Sophia Procter launched her innovative toddler plates business during the pandemic and, with support from Amazon’s Small Business Accelerator programme, has won recommendations and support.
Sophia Procter launched her Munchy Play business this summer in the middle of the Covid pandemic. It was a bold step, but, with support from Amazon’s Small Business Accelerator programme she is already getting great reviews and has been nominated for awards.
Sophia was working in PR and communications for a major airline when she gave birth to her son five years ago. She returned to her role and a year later a big redundancy programme was announced. Having been torn by guilt on her return, it made sense for her to take redundancy.
Like many toddlers her son was a fussy eater and Sophia was really struggling to get him to have his dinner. One day she decided to put a train track around his plate. It was a light bulb moment. “I thought ‘this is the answer’,” says Sophia. She looked to see if someone had created a plate with a train track round it, searching Amazon and other sites, but there was nothing. “I thought this is ridiculous. How hard can a plate and a track be to create?” she said.
It turns out that it was a bit harder than she envisaged because, despite the fact that her plates are manufactured in the UK, she had to build an expensive special tool to create them. She was also keen to ensure that the plates met the highest safety standards. The plastic plates are made from polypropylene which is free of BPA, PVC and melamine. They have also undergone rigorous safety testing to be EU compliant.
Despite the complexities, Sophia ploughed on over three years until Munchy Play was ready to launch at the start of the year. Then Covid happened and she put the launch on hold.
Sophia had been freelancing while building the business and she was getting a lot of crisis communications work from SMEs so she was aware from early on that it was not the right time for a new product launch. However, in the summer she noticed there was more freelance work around new products. She had the product and photos ready. She altered her business plan and pressed go on the launch.
She had planned to sell the plates to retail stores as well as online and to promote them at trade shows, but due to Covid she had to focus wholly on online sales. Amazon enabled her to hit the ground running and is promoting her business on the Amazon Launchpad home page throughout December.
She says the Amazon Small Business Accelerator programme, run in partnership with Enterprise Nation, was hugely important for her business’ early success, providing free advice on issues such as pay per click, legal help and branding. “You can dip in and out and listen to other people’s stories. I’m really grateful for that,” says Sophia. Supporting small businesses is a win win, she says. “If your business does well everyone does well.”
The accelerator programme provided a lot of support with promotion and secured her an interview on BBC Breakfast.
Tweets from the likes of PE guru Joe Wicks and a member of JLS have also helped as has an article in the Mail’s best Christmas presents guide. She was also one of six weekly winners on Small Business Sunday [SBS] to gain a retweet by dragon Theo Paphitis to his 500,000 Twitter followers and joined his prestigious #SBS club. And she was a finalist in The Junior Design Awards 2020. The feedback from customers has also been amazing with five star reviews. “Once you make eating fun and enjoyable, everything falls into place,” says Sophia.
Looking ahead she knows there are challenges to confront. Having built a good following online and through Black Friday sales, she is keen to get her plates onto the high street. She thinks people will support local small businesses as part of the Covid recovery. Despite her plates being manufactured in the UK, she has also been affected by Brexit as her labels come from Spain and the CE logo has to be replaced, meaning she has to change all her packaging and recalibrate her manufacturing tool at a cost of hundreds of pounds. She is optimistic, however, and looking to launch a new line of plates in the new year.
Munchy Play is a micro business, but Sophia works with a range of freelance experts. She thinks self employment will increase in the next months and that there will be more women starting up businesses, in part due to the lack of part-time roles and to the growing interest in side hustles. She says: “It’s a very good time to have different skills so you can work around other things. Covid has shown that we can work flexibly. It’s a time to be enterprising. There are opportunities among the darkness.”