Mom Builds Baby Stroller Storage Hangers for Small Spaces
Has your baby stroller been blocking your entryway or taking up valuable space? Mary Ann Malone came up with a quick and easy way to store your stroller by creating The StrollAway. She also shares her valuable prototype and manufacturing resources with you! Here's her story...
Tell us about your company:
My company is MetroTOTS (I formed the company in 2006, but was developing the product since 2004) and the product is the StrollAway. The StrollAway is the first and only stroller storage hanger. It is made of cold rolled steel, hangs over the back of a door and includes a spacer for a perfect fit. The arms adjust to nine different positions to hold most stroller models up to 35lbs.
My goal, initially, was to simply find a way to store my own stroller.
The building manager of the New York City co-op where I live told me that due to a fire code violation, keeping my stroller in the hallway was not an option. Faced with a serious lack of space, I went to the baby store to find a stroller hanger... assuming it would be there. No luck. When my experiments with available utility hooks didn't work, I realized I needed to invent what I was looking for.
Tell us about yourself:
My husband and I live in Manhattan with our two boys, 5 and 2. Before motherhood, my background was working in the music business. I've managed to apply my experience to a degree. A big lesson for artists is not to assume that getting a record deal means you can sit back and let someone else do the work on your behalf. Record companies have many artists to promote, and the onus is on each to keep their careers alive and on top of the labels' priority list. I tried to keep that in mind getting into big retailers. It's not the end of the line; it's the beginning of the really hard work. I have to look after my own placement and promotion!
Have you ever experienced an epiphany that changed the direction of your life?
My epiphany literally took place in the baby store. When I asked for a "hook to hang up my stroller," the salesman looked at me blankly and said there was no such thing. I looked at him and said, "Oh... someone should invent that." You probably could've seen the light bulb!
What process did you follow to develop a prototype?
Developing a prototype involved help from my dear friend with AutoCad knowledge and another friend who is an industrial designer. I explained what I had in mind by bending a wire hanger into the shape I wanted. The prototype evolved and I ended up hiring an engineer and a company that provides design consulting and builds prototypes (Paramount Industries). They sat with me several times to hash out the design of the StrollAway. I even drove to their offices with a car full of strollers to test on the early prototype. We sat in a conference room and hung them one by one to determine the perfect design.
What process did you follow to determine your product's marketability?
I conducted several focus groups with a random sampling of NY moms. They told me what they'd like to see, and what price they'd pay. They offered many valuable opinions, but the one thing they had in common is that every single one of them said they needed it and would buy it! It was a great moment of validation. I told myself that I would need this exact response from the focus group to move to the next step.
What process did you follow to find a manufacturer for your product?
I did a lot of research to find the right manufacturer. As I learned from the Mom Inventors Handbook, finding a manufacturer to do a "short run" is difficult and costly. I finally attended a manufacturing trade show where I met a rep from the sourcing agent I currently work with. A sourcing agent handles all aspects of a manufacturing project from communicating with the factory, packaging, shipping, tariffs, duties, etc. They take their cut, but provide an amazing service. I highly recommend Smart Sourcing International.
Where do you sell your product?
We sell the StrollAway through our website and at independent retailers throughout the U.S., including Buy Buy Baby and Babies R Us.
What secrets have you learned in terms of publicity and marketing your product?
I have learned the power of the mom blogosphere is incredible and credible! By that I mean that we sold out our first production run based on mom blog reviews and word of mouth alone. I would contact the mom bloggers and they would request a sample. There was no pay for post. It was all straightforward and simple -- if we like it, we'll write that.
How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and mom?
I have managed to carve out a non-traditional yet functional work week for myself. I have a babysitter who helps out and a cleaning lady every other week. I set aside time for just me and the kids, and it actually works out great because I am fully focused on the boys when we're together as opposed to being distracted by business or household errands. I'm not one of the uber-moms for sure, nothing is perfect around here, but my family has found a rhythm that works for us. I try to always keep in mind that this business exists because of my kids. It can't become more important than them.
My husband and my family are my support system. My friends always give encouragement and support as well. They have all done everything from working trade shows, to packing boxes, to babysitting.
My husband is very financially responsible and I knew that my idea had potential when he agreed to move forward using our savings. He would certainly support me in anything... but he's not writing a check unless he really believes there will be a return. That gave me a lot of confidence.
How did you finance your business?
We financed the business with savings, loans from friends and a bank line of credit. While that keeps me awake many nights, thinking of what else we could have done with the money, I know in my gut that an original idea is hard to come by. It would have killed me not to go for it.
We are not yet profitable, although we have hit every major benchmark and we're well on our way.
Fortunately, I've found that my product is recession friendly. We've heard from many customers that while they thought they would be upgrading their home or living situation, it's just not possible now or they may have to downsize. Everyone has to fit more family into less space.
What has been your greatest success or "high point" in the process?
My highest point so far was attending the ABC Expo in Las Vegas in September. The response was amazing and we opened many accounts off of that show. It was a major gamble that really paid off.
Who has been your biggest source of inspiration? What keeps you going?
I've found so many books, websites, and groups for women and mom entrepreneurs, and it's been reassuring and inspiring. I often look on Mom Inventors and Ladies Who Launch when I'm having a bad day. I'll read those stories again and again.
Thank you for sharing your story with us! If you have a great story to share, we’d love to hear it!
7 Responses »
Leave a Response