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Mumpreneur Profile: Rebecca Jay of Dodo Pad

27 January 2011 No Comment

Name of Business: Dodo Pad
Your Name: Rebecca Jay
Tell us about your family:
Having escaped London 8 years ago, I now live in Cornwall close to the sea on the north coast in an idyllic little village with my husband Trevor and James, our son, who is nearly 15.  Also Polly, the pussycat; 13 years old, sedate and rather resentful of Tinky, our playful kitten, and Wizz, our Hungarian Vizsla (nearly 5 but still thinks she is a puppy – especially when playing with the kitten!). Cornwall is home now and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. My commute to work is a three minute journey down the lane and I get to walk Wizz at lunchtime as she comes to the our converted stable block offices with me every day.

What did you do before coming up with your business and how was it making the transition?

I’ve always worked in a creative or marketing environment – firstly doing a Fine Art degree what feels like about a hundred years ago in Leeds, followed by many years in top advertising and design agencies in London climbing the career ladder. My last ‘corporate’ job was as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi advertising in the early/mid 1990’s, based in Prague in the Czech Republic and zipping around Europe on planes at least twice a week most weeks – fun but very hard work.  James was a very unexpected but amazing arrival when I was 40, after I’d been told I couldn’t have a baby! Making the transition to running the Dodo Pad was surprisingly easy – which is not to say that it’s been an easy ride all the way…

When did you launch?
The first edition of the Dodo Pad diary was in 1966 when I was just a teenager, but I got involved 30 years later in February 1996 when I was introduced to my then creative partner by a mutual friend whilst I was taking time out looking after James –just our six weeks old at the time!  She’d been unable to find another publisher after HarperCollins dropped the Dodo Pad from their catalogue following the sale of their diary and stationery division. The Dodo Pad was doomed to go the way of its extinct namesake.
How did you get started?
As if I had nothing else to do, I offered to ‘help out’ in-between nappy changing and breast-feeding while she compiled and drew the 1997 Dodo Pad. We published ourselves, raising money from our own savings and printed 5,000 copies of the 1997 edition. Starting from scratch to build a retail customer base, by the autumn we had more than 70 outlets including Fortnum & Mason, the John Lewis Partnership and Selfridges. We had no computers in our converted sitting room office and our first edition was definitely a triumph of belief over experience because, as publishers, we had NONE!
We’re selling the 45th edition this year (and the 2011 Dodo Pad diary is our 15th!) – quite an accolade for a paper based diary in this world of electronic timekeepers/organizers etc. It just goes to show that for families and many other people, writing it down is a more practical way of keeping information to hand.

What research did you do before launching?

Truthful answer (and I hope none of my past colleagues from my advertising days, where I was once a strategic planner, read this!) is none! But I had once been given a Dodo Pad diary as a gift for Christmas and I remembered it very fondly and all those years later it was almost unchanged. This was a family diary and I was a new mum. All my experience to date had been in branding development and advertising and I saw a brand with heritage and humour that I felt had a relevance.  The idea of being in a business where I could have some fun with the product and its promotion, really appealed. And I did not want to go back to the world of advertising now that I had a family.

How have you funded the business?

The Scottish side of my family must have something to do with my prudent approach to money as we’ve never borrowed a penny apart from using an overdraft facility occasionally to tide us through cash flow ‘blips’. I’m not sure if it ultimately makes good business sense but my attitude is to grow organically and within our means. So initially the funding came from personal savings and now we operate within positive cash flow at least 49 weeks of the year.

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

Despite coming from a classic advertising background and having spent years espousing the virtues of advertising, I felt from the start that PR was the best way forward – and from a promotional perspective, trying the Dodo Pad out is absolutely the best way to find out how invaluable it is!
In early December 1996 with more than 4500 copies already sold, that first edition we produced went out of stock in two days, due to an intriguing and euphoric article about the Dodo Pad in the Sunday Times Style magazine (which you can read for yourself on the ‘Hot Gossip’ page on our website www.dodopad.com). We managed to do a reprint of the diary within ten days – just before Christmas, resulting in the sale of a further 2,300 Dodo Pads. Sales increased by 82% on HarperCollins’ previous year’s achievement. So much for the Dodo Pad not being relevant any more…let alone extinct!!
These days we still use PR as our main funded source of promotion but we have invested lots of time in optimising our website and our products via relevant key words in browser searches. We also make it an absolute given that if we have any dated stock left over at the end of the season we NEVER EVER pulp it – we would far prefer give it away and have people try it. We’ve gained many, many customers this way.
What has worked well about your business?

From inheriting just a single product in 1996, we not only developed the original diary into a range of formats (including wall, pocket and Filofax compatible versions) but now have a whole range of organiser and gift products – all based around the Dodo theme. Having a strong brand and building on it – recognising what it stands for and the relationship customers have with it has allowed us to branch out and develop products that are great both as gifts and for one’s own use.

You can organise (almost) everything with the Dodo Pad if you so choose! We’ve everything from a recipe organiser (Dodo Book for Cooks) to a wedding planner (Dodo Book of the Big Day) or a general household ‘place to put all those bits that don’t fit anywhere else’ (Dodo Household Stuff Book).

In 2006 we acted on our biggest product development ‘hunch’.  In order to engage a younger audience we needed to shift the appeal of the Dodo Pad to students in order to hook them in to the style of the Dodo Pad with a practical, fun to use mid-year diary. The Dodo Acad-Pad diary was born and has been an amazing success in the four years since we launched it – it now sells almost 50% as much as the main Dodo Pad diary and has become our second most successful product – and in 2011/12 it will be available in 5 different formats itself!

Although based in Cornwall with a small staff, thanks to the development of the internet and Skype (the most brilliant resource imaginable!) I’ve been able to involve and employ very talented people as far afield as Ireland and Albania who work remotely on different aspects of the business.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?
One of our early challenges was recognising that we could not do it all ourselves in a cost and time efficient manner. In the early days we did everything – from making the sales (both retail and mail order) to packing the envelopes and cartons. The problem was that we were spending too much time on the logistics and not enough time on marketing and the development of new products. I am a bit of a perfectionist and so finding a company to handle our mail order (and then a year later another company to do the pick, pack and dispatch of our retail orders) was a tall order.
Since we moved to Cornwall we have a single company here doing all the warehousing, packing and dispatch and we do all the sales and customer service for both direct and wholesale sales – I think that will be the ideal balance – anyway I hope so!
Our latest challenge is to add value for customers and persuade them to buy direct from our website as the more successful the brand is the more available it is on sites like Amazon. We’ve introduced gorgeous limited edition leather slipcovers which can only be bought from us and we’re cooking up more exclusive ideas for next year!

How do you fit in work with the family?

With difficulty sometimes…as when you run your own business it can become quite overwhelming. There is a great sense of responsibility and for me – as the main breadwinner in the family – I rely on my husband to cope with some of the more traditional ‘female’ roles – cooking for instance. Whilst I love cooking he has more time – fortunately he is a brilliant cook and enjoys it too!

I used to find myself doing catch up work at 1am but I’ve really tried to stop that now – it works most of the time, but not always!

On the plus side – for instance recently when my son was singing in a lead role in the main school production of Les Miserables – I can take time off and I don’t have to count my holiday days. So I was Mrs. Wardrobe Assistant for six performances and loved it!

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

One of my biggest wake up calls was realising the difference between using your brain to earn your keep (as I’d done in my advertising days) and having to produce something real – and therefore having STOCK. Stock should not be underestimated – it costs to make it, to sell it and to keep it in a warehouse. And, at the end of the tax year whatever remains unsold costs you again in that it is taxed as an asset of the company.

The market is significantly more crowded than it was when I first got involved but on the plus side there are many more opportunities to research and promote ideas. You have to be persistent, tenacious and utterly believe in yourself and your business idea. Passion and commitment are the cornerstones to success.

www.dodopad.com

We have a special code for readers which will last up until 31st March 2011. If you buy anything (that is not already on offer) on the website and use code 10PR (PR must be in capitals to work!) as long as you spend over £8.50 you will get 10% off.

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