Tammany Atkinson’s “Bees Knees Baby Pants” Protect Our Babies’ Knees!
I am thrilled to introduce you to Tammany Atkinson, Founder of Bee's Knees. Bee's Knees are patented baby pants with neoprene in the knees to protect babies while crawling on hardwood and tile floors.
Mom Invented: Why did you start this company and when?
Tammany: I started Bee's Knees when I noticed our son Jackson's knees were red and bruised from our hardwood and tile floors. I tried crawling around to see what it felt like and I felt so badly for him that I was inspired to create a solution.
Soon after starting Bee's Knees we found out Jackson was born profoundly deaf. Needless-to-say the company was put on hold for a while as we attended Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto for numerous appointments and eventually his cochlear implant surgeries. However after a while I needed a diversion to take my mind off the worry and decided to get back to work. At the very least I knew Bee's Knees would help me get through such a tough time and at the most I hoped we could one day use the business as a platform to educate people about the importance of early detection of infant hearing loss. The success of cochlear implants and hopefully our story could ease the burden in some small way of parents who would also receive the same diagnosis one day. I also hoped to create a business that would allow me to make enough income to stay home with my kids and be able to give Jack the time and Auditory Verbal Therapy he needed to eventually close the gap between him and his hearing peers.
Mom Invented: Please tell us about your background.
Tammany: I love being a mom to my 2 boys. There is nothing in the world that has brought me happiness like being a mother. I love being able to spend as much time with the boys as I can. I am a creative person by nature, have a B.A. in English and worked in fashion and advertising. I also try to be a creative thinker and find solutions to problems by substituting creativity for deep pockets.
Mom Invented: What process did you follow to develop a prototype?
Tammany: First I did an internet research to see if there was anything else on the market similar to my idea. Then I drew out a sketch, had a seamstress make a prototype and a pattern and then I moved forward researching fabrics and manufacturers.
Mom Invented: How did you find a manufacturer for your product?
Tammany: It was tough in the beginning because when you are small no one wants to deal with you and costs are higher but obviously you need to start somewhere. I ended up settling with a small manufacturer who employed home sewers. That wasn't very reliable so I moved to a larger, local manufacturer who did great work but was very costly. I wasn't making any profit but I knew this was a short term sacrifice to get the business going. Once I had greater demand I could go overseas and get larger quantities made for greater profit. In a perfect world it would be great to manufacture domestically but I couldn't afford to be in business. I recently licensed with Kushies Baby and it is such a huge relief to hand the manufacturing responsibilities over to the pros!
Mom Invented: Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?
Tammany: The clothing industry is really a tough business. Quality control is tough to keep consistent and the fit always has to be just right. I also had to play around with the marketing and packaging of the pants. One big mistake I made in the beginning was taking the advice of a sales rep who told me that the pants should be individually boxed. No one wants to buy clothing in a box - they want to touch it and see it. If they do go through the effort of taking it out of the box it never goes back in looking the way it was packaged. Through this I learned to get many opinions and not to take everyone's advice. Often people will tell you to do "this" or "that" and to spend money "here and there" but at the end of the day when the decisions are made and the money is spent they are not there to sell and support your product. Be very careful to make thoughtful decisions and seek out advice from as many people in the business.
Mom Invented: What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product?
Tammany: To realize that the marketplace is extremely competitive and tough. A good idea on its own isn't enough. Your product has to be backed up by the right marketing, PR, packaging, design, sales reps, social networking and design/manufacture resources. Dreams are great but thoughtful planning and execution is critical. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to advance my product and am always looking at what is going on in the industry. I spend hours on the internet surfing and reading....you never know what you may come across that will inspire you or teach you something you hadn't thought of. Most recently I have really learned to appreciate the value of Mommy bloggers and Facebook. It is really rewarding to have such a platform to connect on a personal level with your consumers, get feedback and "buzz" going about your product. I love running contests and reading the exciting reviews from moms and seeing photos they submit of their babies in Bees Knees. It has been a long road and as a business owner you go through ups and downs but recently I am on a real "up swing" by feeling the personal connection to moms who are using our product.
Mom Invented: Through what markets are you selling (retail, wholesale, internet, specialty sales)?
Tammany: We sell wholesale to all markets: internet retailers, independent boutiques and toy stores, Whole Foods in Canada and most recently at Babies R US across Canada. We are transitioning between clearing out our original pants to moving forward with Kushies and creating some really exciting new styles.
Mom Invented: What was the biggest learning curve in terms of marketing your product?
Tammany: Whether you do your own PR or hire a qualified agency you should focus on getting free reviews and editorials - don't advertise unless you have the profits to pay for it. Even great press like being featured on The Today Show won't necessarily translate into a big jump in sales but the credibility of one press hit can help you gain more press and so on so keep trying to build one opportunity into another.
Mom Invented: How did you finance your business?
Tammany: Some cash, credit card, profits, loans from friends and family...and scraping by at times to pull enough money together to pay bills. I also learned how to negotiate prices with everyone and how to avoid spending money as often as I could.
Mom Invented: What is your company’s current financial picture and what are your projections?
Tammany: In September we launched with Babies R US across Canada. With licensing there is no money going out and I get a royalty payment on the pants sold. Making a royalty cuts back on profits but it is a safe route and wonderful opportunity to allow Bee's Knees to grow in ways that never would have been available to me. In clothing it takes a while to get your manufacturing cycle going as buyers purchase goods months in advance.
Mom Invented: Have you experienced a low point in business? If so, how did you get back on track?
Tammany: To be honest there have been so many low points I couldn't even count. Sometimes low days, low weeks and even low months! It is okay to get discouraged and take a break. I think we all have self-doubts but you have to remind yourself about the successes and believe in your product. Try to think of new and creative ways to over come obstacles, look around at what other entrepreneurs are doing, ask for help and advice and keep at it. As an entrepreneur you rarely get in the front door. You may not have to change your end goal but you often have to re-route your course and if you try hard enough you might just find a way to sneak in the side door.
Mom Invented: What surprised you most about the process of starting your business?
Tammany: It is really difficult to get a product into a large retailer. I never would have guessed all the elements that need to come together to make that happen. I also never thought it would be this tough or dreamed of all the set backs. However, I am so grateful for all the lessons I have learned in business and in life as a result.
Thank you for sharing your story, Tammany! You can learn more about Tammany Atkinson's Bees Knees here.
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