Julie Wilson and Amy Livingston met at an ante-natal class. When their babies were teething in 2012 they would keep throwing their teethers on the floor. The two women thought a good solution would be to have a teether that was attached to the baby. Dribble bibs were all the rage at the time. Amy and Julie thought why not attach teethers to a bib. An idea was born and there has been no stopping them since.
“No one had thought of attaching it,” says Julie. The two women acted swiftly, aware they needed to be the first to market with the idea, and started their company, Cheeky Chompers, a month later while still on maternity leave. By February 2013 they had launched their first product, the Neckerchew.
Now they run an international business with a good product range and won the Demeter Award at this year’s Natwest everywoman awards. The award is for the most inspirational woman running a business trading from three to five years.
Julie and Amy were keen from the start that their products should be both helpful and beautiful. They felt it was important that the Neckerchew bib was stylish, absorbent and soft and that the teether was integrated and made of silicone so that it was not hard on babies’ gums. “We spent a lot of time finding the right materials and were keen to use UK manufacturers,” says Julie. They found a factory in Glasgow and researched what worked with friends and through their mums’ networks. Two days after the launch they travelled to the Baby Show and got good customer feedback.
At the time Julie was an innovation manager at Scottish Enterprise; Amy worked in sales and marketing. They both went back to work after maternity leave and built the business on the side. “It was very full on,” says Julie. Then Amy was made redundant after becoming pregnant with her second child. Julie kept working for a few months and then left the following January. By 2014 both were working full time on the business and had their own office.
They say they have been very lucky and grew the business very quickly. In just over four years Cheeky Chompers has grown their product range to nine products and they now sell to 35 different countries. They originally planned to export after their first year, but things moved fast following their first trade show and they were exporting after a couple of months. Now 70% of their sales are exports.
“We were the first to market with the idea and we knew we had to take advantage even though we didn’t know a lot about exports,” says Julie. Scottish Enterprise gave them a lot of support and they learned through experience, for instance, about import and export duties and the importance of choosing the right partner abroad to collaborate on things like safety standards and labelling. They now have two export managers and there are 11 people in the firm’s Edinburgh office working on everything from procurement to sales and marketing. The factory is 40 minutes away and employs 28 people to work full time on their products.
They’ve also been on Dragons’ Den, Radio 2’s innovation slot and in the press. They have been in John Lewis from early on and they now have a Tesco range.
Over the years Julie and Amy, who have three children between them, have had to tackle everything from how to get a barcode to how to choose the right retailer with similar values in order to position the brand correctly. To ensure they develop their products strategically they use mum ambassadors to help identify gaps in the market and test their ideas.
Other products they have developed over the years include the Chewy Hippo teether, an attachable teether, the Cheeky blanket which attaches to a pushchair or sling and the Comfortchew, an attachable teething comforter. This year they have launched their Muslin Collection of four different products, including the Multi-muslin which can be put in a baby changing bag and be used as a breastfeeding cover, a shade, a blanket or a swaddle and also had an attachable teether element.
Another development this year is that the company has launched in China in an effort to explore different markets and expand outside the European Union. Julie says they, like everyone, are uncertain about what Brexit will mean for them given the EU is their “bread and butter” market.
For the moment, though, they are focusing on continued growth and on doing more marketing on social media. The office is taking on three new people in the next weeks.