With a big snowstorm delaying the delivery of my handmade prototype to the manufacturer, I continually checked my email for word from them. Days went by. Nothing.
I decided to check in with the manufacturer, and sent him a brief email. In the meantime, I contacted the Small Business Administration’s Consumer Product Safety Commission. Since I was manufacturing a children’s product, there are certain safety standards that must be met and potential testing that my product must go through. I needed to know exactly what information was necessary to include on my care and tracking tag – so the customer will not only know how to care for my product but also how to track down possible recall information.
I have to say, the SBA was extremely helpful! I was blown away. Not only did they answer my questions in a timely manner, but they went above and beyond by filling out some information that I would need for my Children’s Product Certificate and told me all of the information I would need on my care and tracking labels. From that point I was able to create a label that would be sewn into the stitching of my product.
Once the manufacturer had received my prototype they contacted me to let me know that the fabric that I intended to use was not a “pre-activated” fabric. That meant that the product would need to be washed several times prior to use to ensure ultimate absorbency. As a busy mom, I know that I wouldn’t want to spend my time washing an item several times before I could use it. I would wash it once prior to use, but not several times. Thankfully the company suggested a new fabric to use, and I chose one that I thought would be plush and soft on a baby’s skin, while also being super absorbent. The representative at the fabric company sent an email introduction to his sewing contractor. He explained that he would be sending my handmade prototype along with my chosen fabric to the company that would (with some luck) manufacture my product.
It was only during a phone call to one of my mentors that I realized I could contact the company that manufactures the fabric I intended to use for my product to see if they could help me manufacture my prototype. A quick search of their website revealed what I needed – information on how to contact them about developing a new product. Having very low expectations and not really expecting to hear back, I sent a request for a quote. To my surprise they responded to me almost immediately! I was thrilled.
They asked me to send them my handmade prototype and said that they would work with me from there. I was a little nervous about sending off my very first prototype – my BABY – but I decided to go ahead with it. Non-disclosure forms signed and filed, handmade prototype packaged and ready to go, I shipped my baby off into the unknown…
I was having some trouble figuring out how to identify manufacturers for my product. I knew I could search online, but how would I know which companies were legitimate? I really wanted to find a U.S. manufacturer vice going straight to China to manufacture my product. I had read that when searching for a manufacturing partner, most entrepreneurs assume that it is cheapest to look to China. And they would be right if volumes are very high and “per unit” costs are the most important aspect of your upfront costs. Nothing against China, but I really wanted to be able to put “Made in the U.S.A.” on my product.
Just by chance, one day I read an article about a famous woman whose household products we all know. In the article, a small sewing manufacturer was mentioned. It was noted that this manufacturer would work for small batches of product, but possibly not so much for huge orders. It seems that once a company is taking large orders of products, most of them then need to outsource their manufacturing to China. It is just more economical in most cases to do this. This small company that was mentioned in the article seemed like just what I needed, so I followed the instructions on their website for initiating a project and waited for their response.
After a week or so of no response, I asked my helpful hubby to call the number I had for the company to see if they were even still in business. My husband spoke with the woman who runs the company and, while she seemed completely swamped with work, she did finally get back to me via email. But that is where it stopped. I was ready to get started, but my next attempt at contact went unanswered. While I would have loved to use her company, I questioned whether I wanted to start a business relationship with a company that was so clearly overwhelmed.
I was beginning to think I should just go with China…
I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I found a washable form of the fabric that I had used for my rough prototype and ordered some. I also bought the domain name for my product’s new website.
I was in a bit of a hurry to get a demonstration video of the product completed. Our daughter was only getting older, and I wanted her to be small enough to adequately demonstrate its use. After all, she was a huge motivation for the creation of the product.
With my husband’s help, we recorded a brief video demonstrating how my product would be used. It took quite a few takes, but we ended up with a video we could be proud of. And a few amusing bloopers. Check out our bloopers here!
And with that, I was on to sew another prototype using the newest fabric…
Sometimes those suggestions that pop up, “customers who bought Polyurethane Laminate also bought xyz”, can be really helpful. It was one of these suggestions that led me to the company that manufactures the fabric that I determined I need for my product. I ordered a yard of one that I thought would work and after a relatively brief wait, received it and began my sewing project. Mind you, I don’t have a sewing machine yet.
After creating a rough pattern, I carefully cut the fabric and settled in to hand-stitching my vision. I had to work on the project in shifts, using very cautious movements, during my daughter’s naps while breastfeeding, or sleep-eating. Talk about multitasking!
It took me two naps to finish hand-sewing the first (very rough) prototype. You see, I didn’t have to do this – I could have supplied a company with the pattern or drawings of my creation. But I wanted to see with my own eyes what my design would look like. I needed to know if my design would work. Once completed, feeling very accomplished, I somehow stumbled upon a description of the fabric that I had just used for my one-and-only prototype and realized that I had goofed up once again! The fabric I had used “should not be washed until it is sewn between another fabric”. This meant that as it was, my prototype could not be washed – the fabric was not meant to be used that way.
My product is not meant to be disposable and will need to be washable. Most moms will wash a product before its use with their baby anyway, but I didn’t want that to be required.
Back to the search for the perfect fabric….
I received the fabric that I had ordered and could not wait to get started sewing my very own prototype! A prototype is a three-dimensional version of your vision. I needed to create a homemade version to test my design and bring my product to life.
But wait… The fabric was not quite what I expected. I had ordered some PUL fabric which was very thin and I couldn’t see it working for the purpose I had in mind. Don’t get me wrong, it was great fabric, and I can think of some future uses for it, but I was getting a much-needed lesson in types of fabrics. Polyurethane laminate, or PUL, is more of a waterproof fabric, something that liquid would sort of bead up on or roll off of. Think bibs or rain gear. I needed something that would absorb liquid.
And so I began my search for a more suitable fabric for my creation…
My first step was to begin researching fabric for my creation. I began Googling waterproof fabrics, when what I really needed was absorbent fabrics. I ordered a yard of the fabric I had found, and eagerly waited for its arrival.
In the meantime I began reading a book by Gary Bronga, Bringing a Product to Market From Your Home. He offers some great tips in the book, and it is a quick read (for a review of this book you can visit my author site book review page). Mr. Bronga is a wonderful, very approachable person who is willing to help and generous with his advice. He was extremely nice to take the time to answer some questions that I had.
I also talked to a friend of my dad’s, a semi-retired entrepreneur who acts as a part-time CFO for many different start-up companies. He has also served as a mentor and faculty advisor at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Stanford Business School. I figured with credentials like that, I couldn’t go wrong!
Finally, I talked to a friend whose success I want to emulate. Roberta has a very successful pet bed business – all of her own creation! You may have heard of Snappy Snoozers® pet beds. Roberta was my inspiration to actually begin the whole process of creating my own product.
This might sound crazy, but I didn’t want to waste too much time researching the subject, I just wanted to get going. I’m a big learn-as-you-go type person, and I like to always be working towards a goal. It’s like if I’m not working on something new constantly, I feel stagnant…
As you may know, I write books and stories based on my time in the Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA). What this means for me is a lot of time spent waiting. And waiting. Waiting for the Publication Review Board (PRB) to approve my manuscripts each time I write one and each time I make changes to one. You see, when you go to work for the CIA you sign a secrecy agreement, and that means that if I write anything for publication, they must review it prior to my exposing it to the world. This is to ensure it does not expose any classified information. Those black lines that you see in my books, called redactions, are segments of text that the PRB has deemed classified, or too sensitive for public exposure.
It was during a particularly long wait on the review of one of my books that I decided to move forward with a project that I had thought up after the birth of my first child. I had an idea for a baby product, but had put it aside thinking it would be too hard to create a physical product, or too expensive – actually, I’m not exactly sure why I put the idea aside, but now seemed like a good time to revive the idea. With a bit of inspiration in the form of a friend who created her own successfully selling product, I decided to give it a shot…