BIZ MAMA: STUFFEL
Growing a business alongside a family
As the summer drifts by and the start of the new academic year looms, many of you may be thinking about persuing the business idea you have had nagging in the back of your mind.
Too often we see the barriers holding us back, but this months tete a tete shows how two sisters turned an idea into their business realisty.
As all parents will know, trying to juggle the busy home of a young family is tough and all-too time-consuming: quiet moments in which to be proactive are frustratingly rare. But if the time can be found, then starting their own venture can be the answer for those wanting to juggle work and the school run – allowing parents to be around the kids inthose precious early years, and yet good for ‘me-time’ and the family bank balance.
Stuffel mums, sisters Suzie Douglas and Nicci Roffey, have done just that: creating a successful business that they squeeze in around the lives of their little charges. In a lovely full circle, their product also helps other mums save time.
Stuffel bags spread wide so that toys can be rummaged through, but have a drawstring to pull everything back up again – meaning that toys with small pieces can be scooped up and cleared away in seconds. No more tipped out boxes!
Suzie: “All of our kids have been huge Lego fans, so clearing the thousands of tiny blocks spread across our floors each day became a top priority, but we struggled to find anything on the market to help. Stuffel was born on the back of a similar product I had seen abroad years earlier.”
They recognised this Lego-mare as a universal problem for parents, so the decision to get the bags manufactured to sell felt like an obvious one, but for a while finding the time looked like a near-impossibility.
The turning point came when Suzie completed ‘My Project Me’ course with ‘Mama Motivator’ Kelly Pietrangeli – www.myprojectme.com
Kelly’s ethos is that a happymum equals a happy home, and that it is essential thatmums carve out time for themselves.
“Kelly helped me to break down tasks into ten-minute chunks, which is often all I’d have before being needed by a child again, and taught me to prioritise my time better.
Suddenly setting up our own business didn’t seem insurmountable.”
By taking advantage of the many facets of the internet, running your own business is getting easier and easier. Stuffel bags are primarily sold online – through a couple of online marketplaces and via the company’s own store, which means stock-takes can be done, and orders processed anytime and anywhere.
“The web has allowed a flexibility and access that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Over the Easter holidays we were down in deepest Devon, but armed with my trusty laptop I was still able to liaise with customers in Asia, write blog posts, pay suppliers and enter awards, all from a rural farmshop.”
“The internet has opened up larger network than we imagined possible – ex-Dragon Theo Paphitis gave us a business award last year, and the many useful contacts we have made through his Small Business Sundays initiative is just one example. We are constantly struck by the inspiring and bright people we meet via Stuffel, many of whom are also stay-at-home mums who continue to support and motivate eachother in so many ways.”
Their other tip is to simply keep plugging away. Nicci: “To be honest, those months of figuring out how, what, where Stuffel was going to be all feel like a bit of a blur. I had two teeny ones at home and any conversations with suppliers could only last the length of a Peppa Pig episode. But somehow the scribbled notes and snatched conversations grew, and we are now selling all over the world. You’ve got to keep going and believe that you can make it work.”
Finding the right role for your skills is of course really important. Both Suzie & Nicci have backgrounds in marketing, and they are passionate about the product they have created, knowing from experience what a god-send it is. “It is genuinely wonderful to get a product that we love and trust out to other mums struggling with the constant tidying.”
As members of their own target market they know their customers’ needs inside-out, and have been able to design the bags accordingly: Stuffels are made from durable cotton canvas in a range of gorgeous colours, so are not just a storage solution, but a stylish addition to any playroom too – and, essentially, machine washable.
The Stuffel Mini is a diminutive version of the large original bag, as Nicci recognised a need to entertain her little-ones on-the-go – meaning that small toys can be taken on big adventures. Last summer both Suzie & Nicci took their families travelling – around Central America and Sri Lanka respectively, and had samples of the Stuffel Minis with them for some extreme product-testing; “Having taken our sample on plane tables for long-haul flights, on beaches and in cafes, it was so exciting to come home and get the product out to market. Now we are struggling to keep up with the demand!”
All the design, marketing and packaging is done from their kitchen tables in the south-east, whilst the bags are made up in Staffordshire. “We love that the product is made in England and it helps that we don’t need to travel farto visit suppliers. If we can find a day free of kids we can race up to visit the factory and see the bags in production.”
Like anything run out of a busy family home, it can feel hectic: Nicci: “Hilariously, we schedule in meetings that start at 11pm, on the phone to each other from our respective kitchen tables; one of us is usually making a packed lunch whilst the other talks through a spreadsheet!
My littlest, (Elliot, 2) has been particularly involved, pulling out the plug of the computer before I’ve saved a document, pocket-phoning our cotton supplier at 6am, trawling his mucky blanket around trade shows with us. But for all the frustrations, it has also been extremely rewarding and now that it’s up and running we can’t remember life before Stuffel.”
Processing orders at the school gates works for these two, and the hope is that as their families grow, so can Stuffel.
See Stuffel featured in our Kids Club pages and visit www.stuffel.co.uk to shop or get in touch.