Bobaloo! Cool Stuff for Kids is a children's goods business run by Samantha Howard. Samantha's shop on Etsy opened in September 2010 - already she has earned over 130 sales and has been named one of Babble.com's 50 best Etsy shops for babies. In addition, she runs a companion blog at www.bobalookids.com.
All of this success hasn't come easy - Samantha is also the stay-at-home-mom to two children under the age of four. Samantha was kind enough to talk to us about what it's like to run a business with two children also at home, how she finds balance, and what goes into making a creative business a success.
Indie Pretty Projects: What did you do before you were a mother and opened an Etsy shop?
Samantha / Bobaloo!: I have a degree in marketing and was working for a homebuilder here in Indy. I was pregnant with my daughter when the housing market started to plummet and I was laid off. I had never planned on staying home - I always thought I would go back to work after having my first child - but after losing my job I discovered I was actually pretty excited about staying home. We ran the numbers and discovered we could swing it.
I'm at the age now where I'm at a kid's birthday party or a baby shower at least once a month and I always look forward to making a great gift. After enough "You should sell these!" comments I began to really entertain the idea of starting my own business. I read some books (Craft, Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco and Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin are my favorites), started writing up a rough business plan, and got to work building up some inventory. I opened up shop the first week of September 2010 and it's been one long learning experience ever since!
Do you have any formal training in your craft, or are you self-taught?
A little of both. My mom taught me to sew when I was really little. For my first couple years of college I was an apparel merchandising major, so I took a lot of sewing electives that really increased my general sewing knowledge. I also learned about other aspects of sewing, like the characteristics of different fabrics and pattern drafting.
The bulk of my actual sewing gets done at nap time and on the weekends. My kids are young - 3 1/2 and 18 months - so I don't have that long break while they're at school yet. My biggest challenge by far is making enough time for all the members of my family. My husband really takes the brunt of my busy schedule - if he's home, I'm sewing or on the computer, so we don't get to just hang out on the couch like we used to.
How does the added responsibility of raising children affect your business? How do you keep the two parts of your life separated?
Truthfully, the two parts of my life pretty much blend together! A lot of days I'll be cutting fabric at the kitchen island while the kids color at the table, or I'll be dragging them to the fabric store and the post office before rushing home for naps. During the holidays I had a lot of busy weekends chained to the sewing machine. I've also found that now I can't just sit and watch TV - I have to be cutting fabric, handsewing, tweeting... I've turned into a huge multi-tasker!
My husband and I are blessed to have a lot of family nearby (built-in babysitters!) and can go on dates often, so on those nights I try to ignore the email notifications on my phone and not mentally plan my next new product. I don't see my friends nearly as often as I used to, but that's also partly due to all of us having young kids and not being able to meet at a bar on a random Tuesday night. One of the most challenging aspects of running your own business, especially from home, is you're never "out of the office". It takes effort to step away and focus on family and friends once in a while.
Your shop is doing very well - how do you market your business? What have been your best marketing techniques?
I've been really trying to stay active in social media. I never thought I'd be on Twitter, but I have Tweetdeck open on my desktop at all times now and Twitter is one of the biggest referring sites to my shop! I'm also really trying to improve my use of Facebook right now. I recently read that the average Facebook user checks it 16 times a day - that's a huge captive audience if I can get my brand in front of them!
I have done a few giveaways on other blogs as well. I wouldn't say I get a lot of sales from them, but giveaways really generate a lot of shop traffic if they're done on a blog with a lot of readers. I just purchased my first ad space on a design blog and it has had promising results, so I'm definitely going to pursue more advertising soon.
What one piece of advice would you give to a mother who wants to start her own business, and work at home?
Anticipate being interrupted often, and just accept it as part of running your business from home. I know when I set deadlines for myself, like cut 20 bibs before dinner, I get twice as stressed when one of my kids needs something from me. If I just plan to get as much done as I reasonably can, it leaves me the option of joining in the Yo Gabba Gabba dance party reasonably guilt-free.
We have a big room over our garage that used to be the pool room (the pool table is now my project table!) that I have completely taken over. I have tons of fabric bins, lots of hanging storage for notions and tools, and an awesome desk area that my husband built for my three sewing machines. It's nice to have a separate space, but it's not kid-friendly so I can't work in there unless the kids are asleep or my husband's home. We're working on re-doing the whole room - including removing that pool table and adding a little play area - so I'm looking forward to a much more organized space!
What are some mistakes you've made along the way?
I really stressed out about a big "Grand Opening" of my Etsy shop. I did a lot of worrying about having enough stuff, taking perfect pictures, and writing detailed descriptions. The truth of the matter is it takes a good amount of time for Etsy shoppers to even find a new shop, so I really didn't need to worry about everything being perfect from the very beginning. That being said, it is important to make sure your shop looks nice. My first sales on Etsy came from being featured on the front page a couple weeks after I opened, and I'm certain that was due to a great picture of one of my items.
Also, if you're going to sell at fairs or festivals, do some research first. I went a little crazy signing up for fairs at first - I did five from the end of September through the middle of December - and one in particular was a HUGE waste of time. I've learned to really pinpoint my target market and only apply to the shows that appeal to that demographic, even if it means spending more on entry fees.
What has been your most popular item in shop? What is your favorite item to make?
Over the holidays I couldn't keep the Crayon Aprons in stock! I was making those things every day, which is a LOT of little tiny pockets. Lately it's been more baby stuff, particularly the Necktie Bibs and Changing Pad Clutches. I think it's baby shower season and that's why my bestsellers have changed a bit.
I absolutely love making the bibs. I love picking fabrics for them and adding fun details, like ruffles and little pockets. Plus it's fun to turn a useful item like a baby bib into a statement of total cuteness.
Where else can readers find you online? Is there anything else you want readers to know about?
I have a blog at bobalookids.com where I'm documenting this whole handmade business journey, from little things like my latest fabric haul to bigger business tasks like setting up my business as an LLC. In the next few months I'm planning on selling my products there in addition to Etsy. My products are also available locally at the Little Green Bean Boutique, an awesome kids' resale shop that also features handmade goods.
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A big thank you again to Samantha for taking the time out of her super-busy schedule to talk with us! And I love knowing there is another mom out there dancing along to Yo Gabba Gabba :)