After spending the last 15 years in different retail roles - When does a mumpreneur decide enough is enough and it's time to start her own business?
Today I interview Denise Proctor who after returning from her maternity leave in 2010 was made redundant, a great motivation for her to start The Baby Loft she said.
The Baby Loft is a UK based baby equipment hire service and hires everything that a baby or small child may need, from sleep, travel, and mealtime products to toys readily available from leading brands - An idea, she said came to her whilst on maternity leave after having her daughter Olivia.
Denise shares her journey so far especially on how she copes with being a wife and a mother to Olivia. Below is the full interview.
Hi Denise, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
It is great to have been considered and given the opportunity
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself?
I am Denise Proctor 36 years old, wife to Crispin & mum to Olivia who is almost 3 yrs old. We live in Hertfordshire and my home is also where I currently run my business The Baby Loft from.
So Denise tell me how you got into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I have always been interested in business generally and have exposed myself to & worked my way around most retail roles within the last 15 years. I was never content staying in one role, I always wanted to know the bigger picture. I do have members of my family that have literally spent 40 years building up a hugely successful construction company from nothing, so have always admired and been inspired by this.
Who was your inspiration growing and why?
My parents, they have always taught me to believe that if you try hard enough you can achieve your dreams. My mums favourite saying is “ In life you only get out as much as you put in”
So tell me about The Baby Loft and how the idea came about?
The Baby Loft is a UK based baby equipment hire service and hires everything that a baby or small child may need, from sleep, travel, and mealtime products to toys readily available from leading brands. The site also provides a unique ‘Try before you buy’ service, an invaluable facility that allows parents to hire a desired piece of equipment of their choice, giving them the opportunity to check its suitability before committing to buy it.
The idea came to me whilst I was on maternity leave after having my daughter Olivia. I was astounded daily as to the amount of “stuff” that such a little person needs. In addition, family members also stock up their lofts with baby equipment ready to call upon when little ones come to visit. The idea to start The Baby Loft began as a few scribbles on a sheet of paper, something that I would maybe do at some point in the future.
What were you doing before you founded The Baby Loft?
Before The Baby Loft, I was working as a Software sales executive selling Merchandise management & Epos systems to Retailers. After returning to work from maternity leave in 2010 I was made redundant, which was perfect timing and the motivation I needed to forge ahead with my plans for The Baby Loft
Are you currently doing this full-time?
Yes this is a full time job for me.
What is your business model?
We are a baby equipment hire service, delivering high quality baby equipment and working with - Tourists visiting the UK, Hotels & accommodation providers, Event hire companies, Nannies & nurseries, Relocation companies, new mums wanting to try out the latest models, Grandparents with visiting relatives. For added convenience we will deliver to Airports / hotels / Family / friends/ holiday homes etc etc
What makes The baby Loft different from any service out there?
We are different in that we completely empathise with mums and the stresses that come with meeting & satisfying babies needs, so we offer equipment that we know is tried & tested, will happily give informed advice and opinions on the most suitable products, as well as offering a personal delivery & collection service, where we get the opportunity to meet the families and demonstrate the equipment
How do you cope with being a Mum and running a start-up?
In the beginning I did struggle as I had expected the business to begin at a slow pace, but not long after launching the orders began to come in thick & fast. I was working completely on my own then, as well as looking after my daughter Olivia who was a 1 year at the time. I was then given a piece of advice and that was that the best business investment you can make is good childcare. In the beginning Olivia would come with me on deliveries, I quickly realised it was unfair on her and she wasn't getting much from it or from me during these long stressful hours in London traffic, she now goes to Nursery three days a week which allows me to focus on the business and she has a great time and has come on in leaps & bounds.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
After about 6 months, I realised that I would need someone to help me with deliveries as I was beginning to turn away business as I couldn’t physically be in so many places at once, so I took on Jane, who has been a godsend and has allowed me to double what we can deliver in a day. Also I have contacted the airports and I am some way to achieving a visible Baby Loft presence in the airports, so watch this space…
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Absolutely, it has changed direction in that I thought that my “Try before you buy” concept would be the most popular thus keeping me local, however the reality quickly became apparent in that 85% of my customers are tourists from overseas visiting the UK, so I had to quickly adjust my marketing & advertising from Local to International.
How have you been able to fund the business?
I have been lucky in that I was able to fund the business myself with the help of my redundancy.
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
To build the Baby Loft brand, much like one of the large car hire companies with a presence in multiple locations using different formats, thus helping me to educate people to the fact that you can hire baby equipment as it is currently not a well-known concept in the UK.
What three pieces of advice would you offer to other female entrepreneurs especially mothers starting out today?
Be prepared for a lot of hard work, guilt and being pulled in all directions, but remember you are not Superwoman and that you are a Mum first & foremost.
Be flexible and go with what your business is demanding, if you are too rigid with how you expect it to work you will go off course
Be prepared to become “Jack of all trades”, running your own business means you need to learn & throw yourself into many new skills & worlds i.e accounting,advertsing, marketing, PR the list is endless.