My business is called bigbooklittlebookcardboardbox – a green, affordable storage solution for baby & toddler books, designed to encourage an early love of reading. I sell though my website www.bigbooklittlebookcardboardbox.co.uk, via other websites, in retail shops and face-to-face at local baby & toddler events. I’m also hoping to partner with book party plan sellers to sell my product on a wholesale or commission basis.Your Name and Age:
Frances Weir, aged 34.
Tell us about your family.
I live in Ilkley, West Yorkshire with my husband John, my little boy Finlay aged 2 and a half, and our two dogs.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?
Before having my son, I worked as a medical writer for a pharmaceutical communications agency – lots of travel, lots of buzz, lots of stress! After having my son, and relocating from Cheshire to Yorkshire, I worked part-time as a clinical trials officer at my local hospital. The transition from working part-time to solely running my business was straightforward – I did the planning and setting up of the business in my spare time, then had a month of overlap when I ‘soft-launched’ my business whilst still working, and then I stopped work to focus full-time on the business. The transition was timed around my little boy starting at preschool.
When did you launch?
bigbooklittlebookcardboardbox launched in July 2010.
How did you get started?
The idea came about through one of those ‘Why hasn’t anyone invented ….” moments. My son had accumulated lots of books and we didn’t really have anywhere to store them, as they were all different sizes – we had some in a bookcase, some in his toybox and some just piled up on the floor. Preschoolers chose books by looking at their covers and we found that displaying his books in a conventional bookcase didn’t work as he either ignored them, or pulled them all out searching for the perfect book. So I thought it would be a great idea to develop a product that stored his books, at floor level, in an accessible, attractive way, enabling him to independently flick through them to choose the one he wanted to look at, without having to take them all out.
What research did you do before launching?
The initial research was to see whether anything similar was available (if it had been, I would simply have bought one and life would have been very different!). The only forward-facing book storage options available retailed at the £60+ price mark, so were in a different price bracket to the product I envisaged. I didn’t actually do any formal market research – everyone I spoke to said it was a great idea and I relied on my instinct (probably not recommended!). I researched very heavily into the design/materials/suppliers to ensure I got the best quality at the best price possible. With my background as a writer, I naturally spent a lot of time developing the copy for my website and working closely with my web designer to get the brand spot on. The green credentials of the product were very important to me, so I looked into the various packaging alternatives until I found a solution that was 100% biodegradable, like the box.
How have you funded the business?
I funded the business set-up costs through a dormant TESSA I had held since 1999!
How do you promote your business? What has worked best?
I haven’t actually done any promotion yet, other than through WAHM forums. Childminders have been a big customer group for me (totally via word-of-mouth) so I am now working with a childminding forum on a competition and product review.
What has worked well about your business?
Sales in the initial period have been better than I anticipated, my visitor to sales (conversion) rate on my website is around 5% which is very encouraging – it seems that there are people out there wanting a bigbooklittlebookcardboardbox – it’s just a case of getting them to hear about the product. The feedback from people who have brought the product has been hugely positive too and, as mentioned, I’ve had lots of word-of-mouth referrals.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?
So far, I haven’t faced any huge challenges – the biggest was convincing my husband that it would be a good idea to resign from my job! But he now loves it when we come downstairs in the morning, log on and see we’ve had an order and, in effect, have printed money while we sleep!
How do you fit in work with the family?
My son will be at preschool three mornings a week so I will do as much work as possible while he’s there. I take my son with me when we go to the post-office to send the boxes out and he loves *helping* with that! I package up boxes, deal with correspondence and network on forums mainly in the evening, but also sometimes during the day when my boy is having his nap and during snatched moments when he’s playing by himself.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area?
Whether or not you need external funding to set up your business, I’d recommend writing a business plan, including information on the market, the product, the brand, the set-up costs, the unit costs and sales projections as it will help focus your mind. You really need to drill down on the detail of costs and work out exactly how many units you need to sell in order to cover set-up costs/match your existing salary/pay the mortgage/cover childcare costs/make it feel ‘worthwhile’, or whatever it is that is driving your decision to work for yourself, then evaluate how realistic that sales target is.
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