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Published 19 July 2012 05:01, Updated 19 July 2012 12:17
Baby boom: Monique Filer, left, and Dannielle Michaels’ products are gaining a cult-like following Photo: Arsineh Houspian
The buzzword “mumpreneur” makes the owners of baby product business b.box, Dannielle Michaels and Monique Filer, uncomfortable. Not because they’re against mothers starting new businesses – to the contrary, the more women in business the better, they say. However, the term does convey a level of transience that the pair dislike.
“After we started the business, people would comment: ‘Oh, that’s nice, but when are you going back to work?’,” Michaels says. “We would get really frustrated and say, ‘No, this is our work now. We’re not going back’.”
Filer and Michaels, who had respective successful careers in finance and marketing, had been friends for years when they decided to combine their skills and go into business together. But the fact they were new mothers made people question their motives for starting the business. Was it a serious business venture or just a quick way of making some cash on the side?
“It took two years of hard work and research before the business was up and running, so we wanted people to take it seriously,” Michaels says.
While the pair had always wanted to go into business together, the idea for it came about in 2007 when Michaels travelled with her then three-week-old baby.
“Have you tried to change a newborn’s nappy in an aeroplane toilet?” she asks.
“Mission impossible. I thought there has to be an easier way of doing this.”
They made a mock-up version of what they wanted to create – an all-in-one nappy wallet, with room for nappy wipes, nappies and a change mat – by cutting up a disposable nappy box.
They then took the “prototype” to an industrial designer and invested $20,000 of their savings to have a version of the product made.
Filer and Michaels enlisted the support and expertise of their husbands – an accountant and lawyer, respectively – to do everything from stocking shelves to assisting with bookkeeping while they hosted focus groups with hundreds of mothers to ensure they were on the right track with their product.
By the time the business officially started in 2009, Filer and Michaels had sold more than 10 per cent of their first $50,000 consignment from a manufacturer in China.
B.box quickly developed a reputation for design-led, innovative products that solve small problems that mothers face every day. Most of the ideas for new products come from Michaels’ and Filer’s experience as mothers, or from friends and family.
For instance, b.box sells a non-drip toddler “sippy” cup with a weighted straw that ensures water continues to flow no matter the angle at which a child holds the cup.
It also received a $74,000 Commercialisation Australia proof of concept grant for its Essential Baby Bottle, which separates infant formula powder from water until the base is pushed, mixing them together. The idea for the bottle came from Michaels’ sister, who as a bottle-feeding mother had complained of the hassle of having to carry around separate formula and water (pre-mixed milk spoils quickly).
The company has developed a cult-like following among Australian mums and it has recently secured supplier arrangements with larger retailers, such as Baby Bunting. B.box products are stocked by more than 500 Australian retailers and internationally in more than 25 countries.
So far the business has grown organically – with no need for external funding – and it will use a similar strategy to move into other international markets, including the United States. The two-woman operation had turnover of more than $750,000 in 2011-12.
“The growth of the business and the following we have had from Australian mums has blown us away,” Filer says. “We achieved our five-year growth plan in six months and we have just continued to re-evaluate it as we go. The potential is just huge.”