of discipline to ensure that when I am working, I am working and then to shut down for the rest of the day, very hard when my main office is at home.

What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area?

Think very, very carefully about what you can offer that existing businesses aren’t already.  There are lots and lots more businesses setting up now and we have, sadly, watched several come and go as in reality, there is only so much space in the market and you have to really stand out to make a mark.

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