We love interviewing entrepreneurs and you'll see why when you meet Tina Hill. An inspirational Mom successfully takes her product idea to market and becomes a successful entrepreneur while raising her four kids.
Located in West Newbury, Massachusetts, Tina founded Kidzsack with the help and inspiration of her neighbors.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
I am the inventor, owner, and artist behind the company Kidzsack. Kidzsack is a line of eco friendly, creative backsacks for kids. The fabric is made from 100% recycled cotton and plastic bottles, the front is screenprinted with my original artwork (4 stock designs for now…more to follow), and there are 8 washable markers included in the packaging. Kids color, wash, and recolor. It's a great reusable activity that is perfect for kids on the go!
When did you start the business?
I came up with the idea for Kidzsack in June of 2007 when walking my kids to the bus stop one morning. I noticed a neighbor wearing a Nike nylon Sportsack and the idea for a creative backsack, one that kids could color on, hit me like a ton of bricks. I started my business officially in October of 2007 when I walked in the store Eureka, in Newburyport, MA and got my first order!
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I am a former fashion designer and worked in NYC for 12 years designing in both the children's and junior sportswear markets. When I became pregnant with my 3rd daughter, I went from working fulltime to freelance and eventually stopped working completely focusing on being a full time stay at home mom. Kidzsack is my first business.
Where did you get the startup money?
I started my business with just $200…which was enough to buy fabric, drawcord, and grommets. With the help of two other moms, I spent the summer sewing up 100 Kidzsacks and bought a booth at my kids's elementary school fall craft fair. I sold out of Kidzsacks at the craft fair, which was great market research. They money I made went right back into the business to buy more fabric and supplies. I was now convinced that I had a money making product and was reading to talk to store buyers!
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
My main competitor is Alex, which is a big arts & crafts company. They have the Alex Messenger Bag and have the money for mass production, product expansion, marketing, advertising, and PR. They are my competition but I believe there is room for both of us in the industry. Their product is not eco friendly and is a onetime craft…you color on it once and it's permanent. My product is green. The fabric is made from recycled cotton and plastic bottles, and the activity itself is reusable as I package 8 washable markers with my Kidzsack. You color, wash, and color again. I believe competition is good because it keeps you sharp, focused, and forces you to stay on top of quality control. Theirs is a big mainstream item and mine is a specialty item.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I've never been in business before so I didn't really know what to expect. I guess it's true that ignorance is bliss. I can say that it takes up way more time than I would have expected. I'm not unhappy about that though and actually enjoy it. Because I love what I'm doing, I don't mind working on it every chance that I get. My business is very much a part of who I am now. Hopefully that's not a bad thing. It's definitely not a 9-5 job when you're an entrepreneur. It's more like 24-7! At the beginning, I truly thought that I could handle it all…piece of cake. But, now as business is growing and I'm hopefully going international, everything is changing. Everything is a little more demanding.
I had an idea and was completely driven to make it happen. I'm learning the business end of things as I go along…what I would do to have an accounting/business background!! I guess you can't have it all though. My specialty is that I'm creative and great with people. I totally enjoy sales and love to do custom artwork . I actually encourage my resorts to do custom because I enjoy the research that goes into doing the artwork! When I got the order for Four Seasons Jackson Hole and started looking at pics of the resort and surrounding area, I absolutely fell in love. I am still in awe of how beautiful Jackson Hole is.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Oh yes…quite a few things! First, I wish I had hired a good IP lawyer from the get go. Also, I wish I had spent the money on packaging and hiring a packaging designer. I've learned the hard way that the store sales people aren't selling your product. It has to sell itself. It has to say Buy Me all on its own. I wasn't willing to borrow money and I didn't want any loans hanging over my head. Looking back, I might have rethought that. I did get my product out there, maybe not looking as pristine and marketable as it could have been, but I did get it out there. And even using the header style packaging that I started with, my sales were $30,000 in my first year of business. Considering I did that with four kids (now 13, 12, 9, & 7) in the house, I would say, "Not bad."
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Besides cold calling on specialty toy stores, gift shops, and resorts, I have worked very hard at getting my product exposure, and I believe that's instrumental in growing your business. I write to parenting magazines, eco magazines, newspapers in towns that my Kidzsack is selling in, e-mail blogs that do product reviews, call on product websites to carry Kidzsack, submit Kidzsack into Best Toy Award contests. Kidzsack has received both the 2009 Dr. Toy Best Vacation Product Award and 2009 Creative Child Magazine Best Product Award, and 2008 Creative Child Magazine Preferred Choice Award. I've entered into web contests like Start Up Nation…not because I'll get money or a prize, but because it's exposure for my product. Increasing awareness is key.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
I tell everyone that calls me, and this happens regularly, to go to the bookstore and buy "Mommy Millionaire." That's first. This book is an easy step by step guide on how to run a home based business. Next I would say, get your product prototype made so that it's a reality and not just an idea. You need to see it, visualize what it is and what it has the potential to be. Last, and very important, don't slack on getting your tm or patent. Make an appointment with a few different attorneys who specialize in IP (intellectual property), get your FREE consults, and then decide on someone to go with. You have to protect your product. Spend the money on a good attorney.
Wow, Tina! Great advice for anyone who is looking to start their own business! Hey busy Moms, good luck bringing those fantastic ideas to the market!