Interview with Kathie Papera, founder and creator of a unique collection of stylish, high quality reversible baby bibs, burp cloths, baby blankets, diaper covers and gift sets.
Q: What is your name? Kathie Papera
Q: Company name and website? Lily Pad Baby http://www.lilypadbaby.com
Q: We launched in: 2000
Q: What is your business or what do you sell?
Lilypad Baby creates and manufactures a unique collection of stylish, high quality reversible baby bibs, burp cloths, baby blankets, diaper covers and gift sets. Made sweatshop-free in the USA, Lilypad Baby items are of keepsake quality, sized to grow, and constructed with non-synthetic fabrics. Lilypad Baby products are available online at LilypadBaby.com as well as over 350 boutique locations across the US, Canada, Australia and online at Amazon.com.
Q: Who or what was the inspiration behind your company?
I was always inspired by my mother’s creativity and ingenuity. Her infectiously positive attitude about life is the driving force behind my entrepreneurial spirit. My brother and I were raised to believe if you can dream it, you can do it — and you can always do it on your own. I took this to heart when I decided to launch Lilypad Baby. And though my mom will tell people I built this company on my own, she was truly instrumental in helping to build the foundation and continues to be a big reason for its success.
Q: How did you get started?
I was working in the advertising industry for many years and helping to build brand identity for my clients and a large portion of my workload included web development. As my friends started having children, I found myself spending a small fortune on baby gifts. I wanted to give a baby gift that was special, valuable, and unique – so I started making my own reversible baby bibs that I could embroider a name on. Eventually, my friends asked me to make more so they could give them out as gifts. I soon found myself in front of the sewing machine on my kitchen table more than on the computer at work. With a nudge from my mom and the enthusiastic support of my husband, I launched my business and started to work on my own branding.
Q: How long before your business was profitable, or when is it projected to become profitable?
The business was profitable by the third year when I decided to leave the ad agency and focus solely on the business. I expanded the product line to include matching burp cloths and blankets — and the company took off. We received quite a bit of press from various magazines and started to target wholesale customers and trade shows. We also upgraded to a full e-commerce package and started Google/Yahoo PPC advertising.
Q: What significant obstacles (if any) have you faced & how did you overcome them?
Sourcing has always been a huge hurdle for us on the production side. We spent a few years nailing down the right structure of vendors. When you grow out of the back office but you’re not big enough to source the major manufacturing system, you have to get creative. We’d search out fabrics that were unique and implement them into our product line only to find out that the manufacturer wasn’t going to reprint the fabric unless we ordered an amount that was ten times more than we needed. We have also struggled in the oversaturated baby gift market online. We’ve always tried to stay competitive with unique personalized items and superior customer service. Not to mention the competition to stay atop the search engine rankings is a constant challenge.
Q: Do you ever feel like giving up at times? If so, what keeps you going?
All the time. Customer service can be tough to handle when customers forget they are talking to a human being on the other line. I try not to take everything personally, but I have to rely on several other people (vendors etc…) with my products. If we’ve made a mistake or the experience wasn’t positive, I take it very personally. It’s also a challenge when a mistake is made by a customer (or anyone for that matter) we are the ones that must fix it – and usually at our expense. Being in the gift business, we want everyone to be happy and overjoyed with every product we make or sell. What keeps me going is my family. I know that I am showing my children that a strong woman can persevere and provide for the family.
Q: What qualities (i.e., family support, discipline, time management) do you think are necessary for a women entrepreneur?
Having the right infrastructure is the key. Family support is also essential. Once you start trying to juggle it all without help, you end up running in circles and getting very little done during the day. You have to make time to be at “work” and be focused only on work. Working during naptime isn’t efficient. Having the right childcare, office environment and support is the only way you can achieve the right energy it takes to start and build a company.
Q: What is the one thing (book, website, coach, mentor, tool, blog, service, etc) that you value and can say has contributed to your success?
I am not sure I can pinpoint just one thing. There are so many facets to a successfully run company. For SEO, I have been a long time reader of SiteProNews. For PR, I subscribe to HARO and several other supportive women’s groups. We’ve also expanded our social networking with our new Fan Page on Facebook and our updates on Twitter .
Q: What was the worst advice someone gave you?
A close advisor once told me I wouldn’t succeed unless Lilypad Baby was featured on network television or spotted on a celebrity. I don’t think it’s the only way to build brand awareness. Offering a good product and building a loyal customer based has proven over time that that sort of publicity is great, but shouldn’t be where you spend all of your money, time and energy.
Q: What are your business or personal goals for the next year?
My goals for this year are to creatively build more brand awareness. The current recession is hurting everyone, so if I can ride it out with a positive attitude and great customer service, we’ll be able to focus on continuing to grow the business.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in business or thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship?
There are so many pitfalls to starting a business. Too often people just jump in thinking their product is the best and most unique. Test, test, test. If you’re making a product, give them to people who will give you honest feedback to see if it’s viable, not just to friends who don’t want to hurt your feelings. Exhausting yourself with homework on the product or service is the only way to know for sure it’s the direction that is right for you. Start with a basic business plan. You must sit down and answer all of the questions (mission statement, product development, target audience, distribution channels, marketing, competition, budgets, etc.) prior to spending any money or launching anything to an audience. It’s the best way to avoid costly mistakes down the road. I would also suggest finding mentoring or support group. I like StartUpNation.com and Inc.com.
Q: is there anything else you wish I had asked? All great questions!
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Proper costing is the lifeline to your business and profitability. Taking into consideration and finding all the hidden costs, is the key. So many people forget little things that they add up and then BOOM, you are not making any money. Once you have the actual cost (cost of goods sold) then it is easy to figure out the wholesale and retail prices so you are always making money.
I’d love to share this formula with you. It totally saved my rear when I was in year 3….. Just thinking of all that lost money in the first 2 years…. I want to cry!
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