Thursday 29 September 2016

My Big Idea: I left my finance job to start a company for new parents

Published 07/07/2016 | 02:30

Former Dunnes Stores executive James Fox, left, at the launch of his partnership with Unicef with author Cathy Kelly, Unicef brand ambassador, and Peter Power, executive director of Unicef Ireland
Former Dunnes Stores executive James Fox, left, at the launch of his partnership with Unicef with author Cathy Kelly, Unicef brand ambassador, and Peter Power, executive director of Unicef Ireland

James Fox (33) lives in Sutton, Co Dublin. He is the founder of thebabybox.com, which sells all-in-one kits for parents of new babies.

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"Starting this company was a big departure from my previous life. I worked in finance for Dunnes Stores but wanted to try something different. My wife is a surgeon so she works very long hours and we wanted at least one of us to be able to spend more time with our daughter, Amelia.

I took six months off work to give myself time to work on it - Dunnes were fantastic, they kept my job for me if I decided to come back - but it turned into a career move.

The idea for the business came to me one night as I was tidying up Amelia's toys and I set up a limited company the next day. The Baby Box concept originated in Finland in the 1930s, where it was introduced to tackle the country's high infant mortality rate.

It was designed to be used as an infant's first crib, with a mattress, basic clothing and essential supplies to promote safe sleeping. The programme is still going strong today and Finland's infant mortality rate is the fifth lowest in the world.

I realised it could be reimagined as a stylish and practical gift for parents of new babies. My version updates the concept with attractive packaging, a firm mattress, 100pc cotton clothing and blankets, Egyptian muslins, quality toys and baby-friendly lotions and potions.

Each box converts into a practical and durable crib, which conforms to BS EN 1130 - the top international standard for crib and cradle safety.

Parents could use it as their first crib or as a second back-up one for the kitchen, for example. There are five versions available, ranging from €75 to €275, as well as smaller gift options.

One of the big advantage of buying a Baby Box is that it saves parents the mad shopping dash before the child is born where they buy lots of things they don't need. We did that when ours was born and some of it was unnecessary, as well as costly.

I am a one-man show which has probably been the most challenging aspect of getting the business up and running - I do almost everything, from finance to marketing to designing the boxes. My experience in retail meant I knew how to source the various components. I outsourced fulfilment, teaming up with an e-fulfillment provider who looks after that side of things. I was involved with Dunnes' move online so knew that the best solution there was to go with a professional rather than try to do it myself.

Everything is sold online from the website, for now at least. In the future I will probably look for a physical presence in stores. The e-commerce model means digital marketing has been hugely important, the Google AdWords advertising system and Facebook advertising.

I want my business to be socially conscious and I think every child deserves the best start in life, so I have partnered up with Unicef to help provide vaccinations for vulnerable new-born babies in the poorest parts of the world.

Thebabybox.com will donate 30 vaccinations for every Baby Box sold (ten polio, ten measles, ten tetanus) to new-born babies in developing countries.

Unicef is the world's largest buyer of vaccines and provides immunisation for 40pc of the world's children. The organisation says almost one third of deaths among children under five are preventable by vaccine.

The website went live three weeks ago and orders are starting to come in. My goal is to target the UK and Ireland initially (free delivery is available in both) and then continental Europe within 12 months.

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