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Founder of Kippins, Heather and David Rowland, never imagined how a hunt for a product would turn into an international success. The Rowland family operate a small family business called Kippins. The centrepiece of their product range are the organic cotton cuddle blankies. They are a group of loveable characters that are made for babies. What started out as a search for a cuddle blankie for their baby has been sold to more than 480 retail outlets in 38 countries.
Q. Why did you start your small business?
I was searching for a cuddle blankie for my new baby but I could only find the very traditional plush kind, all which had small embroidered eyes or buttons that I didn’t like the idea of my baby chewing on. Also, as a new Mum I was thinking more about how the elements used to make the product had been grown, what chemicals had been used and under what conditions they were made.
As a lover of books I was also looking for something that had a strong storytelling element. I wanted something with a large, printed high contrast face, made using on-trend fabrics designs, as well as being organic and ethically made. There was a clear gap in the market so I went for it. I sketched my very first Kippin in the middle of the night after a very vivid dream.
Q. How did you manage to finance Kippins?
Initially it was with our entire $2000 worth of savings. And then we supported it through my freelance work. For a certain period of time, the business generated its own cash flow. But once it was clear that growth was needed we acquired a bank overdraft. With even more growth required, we borrowed a small amount of money from some very generous family members who believed we were onto something.
“I sketched my first Kippin in the middle of the night after a dream”
Q. What are some trials you faced with starting your small business?
Finding a manufacturer was a huge challenge. To provide customers with a well-priced product we needed to look overseas but we refused to compromise the ethical nature of production…and it had to be organic! It took us the better part of a year to find a manufacturer we were happy to continue working with. Our product is GOTS certified (GOTS assesses the supply chain to ensure it meets social and environmental criteria) and being a baby product, safety and quality control is very important.
Q. What has been your most challenging time?
In our first year, we experienced incredible demand for our product and we couldn’t keep up. It sounds like a dream, but it meant frustrated customers and retailers and loss of potential income for months at a time. It was an exercise in relationship management, trying to find a way to keep people connected to our brand without being able to offer them anything physical in return. This brought home to me the importance of authenticity and forging emotional ties with people, not just selling to them.
“We experienced incredible demand and couldn’t keep up!”
Q. Has cash flow been a major issue for your small business?
I know cash flow is a huge issue for many small businesses. There are so many brilliant brands and people with beautiful products who have lost steam, purely because they don’t have the cash to invest upfront. We were in this position and were just lucky that we were able to navigate through that very tight period, particularly with the assistance of family members.
“There was a clear gap in the market so I went for it!”
Q. How do you create that ideal life balance?
It’s difficult when you are working from home as the work is always there. I think most business owners will tell you they’re thinking about their business all the time. So I am certainly guilty of looking at my phone when I should be playing with Lego. The answer is that I don’t have a work life balance. I’m still working on it. I think the key is to see when it is affecting your lifestyle and health. One thing I do prioritise is exercise, eating and sleeping. I won’t feel guilty about any of those because they are usually in short supply! Certainly outsourcing some of our tasks has helped us achieve a better balance, especially after hours.
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