Monday, August 8, 2011

interview - Fiona kate HQ

Each week people ask many question about starting our business, I though an interview with us at HQ. We love getting the emails and seeing all the creative ideas out there so keep them coming. 

How long has your business Fiona kate been running? 4 years can you believe it . We started on september 2007
Can you describe your average day in HQ? i always start the work day with the design files. No day is average. phonecalls, catching up with sasha from sales. Design, answering emails, interviews, talking with manufacturers.

packing orders always packing 
What are you excited about for spring? a brand new product that we are roadtesting and making adjustments to today.... plus our gorgeous sack will be out in lime green stripe
What is your favourite part about  fiona kate? Not having to explain to anyone the kid aren't well and i won't be able to make it to work. Al
so solving storage issues simply...the best ideas usually arrive when hanging out the washing or just before falling asleep
Your least favourite task? looking at the really long to do list

How did you come to start your business/ blog? 
a long explanation about the business but a real one...

Proceed until apprehended

I’m not sure this would appear on any business plan but it didn’t sound as scary

Proceed until apprehended....
These are the magic words I needed to begin. Starting a business sounded daunting, proceed until apprehended did not. Surely the money would run out or someone very serious would let me know this was not the way successful businesses started out.

I was once a worker bee, an art director developing a homewares brand for a well-known company. I planned to be a mum who would do both successfully. Fulltime hours ( nights and early mornings) challenging job and still be with my little one during the day baking cookies. but 5 years and 3 children later something had to give. This cookie making mummy was tired. I had a little book of ideas, designs and ideas I had, over time. But first I needed to get the house sorted… and simple gorgeous storage began.

How hard could it be to have a toddler tough, inexpensive, storage system made in Australia?

I needed serious storage, tough, safe flexible and more importantly always available so we could add pieces as the kids multiplied and the amount of stuff did too. I had purchased many options but with little success so I designed what I would like and the box seat by fiona kate was born.

Of course once you decide to make the ultimate in storage you want it to do everything so it became a table, seat, and storage with removable decals to redecorate a room on a whim... Letters and chalkboard labels. This was the easy part. Late nights working on a sketch pad of ideas … the reality was a little more daunting. We made a list of what the box seat would be

Quality – there was a gap in the market for a brand that represented value for money so that our customer could rely on, super strong, colour fast flat packed but easy to assemble. The storage needed to be stylish too – not something that you would find in dads garage

Made in Australia – the box seat was designed here we wanted it made here too, less travel made eco sense

Suppliers were researched. But asking a manufacturer used to dealing with auto suppliers for a product in watermelon pink? Needless to say I had to have a thick skin and several suppliers on my list. Almost apprehended but not quite.  I wanted the product to be made in Australia; another tough ask.  This was the part that I thought would be easy but meeting with people around the kids was impossible. I needed people who understood I was serious about the business but my hours were not

Gorgeous colours – we matched our colours to the top 20 bedlinen companies on the market watermelon pink, sky blue, classic white and lime green. The colours had to be stable and much testing  was required. The customer needed to be able to keep adding pieces next season and the one after that.
Price – very important. It was no use having a storage system if the cost was so high people could only afford one piece. We needed people to automatically look for the Fiona kate box seat every time a storage crisis arose. This meant we had to take a tiny margin rather than convert the cost to a higher recommended retail price. But hey as it was such a great product we would sell truckloads!

Then my son started school and I had another little reason to keep going, being at the school gate at the end of the day

Once I had a sample made and made and made again. Each time making the product stronger and tougher as well as easy to put together.  The testing began. Firstly my children and then their friends. This was fantastic fun. Not all kids are instructed to jump on mummys work.  Go on try painting on it, let’s leave it in the rain and blazing sunshine too. In a hot car for 3 days, throw blocks into it again and again. Is it dented yet?

The kids were a great source of product development and we changed the product accordingly, to make it easier for mister 2 to carry his 40 favourite cars around. We widened one size so the fairy wings fit in the ‘girly” box.  Then I asked friends to write a list of their dream sized containers.

The sizes were similar then I went shopping! No  not really just to the shops. Lots and lots and lots of shops measuring shelves to see if our sizes would fit, bed heights will they slide under…. And then there were the colours watermelon pink, sky blue, classic white and lime green. I matched and decided my favourite was the green – loved the green couldn’t see past the green. Still have the green on the steps out the back from testing the green. The green was gorgeous but we only had the budget for 3 colours at start up. Oh the decision was horrendous but the green was considered a risk so it fell at the first hurdle.
Distribution  - it is important for it to be easy for customers to find your product. In Fiona Kates first year we have had constant emails asking where the product was available. Which on one hand was fantastic as the word was out but many, many sales were lost through lack of distribution.
Sales was not something I had considered. Initially we sent out emails announcing our products and we had some wonderful stockist at start up but we needed more. The time it takes to talk to retailers, follow up and monitor sales is huge and as most mums know phone calls are the hardest. No sooner do you pick up the phone than Miss 4 will get nude and mister 2 will follow suit and head out into the blazing sun at midday and attempt to slide down the slide that has been sitting in 40 degree heat for hours   AAAGGGHHH….actual story. almost apprehended....

I am not a sales person. I'm not sure how I thought people would hear about the fiona kate range but selling did not cross my mind. So hear I was with a list of stockists... A small list as I didn't include the really scary ones. (You know the large stores run by a lots of people who know what they are doing)
I emailed stores who sold products that I liked, or who merchandised well and then followed up with a phone call which was really nerve wrecking. This is not in my comfort zone at all but I had a product that was good and I was passionate about it. The  first 10 stores sent orders in straight away. This gave me the drive to keep going. We were set to launch with 20 stores stocking our product our website was not up and running but the product was great and ready to be shipped on the due date September 1 2007.

If you have the passion for your product or business you don’t notice the hours. You have the drive to see it through. It’s the switching off that’s the problem. At the park you notice every toy. Would it fit in the mini? When people tell you about the toys taking over their lives and their homes it is very hard not to do a sales pitch. Everytime you see storage listed on the cover of a magazine you realise the editors mustn’t have tried your product yet so you vow to send a sample.
Since then we have had lots of happy customers with new ones everyday and some very near misses but each time I think this is too hard a new stockist calls to tell me they have sold out or a customer thanks us for helping with the new nursery. And now finally a year later than planned we are online. It took longer to get the online shop organised that it took to have our latest addition. Working from home was  such a positive lifestyle change we decided to have another baby. Another huge learning curve right there.  Not apprehended yet

Fiona Kate is now 1 year old and has changed our lives. I am a mum who works from home and feels I have the best of both worlds. I can be creative and part of a growing business that fits in with the family. Retailers are contacting us and our customers can buy online. In fact 75% of them come back within 3 months.
So I am not the only one with more stuff than I first thought. Now back to the green, after many requests the luscious lime sack is on it's way ... finally green
You don't have to have a huge business plan but you do need a great product that customers will recommend to others.

Apprehended?  not yet

A new business... 4 kids....
Sorted simple