Three years ago Caroline Africh was searching for a job. This week, the Sydney mum of three kids under five, is going to Hollywood. Her Australian distributed baby shoe line Attipas will be included in the coveted Academy Awards gift bags worth more than $300,000.
The swanky swag bag is given to those who are Oscar nominated in five categories such as best actor and best director. Last year, items included were as varied as luxury toilet paper to free holidays. Inclusion in the gift bag is considered an honour and exposure on this one night can potentially boost a small business into the stratosphere. Not surprisingly, Caroline is hoping this year it is her!
It’s amazing how many of the best small business ideas come from an issue that needs to be solved. In this case, it was the everyday issue of babies and toddlers losing (usually a just bought) sock or show. Most parents spend a portion of every day searching for a lost sock or shoe so discovering a solution to this everyday dilemma was a hole in one.
Caroline was on holidays in Japan in 2013 when she discovered the perfect shoe for her toddler’s feet. She also had an idea to bring Attipas shoes to Australia and has created a fantastic small business which is taking her to Los Angeles this week. The business is projected to turn over up to $1 million this financial year.
These little shoes are taking Caroline on a journey of a lifetime. Now she is the national distributor of the product, and is flying to Hollywood to promote the podiatrist-approved, sock-shoe hybrid for babies and toddlers that “never falls off” footwear.
So, how did this all happen? In 2013, Caroline was coming out of maternity after having had her first child. She had just left her job in London and didn’t have a job to get back to. With a background in IT project management in the finance industry she started hunting for work but couldn’t find anything. Being a new mum, Caroline was searching for work that was part time and flexible.
However, she always had a passion to start her own business and a trip to Japan saw that passion become a reality. Caroline came across the shoe at a store and thought, “This is such a great product! Why isn’t this in Australia? Mums everywhere have been asking about it”. She enquired to become a distributor in Australia and has built her brand here for the past four years.
These Attipas sock/shoes won’t fall off
Caroline has initially started selling Attipas footwear online and would pack the orders from home. She would store the stock in her attic. However, as the business began to grow, she started outsourcing staff. After four years of business, Caroline now has a warehouse in Sydney that completes all the order packing. She has a team of staff who work remotely who deal with sales and customer service.
Caroline is solely a distributor now. She stocks up to about 500 retail outlets around Australia. With 300 of those products stocked at physical retails stores and the other 200 given to consultants. The consultants sell the products via their own means. Usually these consist of mums who already use the products on their own kids and it has a cult following. It helps them get involved and sell it at their level. The mums (or dads) target their own community and sell through markets and play groups etc. Caroline has had such success in Australia with Attipas that the manufacturers (Wildcat, a South Korean company) have given her the rights to exclusively distribute in the US and grow the brand there.
Comfy shoes for little kids
As with any business, Caroline experienced several issues when starting Attipas. She says, “We had warehouse dramas where the stock was being damaged and stolen. We also had technical issues with incorrect order files being sent through to the warehouse. We’ve had everything possible go wrong.”
She adds, “We’ve had a really good feel for what business is about. It has been a roller coaster of a ride. Now we are very comfortable to be able to take on the US.”
With the Oscars around the corner on the 27th February, Caroline would love celebrities to purchase Attipas products and endorse them. She says enthusiastically, “We know it’s a great product. It’s just a matter of getting it into the hands of people. We did a review of our customers and found that 98% of customers would recommend Attipas. So with celebrities, they have the power in terms of media exposure. It would do wonders for the brand. We happily welcome anyone that would want to try our shoes. A little Kardashian would be brilliant!”