How This Flight Attendant Started An E-Commerce Business On The Side
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I'm known as the Traveling Tooth Fairy because I’m a flight attendant and my husband is a pilot. We have traveled to more than 60 countries. I started collecting (tooth fairy) coins from around the world as I traveled.
One day, I asked my 5-year-old niece where she would go if she could go anywhere in the world. Her reply, “Target!”
Wanting to make her world bigger I created a traveling tooth fairy adventure named Passport 4 Change. My educational tooth fairy kits include 20 real foreign coins, a colorful world map, a passport book to store the coins and an optional tooth fairy pillow. I gave the first kit to my sister and a few weeks later my niece called to tell me that the tooth fairy had just been in England having tea with the Queen and she left her some British pounds.
For each tooth lost, she receives a real coin from a different country sparking an interest in different parts of the world, potentially opening up a dialogue about different cultures, time zones, languages, superstitions, inventions, indigenous animals and traditions.
How did you come up with the idea?
I've loved coins from around the world since I was a little girl. My dad was in the Air Force and he had coins from around the world including Taiwan, the Philippines and other places. These simple coins were magical entries into a much greater world. That probably greatly influenced me and put me on my current world-traveling path.
So when my niece didn't think about a greater world, I knew I needed to help her and other children expand their horizon.
My idea turned out to be a great success so I built a website and started selling my educational (and fun!) tooth fairy kits. I offer different kit options that I named the Business Class kit and my biggest seller, the 1st Class kit.
I now sell approximately $8,000 a month on the side while continuing to fly around the world as a flight attendant collecting the coins. One day I hope to be a part of every child’s tooth fairy adventure!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I needed to become an expert in every facet of my business which was a steep learning curve and not always fun. I never wanted to go in debt with my business. I have been offered loans from investors and people who believe in my mission but I haven't accepted any money from anyone. Even if my business grows slowly, I never wanted the stress of owing money.
With the help of a graphic designer, I designed an easy to read, colorful map that would be eye-catching. My laminated map doubles as a placemat for kids on my private flights. I had the map copyrighted which was a process in itself. Having a good copyright attorney is essential. I didn’t start with a lot of money so I had to make sure I did everything right the first time which took a lot of thought and planning. Every time I would make a sale, I would use that income to upgrade my materials and products. I recently upgraded the tags that are attached to each coin with a description of where the coin came from and something unique about the country.
I like where I am in my business today. I’m enjoying my part-time flying while managing the business on the side.
Obtaining the coins posed another challenge. You can’t just walk into a bank and get foreign coins. I have to travel to these countries and go into banks and ask for coins. Children lose 20 baby teeth so that means I have to travel to over 20 countries in search of these coins. Working as a Flight Attendant makes it easier for me to travel to these countries. Getting coins in some countries is easier than in others. Argentina has a coin shortage so I had to work extra hard while I was there to collect enough coins to add to my kits. Also, the number of coins I bring home are very heavy so I have to get creative when packing for my trips.
I was receiving feedback from my customers that the coins were falling out of the passport book. While I was in Napa running a ½ marathon, I was in a tasting room at one of the wineries and was looking at the gifts they were selling on a side table. There were a pair of earring displayed on a cardboard tag that was the perfect size to fit in my coin pocket. I reached out to the designer of the earrings and asked who their printer was and found out that the die cut could be repurposed for what I needed, minus the earrings. I had been printing the coin tags from home and redesigned the tags to now fit inside each coin pocket keeping the coin secure.
Describe the process of launching the business.
My husband helped me design my first website. We aren’t tech savvy and this sometimes frustrating task became our new job. We did a bunch of research and launched a basic website that brought in sales. When I made enough money, I hired a professional web designer to clean up my site. And most recently, I hired a marketing team that has helped my with my SEO and online presence.
Up until just recently, my sales have come from word of mouth. My target customers are moms with kids ages 4-6 and grandparents buying as gifts.
Marketing has been difficult because this tooth fairy concept hasn’t been done before. People are hooked once I tell my story and it’s been yet another challenge trying to find a way to keep costs down while trying to get my story out there. I’ve had to learn to not be shy and really put myself out there and tell my story every chance I get.
I was on a work overnight having dinner with my crew. They pointed out behind me that Mr Wonderful from Shark Tank was behind me at the bar. I became super nervous and now kick myself for not taking the opportunity to introduce myself. I had nothing to lose and I missed it!
I follow Spanx creator Sara Blakely on IG. My favorite quote of hers is, “The more you experience in life, the more you have to offer others.” Sara is a mother of 4 and when she posted that her oldest son lost his tooth and she asked how much should the Tooth Fairy bring. I put a package together for her son and I flew to Atlanta and hand-delivered it to the Spanx headquarters. Unfortunately, I never did hear anything back but, I forced myself out of my comfort zone, I met some nice people along the way and had a fun adventure.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
My biggest marketing boost comes from Moms sharing their child’s tooth fairy adventures on social media. Kids are so excited to share that they received a coin from say India or Russia. Kids also love to take their coins to school for show and tell.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I like where I am in my business today. I’m enjoying my part-time flying while managing the business on the side. I have a system that works.
I have a little help at home when I am flying. I'm lucky that I can step away as my kits are assembled and are ready to be shipped out as soon as an order comes in.
Eventually I’d like to see the business to be my main source of income but for now, I enjoy patiently watching it grow.
My products are currently only sold online; they won’t work in the ultra-competitive retail space just yet, as I need a much larger budget to occupy the shelf space and marketing required to garner enough attention to make it worthwhile.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest lesson that I have learned thus far is to let my business mature into itself and to be flexible and adaptive.
Starting out, I had the perfect plan and vision. This business “plan” and vision has had to change hundreds of times. If I was married to my first ideas, the business would have failed at the starting gate.
I have had to adapt to what works and change what hasn’t. I have to listen to my customers to provide a quality product they want to buy.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read Chris Guillebeau’s book “Side Hustle” which is a great book and has a ton of resources.
Another fantastic book I read was Blake Mycoskie’s “Start Something That Matters”. Such an inspiring and encouraging story.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My recommendation is that other first-time side hustlers be as active as possible in local meet-ups and networking events.
These have helped me both in brainstorming product enhancements and in getting the word out with limited marketing.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
I grew up being told we are all equal and the same, but my travels showed me that we should celebrate our differences! Something like this could really change the way kids view others who may look different than themselves.
Passport 4 Change has provided an update on their business!
Almost 3 years ago, we followed up with Passport 4 Change to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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