Have an idea for a product or business, but don't know what your next steps should be? Read the question and answers from our webchat with mumpreneur extraordinaire, Julia Minchin.
Julia knows everything there is to know about researching the market, protecting your idea, manufacturing, packaging, marketing, finding suppliers, retailers and distributors and even establishing lucrative overseas markets for your innovation.
Q: I am a primary school teacher and have done some training on treasure baskets and heuristic play (objects form the ‘real world’ for children to discover). When I had my child I began collecting items for his basket and thought it may be an idea to begin selling them as gifts for babies. However although I have the ideas for developing the baskets I am unsure where I stand with the materials that would be within them and liability etc. The baskets would be made up of 'real' things, such as egg boxes, pine cones, seaweed etc, but feel it would be silly to buy these things when I live in a prime collecting location and I'm not sure where I would stand with this. Also, how do I find suppliers and set up as a business, would I be better seeing if there was a market before I begin? I would be providing instructions with each basket, and would explain that they are not toys but I just need some advice before starting up properly.
Julia: The first, and most important thing to do, is some serious research into whether there is actually a market for your product and how much people would be prepared to pay for your product. Supplying anything into the nursery market requires stringent testing for obvious reasons so initial chats with UK testing houses and would be a good place to start. Business Link are a very good source of information. Looking for suppliers is probably a little bit further down the track at this stage.
Q: I have created a new product but keep coming up against a brick wall while trying to get the product for sale - it seems very hard to get interest from major companies translated into an actual deal for a licensing agreement, and also impossible to find a manufacturing unit in the UK, it seems that Chinese manufacturers are only interested in a definite order, at a greater quantity than I need to begin. I've now decided to press ahead by setting up my own small manufacturing unit, which I think will work really well, but I have to source the materials- it's not easy to find genuine wholesalers. Do you have any tips about sourcing materials? Also, what do you think is the best way to ensure compliance with safety standards?
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Julia: There are obviously a number of issues raised here. Firstly, it is a good idea to produce in smaller numbers to start with whilst you establish your market, but do watch the costs. Margin is key. It depends what you are actually manufacturing as to whether China is ultimately the best option but there will always be minimum order requirements. Regarding compliance with relevant safety standards - talk to the various testing houses eg Intertek, SGS or STR. Trading Standards are also very helpful if you approach them.
Q: I have an idea for a product that is actually quite popular in the US. I would really like to have a go at recreating my own version for the UK market. I have done some research and there really isn't anything like it over in the UK. What should I do once I've made a prototype? Do I get it patented if so how? Do I need to get it checked by some kind of safety standards, as it will be for babies? I would like to just start small as a kind of side-line project/hobby for myself really and plan if all works out to sell my product on my own website. I am crafty and creative but have not ever done anything to do with business so do you recommend I do a small business course?
Julia: The first, and most important thing to do (which you may well have already looked into) is to check whether there are any pre existing patents for the product here in the UK. The Patent Office is your first port of call for this. Assuming the coast is clear for you to proceed you should register your own patent and trademark or at least design registration to protect yourself. Go to Ipo.gov.uk for more information on how to do this. Business Link will also be able to help you with start up courses and a business plan etc.
With regards to safety standards - you are planning to supply the most vulnerable market so everything will need to meet all UK/European safety standards. Independent testing houses and will be able to help you with this.
Q: I have a great idea for a product but no idea how to execute it! I have never done anything like this before and would like to read up on what the next steps would be... Can you recommend any good courses or websites that will help a first time mumpreneur wannabe? I am currently on maternity leave so it’s a great time for me to look into whether or not my idea could be a possible moneymaker!
Julia: The first thing to do is thoroughly research the market It doesn't matter how inventive your concept is if there just isn't a demand for it. A way to start is to ask mum friends or get the permission of a local playgroup or nursery to give out questionnaires. Establish there is a genuine need and then get going before someone else spots the gap in the market too! All the products we have sourced for Hippychick have to be genuinely useful and aim to make family lives easier. Business Link runs start up courses and has all sorts of relevant advice. They will also help you put together a viable business plan. Banks can also be a useful sounding board with regards to funding options.
Q: I wondered if you could give some advice with regards to pricing please. I have a new product and have managed to get a few quotes from factories to produce it and that's all coming together. I am stuck as to how to set a RRP and then trade prices. How much margin should I allow? How much do shops want to make? I don't want to give too much away or not enough so that shops don't want to stock it.
Julia: First of all you need to thoroughly calculate all your costs (don't forget things like shipping, duty, currency fluctuations etc). You should also build in enough to cope with possible unforeseen price increases from your suppliers - cotton for example has gone through the roof and it is very hard to tie suppliers down to a price for anything more than the current order. I would suggest that you need to make a minimum margin of 40% (depending on your own overheads), and shops in turn will require the same for themselves. The bigger accounts will want 45-50% and will build in discounts of all descriptions, from marketing contributions to early settlement. When you have these figures in place you can then work out what your RRP should be - but you will need to ensure that the market is prepared to pay this price. Check out competitive product pricing and it is always a good idea to get a good accountant to look at your figures before finalising anything.
Q: What have you found the best methods of PR and getting your product /company "out there" for the world to see and get to know you? Any tips would be great.
Julia: There is no point having a good product if nobody knows about it. We use a PR agency ourselves and have our own marketing department in house. They deal with consumer PR and we deal with all the trade media. However, it can be costly if you are a small business and time gets used up very quickly especially if you have a large range of products. There are a number of excellent review websites - your friend would just need to provide product for testing. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful and a lot of people get a great response from social media.
Julia's tips for budding business mums
- Research, research, research! It doesn’t matter how inventive your concept is if there just isn’t a demand for it, you’ll never make a success of it, no matter how hard you try. Ask mum friends or get the permission of a local playgroup or nursery to give out questionnaires. Establish there is a genuine need and then go all guns blazing before someone else spots it too!
- Recognise what a tough market you’re trying to get into! Go to any baby show and you’re instantly overwhelmed by the sheer number of products competing for new parents’ attention. Ask yourself if your concept is genuinely different or innovative enough to stand out from the crowd.
- Be prepared to be patient. Quality and safety are everything in this market. So make sure your business plan allows for months of testing and for sourcing the right factories. For instance, the brilliant Totseat which we supply is the most versatile travel highchair on the market, but only because its inventor – Rachel Jones, a mum herself – was prepared to put in the legwork and test her prototype on over 900 chair designs to ensure it fitted and would be ultra safe and secure on any type of chair out there.
- If this is your first venture call in the experts! Find a distributor that can help you with pricing, positioning and marketing your product to potential retailers and customers.
- Invest in good childcare! When you’re 100% happy with where your children are during the day it leaves you more headspace to focus on your growing business. But it’s also vital that you know when to put family first. A meeting can always be postponed. Your child’s first nativity play or sports day can’t.
- Sometimes have the guts to say ‘sod it’! If you really believe in what you’re doing be brave enough to plough on when things get tough or when the doubters start spreading messages of doom (and there’ll be plenty who say you’re mad to try and launch during a recession!).The two mum inventors of the brilliant Dream Tubes inflatable bed guard set – now one of our best sellers – were told on numerous occasions that an inflatable bed guard wouldn’t work. But rigorous testing at independent testing houses proved that Dream Tubes met and exceeded the highest British Safety standards bed guards and over 50,000 Dream Tubes sets were sold in their first year! Proof that you shouldn’t always listen to those averse to a bit of risk.
- Get a good accountant and don’t be afraid to ask questions even if you’re afraid they may make you look stupid. It’s important that you get to grips with the figures behind your business as soon as possible. I wish I’d known from the outset the importance of good margins and understood as well that turnover is just vanity!
- Get involved with your local business groups eg. local Chambers of Commerce. It’s a great way of networking with other local businesses, of hearing about good suppliers, initiatives and promotions and of generally getting your name ‘out there’
- Don’t lose yourself or your relationship in your business. When you’re passionate about what you’re doing it’s easy to get carried away – especially if your home is doubling up as your office as mine was. Make time for down time. Put on an excerise DVD, grab a glass of wine, have a long soak in the bath or just pick up the phone for a good gas to a friend and above all schedule in regular date nights with your man!
- Enjoy! You’ll work phenomenally hard for every success you have so teach yourself to really relish and celebrate each milestone
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