As with many great products in the marketplace, the diaper caddy was conceived out of necessity. Melissa Bramlage, a mother of two, needed a product that could hold all the essential baby care items in one convenient location. It seemed that every time she needed to change her child’s diaper, the new diaper was on the opposite end of the house from the place she left the ointment.
Company Name: SaraBear Company, LLC
Owner: Melissa Bramlage
Products: Diaper Caddy
Shopping Cart: MountainMedia
Quote: “No one on the planet will make it happen except for you.”
If necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention, then Bramlage is living proof. She has conceived, created, arranged for manufacturing and now sells her invention of necessity.
Rather than simply develop an online business around selling other people’s products, Bramlage nursed her product from designs on scraps of paper to actual items manufactured overseas that she’s now launched on her site. Though sales have just begun to rev up and Bramlage feels she’s still in start-up mode, she believes there are big things in store for the diaper caddy and Sarabearbaskets.com.
Bramlage’s daily life evolved from full-time nurse, mother and wife, to new roles as part-time nurse and full-time mother, wife, entrepreneur, inventor, CEO, website designer and chief cheerleader for a product she knows can be of benefit to new parents.
PeC: What is a “diaper caddy?”
Bramlage: The diaper caddy is a very simple invention. It is a fabric-lined wood basket. The fabric liner sits inside of a nicer-style basket and has certain compartments shaped to fit things. The baby wipes container sits in the center and it is held between dividers and there are four compartments, cubbies, and four pockets. It has a handle that is hinged and collapses down to the side. So, the idea is that your baby is in one arm and, while you are walking through the house, you can have the diaper caddy in the other hand and move from room to room in the house, wherever the baby is, wherever you are going to put the baby down to change the diaper. The quality is really pretty top-notch. That was one of my very core focuses when I started this. I needed it to be good quality because I wanted them to last for years when you need to store other things in them. They are $48 retail on the website.
PeC: Why did you want to create a new product?
Bramlage: It started, originally, with a prototype and idea in 2004. I had a daughter, Sara, and I needed a product that did not exist when she was an infant. It dawned on me a little while later that I could actually make it. So I decided to sit down at the kitchen table and make one. I did, and it was pretty rough. But I gave it away to a friend, and she really liked it and used it. So a little fire got ignited and one thing led to another with so many pieces in between there — but initial launch with the first prototype and first website was in 2004.
PeC: Did you always want to sell this product online?
Bramlage: I always wanted to have it on a website. I am a registered nurse, and I was never in business. So I thought I could just start a website and sell them. I had a lot to learn. That is obviously not how it works. I never wanted to own my own gift store and have a brick-and-mortar. I had a vision of my product and I wanted to take that to other people who own brick-and-mortar stores. Only recently have I begun to get them out and offer wholesale costs; up until a little while ago, they just sold retail on the website.
PeC: Do you sell through eBay or other online marketplaces?
Bramlage: I tried selling them on eBay, but that did not work for my product. It is a niche thing. There was not a diaper caddy available, so people would not have found it because they did not know what they were looking for. eBay was not really what I wanted. I did not want it to look like an eBay item. It is a little higher-end. It is not a cheap item, but it is not a real fancy, high-end item either.
PeC: Have you used pay-per-click marketing for the product?
Bramlage: I spent a lot of months trying Google’s pay-per-click. I think it is a wonderful program for the right company, but it was not a good trip for me. A lot of that was inexperience, not knowing what I was really working with and how much it was really going to cost me. You can lose your shirt really fast on pay-per-click, and you’ve got to be very careful on using that service.
PeC: How do market your diaper caddy?
Bramlage: I have run some email coupons, and had good response with those. I was using Constant Contact and that was fabulous, but [shopping cart] MountainMedia now has its own email newsletter. I used that recently and that was really nice. Also, I did hire a PR agent. A little press can go a long way.
PeC: How do you handle the manufacturing of your product?
Bramlage: I was getting it made in the U.S., and that was more costly than I was willing to do. I spent about a year trying to find U.S. manufacturers to work with me to get this product made to my specifications, who could do the quality that I wanted and deliver the product to me at the right price. I could not find anyone in the U.S. that could do that. I found a sourcing consultant, and he has assisted in the outsourcing process. The product is made in Asia 100 percent except some of the fabrics are made in the U.S., and I ship them over to the factory.
PeC: How challenging is it working with an overseas manufacturer?
Bramlage: I have had to develop levels of patience I never knew were possible. Not to get too personal, but it has been hard, extremely challenging because my tools are the Internet, email and the telephone. Those are my tools to reach out to the world and find people who are the right people to work with. So the advice I give people, and I get a lot of emails from people, especially women, who have the idea that they want to start their own business, and I just tell them, “No one on the planet is more interested in what you are doing than you are, and no one on the planet will make it happen except for you.” So if someone comes along and says, “Don’t worry about it, I will take care of it.” It is not going to happen. The only person that will take care of it is you.
PeC: Do you inventory those items, or do you drop ship them from your manufaturer?
Bramlage: I inventory items myself and ship them out here.
PeC: Did you have any business or web experience before this effort?
Bramlage: I started with no business experience or knowledge of how to run a website. I first hired someone who built sites for doctor’s offices, not ecommerce because I was completely oblivious to what it took. It is not as easy as you would think it is. The key is to find the right company to do it for you. Hiring Mountain Media was the critical element to my website that I was missing – finding the right company to work with your vision is a major component needed at the beginning, not as an afterthought.
PeC: Are wanting to retail these products at major outlets like Wal-mart and Target?
Bramlage: Absolutely. Now when you say “Wal-Mart,” [keep in mind that] there is a Wal-Mart shopper and there is a Target shopper and there is a Nordstrom shopper. I think it remains to be seen where my product fits. I do not even want to try to guess at that, but it is a nicer-quality baby product. It is something that shelves pretty, it looks pretty; it is a nicer quality. But let’s face it — it is a diaper caddy. It is meant to be used. It is meant to get your hands on it and have your baby’s supplies in it and use it everyday.
Do you have a great idea and don’t know where to turn to get started? One place to go is an area Small Business Development Center. The staff at an SBDC can help you develop a business plan and connect you with other professionals to help bring your dream into a reality. Visit the SBA for more information.