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Whilst on maternity leave eight years ago Angeline Braidwood went to a local playgroup where one of the mums was sporting a very attractive baby carrier. “I thought it was the prettiest thing,” she says. She got talking to the mum using it and discovered she was part of a two-woman partnership that ran a baby carrier company called Sleepy Nico. Angeline bought one straight away and stayed in touch with the mum.
“Over the years people often stopped me in the street to say they loved my baby carrier,” she says and four years ago when the family moved to Suffolk she contacted Sleepy Nico to buy one as a present for a relative. Instead of buying a baby carrier she ended up buying the company.
The mum she had been in touch with explained that she was looking for “a like-minded mum” to take the company over. “I had a hilarious conversation with my husband,” says Angeline. “I thought it could bring a bit of money in, that I was the ‘like-minded mum’. We thought it would be just a little bit of admin in the evenings I could do when the children were in bed. I was ready to take on something new.”
Angeline assumed it would be fairly easy to sell the baby carriers as, having been a customer, she felt it was a great product. She put out a few feelers and found people were excited that Sleepy Nico was starting up again. “From then on it went a bit bonkers,” she says. “It turns out running a business is not just a little bit of admin in the evenings. It’s like having another child except it doesn’t nap or go to school. Real life children are much more important, of course, and their demands more immediate.
I have spent a lot of time running around like a mad woman with my daughters and my business child.”
When she started her oldest daughter was at school and she was able to take her youngest with her to interview seamstresses and look at fabrics. “I spent a lot of time saying when both of the children were at school it would be easier, but my youngest daughter started school this September and I have less time,” she laughs.
Part of the reason is that she has built the business up organically. In the early days she did spend a couple of hours a night doing admin and attending local baby shows. When her baby’s sleeping patterns
changed so did her work hours. Her younger daughter went to nursery. The more she grew the business, the more admin and meetings came along. She did everything from book-keeping to sending parcels out through the post and had to know every aspect of the business, including technical manufacturing terms. She took on more people. She started with one seamstress, for instance, and now has three. She says finding them has been difficult. The previous owner designed the carriers herself and had previously been a Saville Row tailor. “It has taken a lot of time and energy to find the right people,” says Angeline, who works from home. She is now talking to a manufacturer about making the baby carriers since demand is so great.
She brought in someone to do her social media as she knew it was not where her skills lay and was eating up a lot of her time given the constant growth of social media channels. More social media presence has driven demand, which means more meetings for Angeline.
She says building the right team is vital, but admits delegating is hard. “I see Sleepy Nico as my baby and feel quite territorial,” she says. “I want to make it the best it can be. When I started delegating parts of the business, I had to trust people.”
Comparing her business with her previous work, she says she found her marketing work not nearly as stimulating. “What I am doing now is amazingly exciting. It’s a real confidence boost,” she states.
Angeline says her husband has been very supportive and can work from home if she has to go to an event. She has peaks and troughs in her working year – she launches two collections of baby carriers a year in spring and autumn, which means summer holidays are less busy.
Over the last three years she has learnt to be more comfortable about selling, she says, and states honesty is the best policy. “I have learned what my customers want. Initially I was so excited to sell something. Now I’m really comfortable to tell people not to buy a baby or toddler carrier if it is not right for them, for instance, if their child is going to outgrow it soon,” she says.
Angeline’s next step is to get retailers to stock her baby carriers, to export globally and to bring out special editions such as carriers for festivals. She says her marketing experience hasn’t helped her as much as she thought. Her main selling advantage is that she likes and has used the product so much. “It’s like they say in that advert from the 80’s: ‘I liked the product so much I bought the company’,” she laughs.