Mom Turns Craft Project into Growing Gift Business
Marianne Impal wanted to find a way to promote a healthy body image for her two young daughters. She didn’t want them to enter their teen years with poor self-esteem, and she sought to find a special way to support them as they transitioned into adulthood.
She came up with the idea of putting together a type of modern-day hope chest full of items that would help them begin their teen years and feel more connected to women as a whole. Marianne’s product, the RaeCole Goddess Box, a hand-crafted treasure chest full of natural bath and body products, note cards, gift items and more, took about two years to develop and is now sold online, in specialty stores and through private parties.
Bringing this unique concept to market has had its ups and downs, and Marianne has been learning every step of the way. From her first forays into social media and marketing to turning a home-grown craft project into a viable business, Marianne shares her triumphs and her troubles along the way, and gives us a glimpse into her dream for helping tweens transition gracefully through their awkward years.
Mom Invented®: Why did you start this company and when?
Marianne Impal: As a wife and mother of two young girls I started taking a close look at how the media was affecting girls today. Putting so much emphasis on how girls should look and act on the outside has left tweens and teens lacking in self-esteem on the inside. Even though my girls were only ages 3 and 5 at the time, I was already thinking of ways to help them accept their future changing bodies. Every adult woman can relate and remember such a time during adolescence when the many changes, be they physical, hormonal or emotional have left us feeling awkward and abnormal.
It was obvious to me to make such changes for my daughters as positive and accepting as possible. I took an old fabricated box and began filling it with anything I could think of that women used to help nurture themselves in a positive and caring way, age-old advice to pass down... anything.
That box turned into RaeCole Products, started in the summer of 2007 and named after my two inspirational daughters. Our signature product is the Goddess Box, a unique gift given to the young adolescent girl going through puberty, given by the parent or guardian who wants to promote a healthy body image and self-esteem for what can be an awkward time in a young girl’s life.
What were your initial goals?
My initial goal was that this gift be put aside as a sort of a modern day treasure, and when the timing was right -- be it her first period, when conversation lacked between us or seeing a sprouting body that needed to be supported with a healthy outlook -- I would take this box down as if it were a treasure handed down from one woman to another. It would be our conversation starter, her keepsake gift to keep in her personal space or even a gift to eventually pass down to her own daughter.
What is your background and how does it relate to your company?
After working corporate for many years, my husband and I thought it best for our growing family that I be home with our girls and raise them. I took to this new role with excitement and determination to give my girls the best quality of life possible. To do that, I in turn did much self-reflecting work on myself to better me as a person and a role model to these two beautiful girls.
I began teaching yoga and got certified in Shiatsu Acupressure as well as other types of modalities. It is here I learned about natural ways and natural products that enhance a healthy well-being. This I knew was something I wanted to pass down to my girls as well.
What was your 'aha' moment when it came to starting your business?
After spreading this idea and concept around to many friends with daughters for years, there finally came a day when a friend actually used the concept. I'll never forget how she pulled me aside eager to tell me her version of the future Goddess Box. I was beaming inside just knowing that this teen got to feel an overwhelming sense of love coming from her mother's special treasure that had a positive message behind it and would last a lifetime.
After continuing my discussion with other moms, grandmothers, aunts, etc., it seemed all women wanted this special moment with their daughter or loved one, but once reality kicks in, most just wanted the perfect gift already there, ready and waiting. I knew here it was my destiny to have such a product available for both mothers and young girls.
What process did you follow to develop a prototype?
At the time I really didn't think "prototype," I just followed my vision of what a Goddess Box would look like and bought fabric, beading and tassels, and put together my version of it. My first box was given to a special friend whose daughter I knew was the perfect age. She and her daughter loved it so much I began making more boxes upon request. I still have many sample prototypes in my home that are special to me.
How did you determine your product's marketability?
What seemed obvious to me wasn't so obvious to others. Not only was this a new product, but an entirely new concept. I was and still am pushing the edge to get women and girls to talk about their experiences and feelings. I do feel there's a huge need in today's society to keep the natural lines of communication open between mother and daughter.
How did you find a manufacturer for your product?
I'm a big believer in putting things "out there" that you want to show up in your life. When it became clear that these boxes needed to be bought wholesale and a business be created, I looked down at the box I was using from the craft store and contacted the manufacturer to see if they would sell to me wholesale. I began a conversation with them and told them what I was doing with each box. They told me that fabrication was something they could do for me, and the rest is history.
Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?
There were really no setbacks as far as the actual fabrication of the box was concerned. It took a few prototypes to get it right, and we were set to go. The products inside the box are another story! It took much longer to perfect each item in the box to my standards and keep them within a budget, and I am still continuing to tweak them. I am always looking to better the Box as both of us evolve.
What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product?
Patience! I didn't realize until I began this business how much I wanted things to happen right away and how much of a perfectionist I was with this product. When my ideas kept coming, I expected everything else to follow suit, and that was just not the case. Timing and patience is everything and all good things come in due time.
Through what markets are you selling?
Currently, we sell via our online store at RaeCole.com and have recently branched out to Womentorz.com. We are also in a few local retail shops and have added private parties to better educate moms on this concept as well as give them a chance to earn a free Goddess Box. On occasion we do expos, craft fairs and trade shows.
What secrets have you learned in terms of publicity and marketing your product?
For me it was worthiness. Although I felt I had a great idea and a great product, there were many times I didn't feel up to today’s inventive standards. When great opportunities came, I often shied away thinking I wasn't worth it. Truth is we are ALL worth it, no matter the product, no matter the competition.
About a year ago, I forced myself to become familiar with social networking and the success and support from that has been indescribable. It's amazing how like-minded people can help support each other across the country when they have never met in person. Social Media is a must have in today's world because it's free and it gives you the freedom to connect all over the world.
What was the biggest learning curve in terms of marketing your product?
My biggest learning curve in terms of marketing came from not knowing that I even had to market at all! That's how naive I was as far as running a business. I should've known when I told people my idea the very next question was "How are you going to market it?" I didn't realize this was going to be the single most important factor in a successful business. I eventually learned how to fine tune my audience and the places that would capture that audience.
How did you finance your business?
Silly me started out with what seemed like a craft project that turned into a business. Because it was like crafting, I had no idea how expensive it would be to make, let alone fill each box. I also figured since I didn't have overhead to pay for or office space that it wasn't going to cost much, but that wasn’t the case. Much of my expenses went to product inventory, business insurance, advertising, trademarking, website design and fees, photography, etc. We opted to use a separate credit card to keep track of all business expenses.
We’ve invested over $15,000, but I think much of it is unaccounted for. When times were rough, we used our personal money to pay for many things. It doesn't sound like that much money, but I still can't believe it cost that much already.
We’re heading into our third year of business and have more connections than ever. Although we have not made a profit as of yet, we are forecasting a positive future.
What has been your greatest success or high point with your product or business?
The greatest success comes from hearing the multitude of testimonials and positive feedback that we get from satisfied customers -- especially the girls! We also get many suggestions as far as uses of the box. Recently, we've had customers start using this concept in place of a Purity Ring or for Bat Mitzvah occasions.
Have you experienced a low point in business? How did you get back on track?
I think in no way you can start a business or any journey for that matter and not have an ultimate low point. Mine came when I first began using social media. We sort of had this love/hate relationship. I knew it was good for business, but I had a hard time keeping up with what I thought needed to be done regularly and systematically. Since I had a hard time, I backed off completely and my business suffered. After a huge reality check, I realized I can only do what I can handle and to pay attention to what I can do, not what others do.
How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and mom?
I still continue to put my kids and family first as much as possible, but I am learning now that my girls are older and more self-sufficient, it is mommy's turn to shine. I know that by doing this, I will role model to them what a successful woman is all about.
What kind of support system do you have in place personally and professionally?
My heart pours with gratitude every time I think of my huge network of support both personally and professionally. It is through the help of my family and friends that pushes me to go forward. I have written about this journey so many times that I even dedicated a special place on my blog where I list all the important people that have had some kind of impact on my success.
Who has been your biggest source of inspiration? What keeps you going?
My girls are my biggest inspiration in so many ways. Without them this idea/concept would not have been born to help empower other girls. It is also because of them that I look closely at myself as their role model, not just as a mother, but a woman, wife and business owner.
Is there a resource that proved to be invaluable that you would like to share with other moms?
Someone said to me, "Don't try and let people find you… you have to find them first." Not a very talkative person myself, I forced myself to reach out to like-minded women. I joined groups, I learned how to blog and share my experiences, and I continue to network with now what seem like good old friends via social media.
What advice would you offer other moms developing their ideas?
Don't rush! Enjoy the idea and product making first. Don't assume that because you think it is a fabulous idea that everyone else will automatically think the same. It may very well be a good idea, but how you market that idea will turn a customer either for or against you. Continue to make your prototypes as long as you can so that you build a history of sales behind you and get the demand up before the supply.
It is quite a ride my friends, so hold on, stick with it and if you're lucky, you just might be able to let go and enjoy the breeze blowing through your hair. If you have the vision, the rest will come in due time.
Thank you for sharing your story, Marianne! To learn more about RaeCole Products and the Goddess Box, visit RaeCole.com. And if you have a great story to share about your product or business, we'd love to hear it!
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