Market Mommy:: When and why did you found your business?
Sandra:: I yearned to avoid the throw-away plastic baggies, the plastic Tupperware food containers and the plastic/vinyl lunchboxes sold at the big-box retailers that are so ubiquitous. But as I searched high and low in sporting goods stores, big-box retailers and online, I was unable to put together a lunch kit that met my needs. I wondered, “What is the best way to pack a lunch?” That was when, about five years ago, I resolved to develop a lunch kit for kids ages 3 to 103… Something healthy for people and the planet.
What I’ve come up with is a back-to-the-basics solution. The kit starts with a 100 percent cotton, machine washable bag with matching cloth napkins. Inside the bag, which can be converted from shoulder bag, to sling bag to backpack, are reusable bamboo utensils, and a two-level stainless steel ECOlunchbox sized to fit a sandwich. What have I left out? Plastics. Disposables. Vinyl. PVC. Lead. And, of course, the lunch. That part is up to you!
Market Mommy:: How long did it take before you felt successful?
Sandra:: I felt successful when I completed the final design of our ECOlunchbag + 3 napkins and realized that the backpack-style bag designed to fit our napkins and stainless steel lunchboxes would be a unique addition to sustainable lunchware offerings internationally. I was happy with my idea. And I felt successful even though I hadn’t sold even one item yet! Positive thinking is so important for entrepreneurs when starting a new venture. Always believe! And it’s never too early to celebrate successes.
Market Mommy:: How do you define success?
Sandra:: The definition of success is constantly changing. I felt successful to some extent when I sold the first 100 handmade cotton ECOlunchbags + 3 Napkins and the first 100 stainless steel ECOlunchboxes. Celebrating successes, no matter how small, is crucial to firing the engine for great successes. No success is too small to celebrate. But it took about 18 months before the business was operating in the black and that felt like an important a marker of success. Now I seek to achieve more success in increasing our distribution nationwide and internationally. We have distributors in Canada and Australia, but I’d like to find an eco products distributor in Europe to help us reach those markets, as well. That would be success, too!
Market Mommy:: How do you balance parenting with running your business?
Sandra:: I’ve worked from home in various capacities over the last 10 years and it was natural I would do the same with ECOlunchboxes. I am a working mother and balance my business and home responsibilities. I like to be present in the children’s lives and available to volunteer at their school. This spreads me thin, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My staff and my husband are a big part of making this juggling act a success. Yes, I do need childcare help, but because I’m my own boss I set my own daily schedule as well as vacation schedules so I can spend time with my family. And just as importantly, I can change my company headquarters and run my business remotely from a vacation home during school vacations or wherever since I have set up ECOlunchboxes to function effectively using cloud computing services and remote network access.
Market Mommy:: When did you break the six-figure threshold?
Sandra:: 2010 has been an amazing year! There’s an appetite out there for sustainable products and ECOlunchboxes has benefited from this growing consumer awareness as well as an overarching desire among so many families to make an environmental difference by greening their lifestyles. I only see this trend growing in the years ahead, but ECOlunchboxes also has to be prepared for increased competition as this consumer products category continues to grow and attract more interest.
Market Mommy:: What business strategies contributed to your success?
Sandra:: I’ve kept our overhead as low as possible for as long as possible so we can re-invest the savings in the growth of ECOlunchboxes. This is one of the reasons I’ve chosen to keep ECOlunchboxes a virtual company and use cloud computing services and outsource fulfillment services. I’m not seeking to grow a big organization. I’d like to keep our company light on its feet and as scalable as possible, especially since our product is seasonal and we have big spikes in demand in during back-to-school lunchbox season.
Market Mommy:: What specific marketing efforts really paid off for you?
Sandra:: Public relations. Tell your story authentically. And if you’re not sure what your story is find out by sitting down with a friend or two and ask them to listen to you tell your story. Make a recording of what you say and listen to it later. You have a story… find it and tell it.
Market Mommy:: What advice do you have for moms who are just starting out on their entrepreneur adventure?
Sandra:: Dream. Believe. Then, get Real: do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and listen to what the data shows. Once you begin, you will find strength to persist as you “dream,” “believe” and reflect on your “SWOT” analysis.
This post is part of a new series on Market Mommy, Achieving $uccess. These posts detail the journey these mom entrepreneurs have taken to reach sales of six figures and beyond. How do they balance it all? What strategies have worked for them? What advice do they have for you, the new mom entrepreneur? Follow our blog for many more Achieving $uccess stories in the near future.