Baby business: homegrown success stories
From humble beginnings to global success, OHbaby! shares the stories of four homegrown Kiwi ventures whose hard work and ingenuity are providing products and services that support parents everywhere.
Ten years we’ve been in this business! There’s so much to celebrate, and so many supporters to acknowledge, but fundamentally, we could never have got this far without our incredible advertisers. It takes a village to raise a magazine!
Advertisers are an integral part of what we do, and every issue it’s a joy to see how we pull together, back each other, and help our readers in the process. It’s a win, win, win situation! Not surprisingly, over the years we have developed strong relationships with many of our advertisers, even a sense of camaraderie. It’s not always an easy task growing a Kiwi business from grass roots, and many of our advertisers have been in it at least as long as we have, journeying with us along the way. In this feature we raise our glasses to a few of the businesses we appreciate and admire, as well as an inspirational charity that launched about the same time as us, and is doing a commendable job of helping families in their hour of need.
“Happy 10th Birthday, OHbaby! It has been a pleasure working with you and watching your magazine grow and get stronger each year. XOX”
- Jane McAllister, Dimples
Jane McAllister, founder of Dimples and mother of fourteen, reflects on 26 years of balancing both babies and business.
Officially, Jane McAllister has 14 children, but unofficially there’s a 15th. Dimples Babywear, the company she started from home 26 years ago, is all grown up but it will always be her baby.
Back in 1992, Jane was designing, sewing and hand-embroidering clothes for her fledgling business in her West Auckland home, with help from her mother Patricia, and her eldest daughter Felicity. She’s since moved the business to larger premises, and has a flagship store in Auckland’s Newmarket. Dimples babywear is sold online internationally and more than 20 staff work for the company. And did we mention those 14 children?
Let’s go back a few years… As a little girl, Jane wanted to be a Karitane nurse, just like the ones who came to have their hair cut by Jane’s mother at home. “They would bring along the babies they cared for and I was just fascinated by them. I was mad about babies from a young age”, Jane recalls.
Jane married her husband, Sam, at 16, and began making baby clothes for their firstborn, Andrew. Several children later, a friend suggested the kids probably had enough clothes and that Jane should start selling them. She did, first in New Zealand, then offshore, exporting the high-quality garments with their trademark hand-embroidered bee and other distinctive motifs. In 2006 she secured a deal with exclusive department store Harrods.
OHbaby! managing director Angela Pedersen, who’d gone to school with at least one of the McAllisters, says she loved the Dimples range and was happy to support a local business. “The design is timeless and so much of the range can become heirloom pieces. I do remember that the Dimples booties were ones that stayed on my daughter’s feet when so many others fell off as she wriggled around.”
The mothering juggle
In the early days, Jane often worked with a child on one hip. Juggling many children was a challenge, but she was able to hire a nanny to help with the daily chores so she could spend more quality time with her children and on the business. And like any good entrepreneur, she made the most of her on-hand resources. “The advantage of having all those kids was that all the clothes were tried and tested on them to see what worked”, Jane laughs. These days there’s usually at least one McAllister grandchild modelling in the latest Dimples catalogue.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Dimples is now a sought-after international brand, and the company also sells a range of baby gear for other baby brands. The rise of social media “has given parents a fashionable approach to their baby’s wardrobe”, Jane says, “and has helped small brands grow their business and provide customers with more information and more appreciation of what quality babywear is”.
Jane credits part of Dimples’ success to the fact the entire range is made in New Zealand, something the company highlights in its marketing, but she admits that the realities of actually retaining this is one of the biggest challenges. Cheaper offshore manufacturing options and an increase in boutique babywear brands has created tougher competition. However, while the quantity of brands has increased, the quality has not, believes Jane.
A natural flair
A growing demand for natural, skin-friendly gear, plus a loyal base of customers who appreciate the ‘NZ-made and natural’ ethic, are what keeps the brand ahead of the market. Having a lot of kids around (she now has 23 grandchildren) has also helped Jane know what mums and babies want. “With the help of my children and grandchildren, I’ve always been able to see what modern mothers need for their babies and I’m constantly developing new ideas so that our clothing is not only fashionable, but practical as well.”
Dimples is a real family affair. The business is run from home and Jane’s brood have all helped out in some way. Jane’s eldest daughter, Felicity, has been working full time with Jane for about 18 years. Rebecca, Jane’s ninth child, manages the Newmarket store where another daughter works weekends while studying at university. Jane reckons she inherited her father’s entrepreneurial streak and recalls him setting up production lines downstairs in the family home so she and her siblings could help out by labelling and packing stock. “I’ve found being in business exciting and exhilarating. It never was about the money.”
“Happy Birthday, OHbaby! Thank you for helping me to grow my business over the past 10 years that I have been advertising with you! We’ve both blossomed into great Kiwi brands for mums. Here’s to another great 10 years.”
- Franny McInnes, Breastmates
OHbaby! spins a yarn with industrious businesswoman Franny McInnes, owner and founder of Breastmates.
An environmental engineer by trade, Franny McInnes is used to problem solving. But where once she was creating concept designs for pollution treatment plants, she’s now designing beautiful and practical clothes and accessories for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Franny’s approach to business has always been one of DIY. While breastfeeding her first child, Franny reckoned she could make better breast pads herself than those on the market, so after some research, the keen sewer did just that. When she needed a website, she developed one, adapting the coding skills she learned as an engineer. And when she branched out into maternity wear, she designed and made the whole range herself.
New Zealand is like a small town, says Franny, who’s from Levin. Advertising was initially word-of-mouth but one of Franny’s early customers was OHbaby! advertising sales executive Lucretia Kemp, whose sister had recommended Breastmates. Lucretia suggested Franny advertise in OHbaby! Magazine so she did, a step Franny says was a big milestone for her little business.
Fourteen years ago Breastmates was one of very few Kiwi maternity brands to offer online shopping. At first Franny had sold through TradeMe but instinct told her that online shopping was the way to go, especially for her customers. “Being at home with a baby, I used to wish there was a drive-through for everything, and I had this vision that mums in particular would want to shop online because of the convenience”, she says. They did, but it took a while to build up momentum. “One of the biggest challenges was building up trust with customers, because when people buy online, there’s still that sense of ‘will the parcel actually come?’. So you really have to deliver what you promise.”
Taking care of business
Franny’s DIY approach was born of necessity. She had a family to look after, no extra money to invest in the business and no business partners to help share the load. “I knew where I wanted the business to go, but I didn’t have the money to get there, I only had my time. It took a lot of patience and perseverance.”
But in doing it all herself, Franny gained a complete understanding of the business and processes, as well as (most importantly), her customers. And her engineering background still proves useful when it comes to analysing things like budgets and sales data, and for communicating her designs to the manufacturer. “I make really detailed specifications, which has reduced errors and miscommunication. But where once I was specifying pump size and pipe dimensions, now it’s all about zips and whether the back length is long enough to cover your bottom.”
Franny now runs Breastmates with her team of three packers and administrators from a warehouse in Cambridge – a far cry from the spare bedroom and then garage she started out in. Back then, her entire range could fit in an A4 archive box; it’s now delivered by the truckload.
Her two sons, now 13 and 19, have always helped out and they still fold boxes, stamp bags, help with stock- takes, unload deliveries and offer their mum advice. “They give me really honest feedback” says Franny. “They have no qualms about saying ‘That’s too frilly’ or ‘No, that looks like pyjamas’” says Franny.
Franny still creates the whole Breastmates range herself, sourcing fabric in China, designing the clothes, and overseeing the photoshoots and the marketing. She’s justifiably proud of creating a business from scratch that continues to support her family today. And her customers obviously can’t sing her praises highly enough, voting her Clip-on-Cami design as a Top 10 Product in the 2014 OHbaby! Awards, and Breastmates as the Best Maternity Range in the 2016 awards. “Receiving these awards really gave me confidence, and to have been acknowledged by my customers was such a reward.”
In pursuit of passion
Incidentally, if you’ve been wondering why an industrial engineer would make such a career about-face, here’s the backstory: as a teenager, Franny loved art and craft and would hold garage sales selling her wares. However, when she chose sewing and art among her 5th form subjects, her high school dean actually called her into his office to suggest she swap them in favour of science and maths. She excelled in those subjects then, and later at university, but she says “they didn’t make my heart sing”. It looks like Franny has now come full circle.
“Happy Birthday, OHbaby! 10 years already – time flies! It’s amazing to have been a part of your story from the very beginning, and you a part of ours. Save some cake for us, and go easy on the fairy bread! Best wishes and here’s to the next 10 years.”
- Louise Tanguay, The Sleep Store
For 12 years Louise Tanguay, founder of The Sleep Store, has made it her business to help others catch forty winks.
When you’re a parent, there’s nothing more precious than your baby – unless it’s your baby fast asleep. Louise Tanguay knows this all too well. The energetic businesswoman has four children, and (with husband Matt) owns The Sleep Store, a one-stop online shop for sleep products.
The Sleep Store and OHbaby! have a close connection: Louise launched her business in 2006 from her West Auckland home, which was just a stone’s throw from the original OHbaby! office. Over coffee, Louise and Angela Pedersen discussed work, kids and sleep, and Louise offered her services to ohbaby.co.nz. However, her fledgling business soon needed all of her attention.
Getting babies to sleep is now an industry in itself, and products have evolved to become high-tech ‘sleep solutions’. Louise notes that attitudes to sleep have also changed. “Ten years ago most people thought I was completely mad when I talked about using white noise, but it is now a well-established sleep solution. Sleeping bags and fitted swaddles were both pretty new to the NZ market then, but are now considered essentials for most families.”
Louise and her team, who are mostly parents themselves, also offer free online advice, information and support to frazzled parents, a resource that has helped The Sleep Store stand out from its competition. The advent of social media has been especially helpful in spreading the word, Louise says. “Social media is a huge challenge for a small business, as it can swallow up so much time and advertising money. But it’s the best way to communicate with our customers and foster a strong community online.” It’s obviously working: The Sleep Store picked up three gold awards at the 2016 OHbaby! Awards, including best baby retailer.
Louise and Matt’s four boys are now aged between seven and 15. Louise concedes that the work and family juggle is “real and still challenging”, even with a big team and a well-established business. She can often be found ordering stock and answering customer queries at the local skate park or swimming lessons. Hiring “amazing” staff is the biggest factor in managing this challenge, notes Louise, as is being prepared to earn less as a result. “But more staff means we are able to have more time with our children after school and in the holidays.”
Despite being a small business, space has always been the main challenge, says Louise. Her original line-up of 20 products has grown to more than 1000, and she has moved from working alone at her dining table to employing 17 staff in a warehouse.
“Moving from being a home-based business was a big move for us … but there are only so many shipping containers you can fit in your driveway!”
“Happy 10th Anniversary, OHbaby! Lovely to see you grow and flourish in the same period that Bellyful has grown around New Zealand.”
- Charlotte Delahunty, Bellyful
For nine years Bellyful have been paying it forward, blessing young families with free food, right when they need it the most.
A home-cooked meal, delivered to your door for free. Yes, really! Since 2009, charitable organisation Bellyful has provided meals to families with newborn babies and families with young children who are struggling with illness, especially those with little or no other support.
Bellyful was set up by Pukekohe mum-of-three Jacquie Ritchie, after a particularly challenging period in her life. The idea was sparked when neighbours dropped by with a homemade dinner. The quote on the Bellyful website is heartfelt: “Having a few meals delivered by a friendly face can be a real sanity-saver”.
Nearly a decade on, Bellyful has 20 branches across New Zealand, more than 500 volunteers on its books, and last year delivered 19,258 meals to 3,344 families.
Lending a hand
Bellyful remains almost entirely volunteer- based, but has become more structured in order to survive and thrive as a charity, says chief executive Charlotte Delahunty. “We’d realised that, in order to grow and be able to help more people, we needed more money, better systems and more centralised services. But fundraising, forming community relationships and attracting sponsors in the charitable arena is a real challenge because there’s a lot of competition.” Bellyful volunteers give generously of their time, and each branch fundraises with bake sales, sausage sizzles and movie nights in order to raise enough money to prepare and deliver meals.
Working part time, mum-of-three Charlotte is one of the organisation’s two paid staff members. “We have the most amazingly dedicated volunteers, and it’s an organisation with a really good sense of community. We support local families who are referred by local people and midwives, and we’re supported by local businesses.”
Some recipients of Bellyful meals go on to become volunteers themselves. Hibiscus Coast mum-of-two Kelly Paddison set up her local branch last year. One of the first deliveries she made was to a family with a premature baby in the intensive care unit. “The recipient had just got home from her daily 12 hour stint at hospital and was absolutely exhausted. She was tearful, and so grateful, when I handed her the meals. They had been living on takeaways or toast for the past week. It was really affecting to see the difference a few meals made at such a tough time.”
A right royal affair
Each month, each branch holds a cook-a-thon to prepare enough meals to freeze for the following month. The menu consists of macaroni and cheese, lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, and lentil and tomato soup.
A major highlight and publicity coup happened during Prince Charles and Camilla’s 2015 tour of New Zealand, when Camilla attended a cook-a-thon in Auckland and helped out in the kitchen before having afternoon tea with some Bellyful volunteers.
Charlotte concludes that the organisation’s aim is to have “a Bellyful within reach of every family that needs us”. To request help, refer a family, volunteer or donate, go to bellyful.org.nz.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 41 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW