Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi guys! I am Dahlia Rizk and I am a New Hampshire Mom of three who invented and founded Buckle Me Baby Coats. A puffy winter coat designed to be used safely in the car seat.
I founded Buckle Me Baby Coats two years ago when a Facebook post I shared my nephew wearing the coat went viral. As a single mom of three self-funding BMBC, I do it all from marketing, design, production to shipping. In the past year, Buckle Me Baby Coats was making $50,000 a month and is on track to continue with steady growth.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
As a mom of three, I was constantly concerned with doing it all right - making sure my kids had the best and safest - well - everything. During a car seat check, the Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) helping me shared that puffy coats should be taken off before putting children in the car seat due to the space the bunched up fabric creates under the harness in a crash.
I tried the take the coat off rule out for a while but my toddlers were not cooperative and I found myself dreaming up better ways. I realized if the shoulder seams opened and the zipper was to the side the entire front panel could be pulled aside - eliminating the need to take the coat off. Excited, I applied for a patent and contacted coat manufacturers thinking they would totally fall in love with my solution.
Every coat manufacturer I spoke with felt that the coat did not need to be designed for the car seat. They weren't in the trenches though and I was. I knew other parents struggled just as I did but at the time I was in the middle of my Master's Degree for Counseling and there was no way to reach parents directly pre-Facebook.
I have learned to trust my gut more than any "expert" if it feels wrong it probably will be wrong (and expensive). You are the expert on your own product.
As time went by and I completed my degree and founded a multi-clinician private practice with a business partner, I would find myself thinking about the coats even though my kids had outgrown that stage. One day while watching a mom trudge through the slush with a blanket around her child - both looking defeated and miserable I decided the time had come to give the coats a shot.
I found a prototype maker locally and had the coats tested at a crash test facility. It worked exactly as I hoped it would - performing almost identically to no coat. I then filmed a video with my nephew to post to Facebook hoping to test interest in my idea and it quickly went viral.
I had no design, manufacturing, tech, or so experience but quickly found that the little money saved can either go to producing coats or hiring people to make websites, run ads, SEO etc; so I decided to learn how to do all those things myself to save money for production.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As a mental health counselor by training and career, I had no manufacturing experience and ran into a lot of hurdles in getting started. Most manufacturers wanted minimums above my opening order and finding a prototype maker who had outerwear experience and I was lucky to find one right in Boston, Roger Hinds, and described my idea to him.
Roger was fantastic! I’ve found that a lot of people in the apparel industry won't make time for a newbie but he was generous with his time and explained the process to me. He also discussed different ideas on how to optimize the usefulness of the coat.
Describe the process of launching the business.
With my prototype in hand, I filmed a demo video of my nephew using the coat and posted it to Facebook to test market demand. The post quickly went viral and I found myself with lots of orders but no manufacturer so I turned to Kickstarter to capture orders while holding off shipping as the coats (and my first website) were being developed.
Kickstarter is a platform that needs a lot of preparation but I walked into it blindly with no audience or mailing list - not the best strategy. I had a low goal and did meet it but it was really stressful creating the whole campaign daily as it was running! I highly recommend anyone considering Kickstarter to walk in with a solid plan and lots of prep!
I had only one coat and no stock so started telling stories to keep my parents involved and get their feedback. I’d ask them about color choices, design ideas and would involve them in the day to day activities of building a brand - many of them still interact with my posts now three years later.
In the meantime, I eventually found a local New England factory to make the coats but soon found that balancing the costs to make them in the US while keeping prices reasonable for families was not possible and had to move production overseas to China. I had already used Upwork to find someone for my logo and loved how easy it made everything so I turned back to Upwork to find a sourcing agent. I interviewed a few until finding an agent I was comfortable with. He would send me samples from different international factories and I would pay step by step which helped keep costs down and minimize risks.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
There is so much conflicting information on which platforms perform the best and I think it's important to understand that each startup needs to find out what works best for them. My best platform is Facebook which represents a solid 65% of my sales.
I learned how to run ads organically through trial and error - there are tons of free webinars on YouTube. You just need to invest the time to learn and understand how it works.
My company has also gained quite a bit of traditional media attention from CBS News, ScaryMommy, the Bump, Saferide4kids, Red Tricycle, and many others. To gain coverage I would submit limited PRNewswire alerts and reach out to editors through Linkedin to share my story and mission.
I also love Launch Grow Joy for leads as well!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As a single self-funded mom of three running an established business as well as this start-up, I didn't have a lot of room for yearly losses. As stated earlier the first year was financially difficult due to US production expenses but with the move to overseas production BMBC is currently profitable and set to scale quickly.
To help with funding I look for and enter grant and pitch contests. Buckle Me Baby Coats was chosen as a FedEx Small Business Grant Winner in 2018 out of 7,880 other companies and we also came in 2nd place in the Nationwide Insurance/Bluevine Financial Pitch To Win Contest this month.
In other good news, previously fulfillment/shipping took place out of my garage but I have found a center in New England, which is a great fit for my needs so I will be (Finally) outsourcing shipping this year!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned to trust my gut more than any "expert" if it feels wrong it probably will be wrong (and expensive).
Any new entrepreneur needs to remember to gather as much information as possible, remain open to new ideas but at the end of the day, you are the expert on your own product. No one else will ever do it better!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I couldn't narrow it down to one book or podcast - I am a bit of a Facebook webinar junkie. I have signed up for and watched them all!
I have found that as an entrepreneur you have to be careful to save your capital for production. Watching loads of webinar helps filter the good information from the bad.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I don't really believe there are mistakes to avoid in business. Mistakes help entrepreneurs grow.
If you have a great idea, can see your vision, can conceptualize the capital needed and have firm boundaries around how much risk/spend you are willing to reasonably absorb - go for it!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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