Monday 23 October 2017

'Momtrepreneurs' bringing new businesses into the world

It seems mothers know best when it comes to creating a good baby-themed business, writes Fiona McBennett

Niamh O'Dwyer and Sophia of Organic Little One
Niamh O'Dwyer and Sophia of Organic Little One
Cathy Slattery of Twice Smitten with her daughters

Fiona McBennett

Experience, they say, is the best teacher - so when it comes to creating a business that caters for parents' needs, mums are the perfect fit.

Having spotted a niche in the parenting market, through raising their own children, many Irish mothers have become successful entrepreneurs.

Niamh O'Dwyer established her organic baby food company, Organic Little One, after she searched in vain for fresh ready-made baby food for her two young boys.

"When I had my eldest son, I wanted fresh, convenient baby food - but they were all on the shelf and not in the fridge. After talking to other mothers, I realised they all wanted the same thing. I put it to the back of my mind but then when my second son was born, the idea for the business was constantly in my head."

In 2012, the Tipperary native took part in both Food Works, a programme run by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagsc that helps to bring food business ideas into commercial reality, and a programme with South Tipperary Development Ltd. O'Dwyer says that the courses gave her the knowledge and confidence she needed to turn her idea into a business.

"Having the structure of Food Works and meeting other people who were starting out on the same journey, with the same issues and questions as me, made it all a bit easier.

"It's all well and good having an idea, but there's a lot in between having a product in your head and getting it onto the shelf. As someone who has a sales and marketing background, there was a whole lot that I didn't understand at the start, so it was a steep learning curve."

With her parents running their own company, O'Dwyer was no stranger to the concept of going it alone in business and says that being an entrepreneur was something she had always considered.

"Having family support has been great. A lot of people have said to me that their parents would have probably been wary of them going out and starting something for themselves, instead of sticking with a steady job. But running my own business has always been in the back of my mind - I've always been driven and self-motivated."

The company is now partnered with Tipperary Co-Op and the range of products, which include fresh apple, carrot and butternut squash purees, launched last year across 76 SuperValu stores nationwide. Later this year, they will be available in another two retailers in the Irish market.

O'Dwyer says she's excited about the company's future and finds that motherhood helps her to better achieve a work-life balance.

"We are in discussions with a UK retailer at the moment and we were delighted to recently secure an investor. It's full-on and the temptation is there for it to be a 24/7 thing - but I find the distraction of family life gives me the discipline to pull away from it."

Mother-of-three, Cathy Slattery, created her online company, Twice Smitten.ie, when she found herself at a loss as to what to do with her daughters' old clothes. Selling pre-loved children's designer clothing at 70pc less than retail prices, the website has been a hit with parents since it launched in 2012

"The girls grew out of their stuff so quickly and I had suitcases of beautiful clothes," explains Slattery. "Lots of items were brand new or had only been worn once and some were designer clothes. They were all just sitting there.

"While I do agree that people should give their unwanted clothes to charity shops, if you have a beautiful designer coat, you want to get something back for it."

Slattery originally started out by running events around Dublin but felt that an online presence would help her to expand her consumer base.

"We did get lots of people through the door but parents have so many things on at the weekend, with their children's hockey and rugby matches, that it's hard for people to find the time for anything else. Online shopping has become so popular now that a website felt like the obvious next stage."

While Slattery knew that getting stock would not be a problem, the setting up and running of the website proved to be a challenge at first.

"I worked for 13 years in graphic design but had been on the client side, so I didn't have a clue about how to set up and run a website or use Photoshop. It was really tough and it took me awhile to get my head around it. Luckily, a neighbour of mine helped me out. My husband was a big help as well."

Slattery runs the company by herself and admits that there is a lot of work involved.

"It's a long process, as it's different to a boutique in that no two items are the same. It's a lot of work but you just get on with it and build a routine. When I am really busy, I could be working until one or two in the morning."

While the business began during the recession, Slattery has noticed a change in the quality of clothing she now receives.

"I have definitely become a lot pickier with the stock. It was a recession business but I am now getting lots of new clothes in, with the tags still on them. People are definitely spending a little more on their clothes now."

Carla O'Farrell Byrne's business - Nappy Cakes.ie - has been thriving in the baby gift market since it began in 2008.

The company creates handmade cakes and bouquets assembled from nappies and baby clothes, as well as variety of other practical gifts for new parents. O'Farrell Byrne had the idea for the business while looking for a gift for a friend's baby.

"I was expecting my first baby at the time and I had started to think differently as an expectant mum. I originally saw the idea in America, but the UK was the closest I could order from, as there were no retailers in Ireland.

"I thought it would be a good hobby, so I decided that I would create them myself. I would never have thought of it except I was pregnant and knew it was something that I would love to have received myself."

While all Nappy Cakes.ie gifts are made-to-order, a sister company - Baby Blossoms.ie - makes similar products for wholesale delivery across Ireland, England and Holland.

O'Farrell Byrne says that the products are not only popular among that other US import - the baby shower - but have also become a gift of choice for businesses.

"Rather than just give a bunch of flowers, we are now seeing a lot of corporate businesses buying our products and it's great to see them thinking outside the box.

"As a mum-of-two myself, I know that by the time I made it back from the hospital, I had lots of flowers that went to waste, as I never really got to enjoy them. All of our gifts are designed to be used, so mums are getting a functional and practical present."

Having previously run a company for a year and a half before the recession, O'Farrell Byrne is grateful that both Nappy Cakes and Baby Blossoms have been going strong.

"We started it right after the dip had begun and we definitely noticed a decline for a couple of years when things were really bad," she says. "We had times where a business closed down that might have meant we lost two orders a month - but we are still here. Last year was a great year for us and this year is already off to a good start."

O'Farrell Byrne says that while it can sometimes be hectic running her own business, she enjoys the challenge of life as an entrepreneur.

"I was entrepreneurial from a young age and always had this idea that I'd enjoy the cut and thrust of working for myself. It's nice to see something come into fruition and stand the test of time."

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