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How Two Moms Built a Fast Growing International Business During Maternity Leave

Amy Livingstone and Julie Wilson started designing and manufacturing baby products to make childcare less stressful while they were both on maternity leave. Today, their company, Cheeky Chompers, has sold over three million products in thousands of retail stores across 30 countries excluding the US, having just launched in the US market through Amazon. Livingstone and Wilson join us on the podcast to share their unique journey as mompreneurs and leave us with tips on how to find entrepreneurial success in tough situations.


Cheeky-Chompers-Podcast-Interview-Photo

 

In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:


  • The mindset you need to succeed as an entrepreneur in tough conditions.

  • The benefits of consumer shows and trade shows for product development and marketing.

  • The unique struggles and advantages of being a mom inventor and entrepreneur.

  • Expanding your business in international markets.

  • How to leverage awards and special recognitions.

  • And many more.

 

You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.


Or, click to watch the full video interview here!


 

Visit www.cheekychompers.com to see how their innovative and beautiful baby products are helping parents care for babies with less stress. Use the discount code, "HarvestGrowth10" to receive a 10% discount at checkout.


To be a guest on our next Harvest Growth Podcast, contact us today!


Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!

 

Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!


Jon LaClare: Today, I speak with two moms who created a business while they both had one-year-old babies they were taking care of. They have grown to selling over 3 million units. They give great advice for any moms that want to launch a business or really for anyone that wants to grow their business while in the middle of a busy schedule. I took a lot of notes during this interview, and I'm sure you will as well.


Speaker 1: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth podcast, Jon LaClare.


Jon: Welcome back to the show. Today, I'm really excited to have on with us Amy Livingstone and Julie Wilson. They are the co-founders of Cheeky Chompers. Now, this is a baby product. I'm going to let them describe it. They've a whole line of products now that are really fantastic, but a great story behind it as well. They've been running this business for years, had great success, learned a lot of things along the way. I encourage you to listen to this interview. First of all, Amy and Julie, welcome to the show.


Amy Livingstone: Thank you.


Julie Wilson: Thank you. Thanks for having us.


Jon: Tell us for the sake of our audience, if they're not familiar with the Cheeky Chompers, what are these products or this line of products, and how'd you come up with the original idea?


Julie: We design and manufacture innovative baby products. Each of them with an intuitive twist that help make parents' lives easier. It's all about looking at being a parent, how difficult it is to be a parent, how amazing it is, but also how tiring it is. We've got a lot of products that are multi-use or that are attachable that have a little intuitive twist as moms to help other moms and dads to really make their lives easier as parents.


Jon: [crosstalk] What was the first product you launched? Sorry, I cut you off a second, but if you could talk about your first product you launched and how you came up with that original idea as well? Describe it for us.


Amy: That was really our light bulb moment that really made the whole thing happen. Just to rewind slightly, Julie and I met on that parenting journey. We met at our antenatal class. That's really the class in your local doctor surgery where you're going to learn what you're going to do when this baby comes along and how you have to look after it. There was a group of us, and we stayed in touch. After we'd had our babies, we would meet every week and share stories and get support from each other.


At that point, they went through all the same things at the same time. When they started to approach that teething stage and they were chewing on absolutely everything, and they were dribbling profusely, and we just kept saying, "God, I wish somebody would invent a teether that stayed attached to the baby." Julie and I, there was a lovely group of people, but we were people who'd always had different business ideas along the way. We were both working for other people at that stage who were on maternity leave. We said, "Oh, I wonder if we could actually do something about that, which we could invent a product. Ha ha."


We decided to get together bottle of wine and a drawing pad to say, "How could we create something that we'd invent a product that stays attached to the baby that allows them to chew?" We came up with the Neckerchew. It's like a world's first chewable dribble bib. Basically, the babies are dribbling all the time. You want a really absorbent bib to catch all of that dribble and prevent the teething rash.


Then we wanted something that they could chew on, which then we created this silicone and a food-grade silicone triangle at the bottom of the bandana-style bib. They could chew on that when they wanted. When they drop it, rather than it getting lost or dropped dirty on the floor, it just falls down and stays attached to the bib. It puts the baby back in control of when they're chewing rather than having to constantly pick up or lose teethers all over the place. That was our first product idea.


Julie: It was an interesting process, speaking to others who are entrepreneurs out there because we wanted it to be right from the start, not just a one product. We wanted it to be the best in its class, and we wanted it to be a brand that we wanted to develop things that were the best it could be. Even with the Neckerchew right from the start, things we didn't know, we'd never been in retail before, but we wanted to get the best fabric. We wanted to make it really absorbent because as moms, we could see that if the drool went right through to the chest, it wasn't good.

We wanted to have a special middle layer that captured that drool. We wanted it to be reversible because all of us as parents know that when you go out, and they drop something on the bib, you can turn it around the other way, and it goes, and you've got a nice clean bib. We also wanted it to grow with the baby. There was little things you think a bib's a really simple thing, but actually, if you think through what would help, then you can create something that's a little bit of best in class.


Jon: You've had great success along the way. We'll talk a little bit more about that later in our discussion. I want to talk about these early stages. I want to ask the question of when did you know you were really onto something? As moms and as a dad, you and I talked before the show started. I've got four kids that are past this stage by a few years but I've been through it. Man, I wish I had this product when our kids were younger. How did you know that it wasn't just something the two of you liked, but it was really something that you're going to invest a lot of time, energy, money into building this business? What was the first, I guess, smidgen or indication of success?


Amy: That's a really good question. Actually, we are often asked, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs? That is exactly the bit you've got to know. That's not just you that thinks you've got great idea, you've got to test the market and know that other people out there are going to buy it. You're also really protective of your idea because you don't want to share it to everybody. Then someone copies it so everyone can be quite protected too. No, we had developed the product past prototype stage to actually have our first run of production. Along the way, we've been checking with other parents in our baby groups and further afield.


Then I think the biggest sign for us was we went to a baby show. They've got these big consumer exhibitions, whereas as a parent, you can go and look at prams and travel systems and all of those kinds of things. We went there with our product, and the feedback we got from people was just incredible. At that point, we absolutely knew that we were onto something. That went straight from the consumer show pretty back to back.


We went to a trade show where there was retailers there and the big names in retail who we'd really earmarked as who we'd want to be with because they were the premium retailers in the UK. They saw the product, and they wanted it straight away because they could see it was something new and innovative, so they could see it made sense. Honestly, we all will say if we had a pound for everybody who said, "God, I wish I'd invented that, that's so obvious," we would be richer than we actually are now.


I think that's often the case, isn't it something that's quite a simple and obvious idea that's just not been done before? The tick boxes both for retailers, if that's the channel you're choosing to sell through, but also to your consumer audience. That's really when we [crosstalk]


Julie: It was interesting, some of the big retailers like in the UK, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Mamas and Papas, these are big brand retailers here. All of them took us on as a one-product brand. Very unusual because it was such a novel idea, and we're still with them all. It's been a really good journey as we've now increased to 18 products. We have lots of SKUs with all of these retailers as a good channel. It was interesting and quite nerve-wracking when you're standing at your first exhibition. Parents come up, especially grandparents, they thought, "Oh, that's a fantastic idea." We sold a lot. Great feedback.


Jon: I love how you mentioned how hard it is to sell a single product. For the benefit of our audience, oftentimes retailers, they're hesitant to deal with new companies that have just one product because if they sell a lot of those, what's next? It's not easy, but when you've got a great product that ticks that box of being obvious, or once you get it, as soon as you see it, like, "Why did I think of that?" You're speaking to a need the parents have, and in a very, call it an obvious way, it's a great design. I don't mean to undercut the design you guys have done on this, but it's what you're solving a need that everybody has. That's where the obvious nature comes in.


Those are the products that can be extremely successful and get past that hurdle too, of-- You're going to face a lot of hurdles with retailers, especially, but also direct to consumer, getting them to actually purchase, getting them to buy, especially with a single product. When you've got something that's really needed, it makes a big difference. Getting that story, that positioning behind it to really answer those questions.


I want to talk briefly about how you mentioned consumer shows and trade shows as well. I like that you had those you mentioned back-to-back. The consumer shows meaning selling direct to consumer, getting that feedback, they're not going to hold back. You're going to find out if your product has no merit when you're talking directly to consumers. To either make changes to the product or maybe how you talk about it, et cetera. I think that's a great way that maybe you stumbled into at the time, but start with consumers and then go to the retailers. Get all those questions answered in a low-risk environment.


You lose one consumer, not a big deal, you lose one major retailer in a conversation. That's a bigger potential problem to try to correct, et cetera. I love that you did those together and really, in that order, learn from consumers, take those learnings or those stories now into the trade right to the retailers right after that as well. Did you guys find that helpful also?


Julie: Yes. Very, very helpful. Again, as you said, you're speaking to different parents who come from different backgrounds, different areas looking for different things and you get good feedback. One of the biggest elements of feedback was our range. That stage is our first product, we only had four designs, I think, but we've got lots and lots of feedback on colors. You can see even the trends at the show of other products that were out there and things. It was a really useful collecting research exercise, as well as feedback exercise, I think. Then when you get to the trade show, then it's just really interesting to understand, what the retailers are looking for. Some of the things, we've never been in retail before. We learn a lot, even at the trade show, things like a palette, the size of a palette, or how to export. There was things we just didn't know, but by speaking to them, you pick up a lot of the needs face to face rather than it's quite difficult to get to a buyer. Whereas at a trade show, you can sit and talk to them and get some insights.


Amy: And things like packaging, which is such a massive part of the product, because it's the first thing people are going to see when you're not there. We're the most passionate people about our products, but that product's got to stand out on shelf, when we're not there to add our sales feel, it's got to then jump out to the consumer, it's got to hang well, it's got to not rip, it's got to be durable. All of those things were lessons that we actually really learned through the trade show.


Actually, the first time when we did put all of our products on a wall, because I suppose we'd have them in our hands, and we'd have them at home, but to put them on a wall, we realized that the way that they were hanging on the cards, you look like a giant pair of underwear. [unintelligible 00:11:35] a little bit more elegant. Things like that are important, that you get that chance to refine and perfect before you go live in stores.


Julie: Again, at the trade show, it's good to get that because the packaging, the buyers really want it not to be too long, too large, just learn over the piece, you want more pieces up, you don't want large packaging on small products. Details like that make a big difference in terms of turnover and sell-through.


Jon: I do want to encourage our audience to think about these shows, even if you're direct to consumer. Even if your goal is not to make it onto retail store shelves, especially the consumer shows, having that, as you mentioned, face-to-face interaction to learn about colors or styles or questions that are going to come up, they just don't come up in the same way when you're dealing with website and Amazon sales, you'll get some emails here and there, but those face-to-face interactions are truly invaluable. Again, even if that's not your end goal, but getting those learnings to drive your D2C business for sure.


I want to talk about too being mom inventors. We have a lot of our audience are moms that have great ideas and want to invent something and want to know how to get started. You guys did this right in the thick of it with babies in tow, which the hardest time, I think certainly from a calendar schedule or calendar timing is during those early stages when you've got young kids at home. How did you do it? I guess maybe you have any advice for moms that are out there that have other great ideas that they want to bring out?


Amy: I suppose looking back, sometimes we talk about this all the time. We do think, "Gosh, how did we do that?" Because we both had one-year-olds at that stage, we were also still working in our other jobs, which was like three and four days a week that we worked. We were then trying to launch this business in the evenings. I was then quite quickly pregnant with baby number two. I was too scared to tell Julie. It was a lot of juggling. Actually, like anything, when you really want something and you can really see the opportunity, you just make it happen.


I think with most things in life, it's the same. Trying to look too far ahead can be exceptionally daunting. We just kept doing, let's just do the next step. Let's just take it to the next step and see how we go. Yes, I was in labor with baby number two and I was on the phone to Julie saying, "I'm in labor, I'm going to hospital in about half an hour. I've done the invoices up to this line 72. You need to take over the invoicing from there." There's no break when it's your own business. Through the last 10 years, there's not really been any summer holidays. Anything that we've done, we've always been in touch because there's no off switch when it's your own.


We've pretty much been at every sports day at school. We've been at every parents' night. We've been able to juggle those things and be able to be there and things for the kids. So it has its positives and its negatives. You just make it work like you do with anything else that's thrown at you. I think parents are much more adaptable than non-parents because we're used to juggling no matter what.


Julie: It's hard. It is hard when you've got that juggle, but it's also very rewarding. It is like your other child. We feel like that. We've invested in this the way we invested our child. We love it the way we love our children in some ways. Yes, we just try to fit it all in. One of the other things I think is important for the listeners as well is more that when you start a business, I think there's also a sort of a bit of a negative about a mom's business in some ways.


Like you feel like you're in the back bedroom packing things up and it's a small deal and things. We never wanted it to be like that. We're often than we were in the back bedroom packing up the orders when we started before we came into our office. I think it's really important that we did right from the start that we want to build this as a brand. We want it to be good quality. We want it to be premium. We want it to wash well and last a long time. That was important, too. We could have done it probably quicker and easier in some ways with the children, but we didn't.


We kept saying, "No, let's get a PR company, even though we can't afford it. Let's make sure we're positioning ourselves. Let's go to the retailers that are at the right position that we want to be attached to and sit in synergy with." I think that was really important. The influencers that we feel represent the brand, even though at that point, probably one or two products in. We were almost punching above our weight early on, even though we were a small concern.


Amy: It's hard to not look cottage industry, even though sometimes that is the reality. I suppose maybe not to be stereotyped as that one preneur.


Jon: I love it. A lot of that was so insightful. Thank you. A couple of things that jumped out to me. One is, think of yourself as big or think of your business as what you want it to become. Because every business starts out small, shipping thing from your garage or your bedroom or wherever it might be. It's about where you're going, having that journey and that vision of where you want it. You know what it wants to end up there. Think about and prepare for the ending stage or the growth stage of your business. That's great insight.


Another thing, I never thought of this before, but I think in my mind, maybe one of the reasons that inventor's mom, business owners are so good at what they do is, despite already doing the hardest job of being a mom, it keeps you so busy. I'd like to tell, I'll probably say it in different words, but you talked about how you're already doing so much. It's almost like, okay, well, the business is just one more thing to add to the list. Moms are already busy doing a lot of different things. Multitasking is a true gift really that moms have. It's in your nature and it's like, "Well, I can fit one more huge thing and really fit my life around it as well."


Like you said, treat it as another child in essence. It's empowering, I think, to hear it that way. I really like that. Thank you. Let's fast forward a little bit. Now you're in 1,500 retailers across 30 different countries. You've sold over 3 million of your products so far. I want to talk about where you're at now, some successes that have gotten you there, but the first question I'll ask is the foreign country thing. We get a lot of questions like, I'm doing great in the US and our listeners are US-based. You guys are obviously UK, wherever you're at. How do I take it to other countries? The fact that you guys are in 30 countries, that's phenomenal. How do you do that? How do you sell effectively outside the borders of your own country?


Julie: Suppose I mentioned PR there. One of our biggest PR exercises was going on the UK Shark Tank, which is called Dragon's Den. Then right from the start, plus there was another interview with the Mail Online, which it goes to syndicated across the world. They were both good international coverage in terms of PR. That helped. We can talk about Shark Tank. That was an interesting exercise, but the other thing, I guess, is that we just went from the next stage of consumer show to UK trade show to international trade show. That was the third element of exporting, was just to go and try it out.


We had a small stand in the British Pavilion. It's part of the pavilion of the country. Then we just tried and tested, met distributors and things. Between the exposure of Dragon's Den or Shark Tank internationally, we got inquiries. We met a lot of them at our trade show in Germany, it was for the European show first. Then we then started to get some distributors. We just learned as we went. Some of the time, we didn't even know the geography or the currency or how we would ship it. We got these relationships and we worked out and we got it wrong sometimes. We learned over a period of time, built really good relationships with these distributors.


Amy: I would say I wouldn't necessarily. That was our journey. That's because we had a product that we knew was going to get copied, and it did. We tried to protect it with all the IP that we could with a limited budget. At the same time, to go far and wide as a strategy when you've got something that is going to be copied, it's first market advantage. We actually made it and it was important for us to try and get something into multiple countries.


We were there first. If we were to do that again, and we were doing something that wasn't necessarily going to be copied, that would necessarily be [unintelligible 00:19:56] that we would choose. We would possibly do one market and [unintelligible 00:20:00] it and do it really well, rather than be in multiple markets where you're doing lots of little bits in lots of places. It just really depends on the strategy. Going international is not always the best next move, I think it just so it has to be dependent on your product and your business, and on the resource that you've got, because it spreads you very thinly, and to try and do really well and go deeper into those multiple regions and countries.


Julie: One of the key things I think about export for others is partnerships. I do think it's really difficult, but it's not always biggest is best. It's just one of the tips that we've learned along the way. A lot of the big distributors who say they can sell your product all around the world or in a specific region, are not necessarily going to give you the attention you need if they represent so many other brands. Sometimes our biggest resort, our biggest revenue anyway, comes from quite small distributors who only have five or six other brands. They've got more time and effort in representing our brand.


Jon: That's great advice. Let's talk now within the UK border. You guys earned an award called the Queen's Award for Enterprise. Now many of our, again, our listeners that might be US based, may not know this award specifically, but it's very prestigious in the UK. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? How did you earn it? What was it like getting the award? Then how has it helped your business?


Julie: That was an amazing award. It recognized our export activity. It was, I think for the size and scale of us and the speed we exported, we won it for export. It was amazing, an amazing award because it's so prestigious. We get opportunity for lots of PR as a result of it and things. Our best part of it was that we met the King, who's now King. He was Prince Charles at the time, but we went to Buckingham Palace, which we'd never been inside. We met lots of other people who had won the Queen's Award for different elements. It's so inspirational to see these businesses. There weren't many female businesses there. We could only see four or five out of maybe the 80 winners. We felt really proud to get to that point with quite a small business at the time and to meet the King. As a result, we've been able to use that photograph of us shaking hands with the King, now King, everywhere internationally. It's just been a really good stamp of credibility and approval.


Amy: Actually, it's appreciated by other markets that we export to because, and actually we had a big celebration with our distributors in each of those countries to make them part of that award and celebration because we won it because of the exports. A lot of people love the UK Royal Family. It had quite a lot of kudos, I suppose. Awards in general have been something that we've really focused on because it's really important to have both consumer and product awards.


Your products winning an award, but also for you as business people to win business awards, because it just adds to your credibility. It shows that you as a person, as much as your products are award-worthy, and it's great for PR and marketing purposes. We definitely recommend, there's lots of awards in different countries. It's always a good thing to put yourself up for.


Jon: When you earn them, especially great awards like this, that's not just sitting with your award, but as you've mentioned, using that award, right? Making sure you get PR about it and use it and involved, I love that you involved your distributors and your partners in that too. It makes them feel a part of it, right? It's almost giving them a piece of the award along the way. That positivity that's around, that's good advice too. Are there any resources that you guys recommend, things that have been helpful for your business along the way?


Julie: I think our most helpful resource has actually been groups is we have local business groups that we're part of that are consumer businesses. We've got national and female-driven businesses that we're part of. Honestly, just that, A, taking the time out of the business to look back in it and to learn from other people's mistakes and successes are, but also just sounding board. We're lucky, there's two of us running the business, but many businesses, they only have one, you might have one, they have one. It's important that you do speak to other people because you get so caught up, so passionate about your own, that actually somebody else could come up with an idea or solution that you just haven't thought of yet. That's been a real resource for us as other people in business and riding the flag for entrepreneurs.


Jon: It is about taking time out of the business, right? You mentioned that at the beginning, it is a decision and it's so hard for business owners, they're all busy, right? We all have so many things pulling at us in every direction, like a mom, right? You've got to make choices what you can and can't do. You can't do everything, but it can be when you find the right group, I agree, invaluable, right? So it is a conscious choice. It's not like we all have, "Hey, I've got extra five hours a day, so what do I use that for?" It's like, okay, I've got to fit this in somehow, but it is worth it to find that right group, great resources, great camaraderie, great learnings from other people on the way.

Was there anything I didn't ask you that you think could be helpful for our audience?


Julie: I had one thing was, I think it's more a personal thing for each of us. I think you can get caught up, especially if you're a parent, you've got your children that are dependent on you, as you build the business, the business and the team are dependent on you. I think what's really, really important, and we don't do it often enough, I think, is to look after ourselves, because it takes a lot out of you and you can get a lot back if you give yourself the time. I know that's probably not business-related, but it does help, I think, if you could just give yourself some time and some kudos sometimes.


Amy: I think I must listen to that advice. Thanks.


Jon: Well said. I do want to thank you for your time today and encourage our audience to check out this line of products at cheekychompers.com. Cheeky is spelled C-H-E-E-K-Y, chompers.com. They've been nice enough, Amy and Julie, to give a promo code for our audience to get a 10% discount off any purchase. If you use promo code, this is all in the show notes as well, but if you use promo code, HarvestGrowth, with a capital H, capital G, HarvestGrowth, the number 10, HarvestGrowth10, as a promo code, you get a 10% discount off your purchase on their website. Well, Amy and Julie, I really appreciate your time today. This is such a fun interview. Thank you so much.


Julie: Thanks.


Amy: Thank you.


Jon: Also, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you'd like to take a shortcut and learn the process that we've used to profitably launch and grow hundreds of products since 2007, download our Secret Sauce Product Marketing Campaign Cheat Sheet at harvestgrowthsecretsauce.com. Or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak directly with a member of the Harvest Growth team in a free one-on-one consultation.


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