Social Worker Mom Creates Chemical-Free Hair Styling Products for Babies & Children
Megan Gage, a social worker, read an article about how some companies were using harmful chemicals in their hair products for babies and children. She was furious! This inspired her to do something about it. She launched Hot Tots which are salon-quality hair styling products for babies and children without the use of harsh or harmful chemicals.
Mom Invented: Why did you start this company?
Megan: When my two-year old son was a baby, I used to mix a small amount of pomade with baby lotion to give him a small curl on top of his head. I was surprised by the number of people who responded to his style and was constantly providing instructions to other moms on how to achieve the look. After some encouragement from my husband, I stumbled upon an article highlighting the dangerous toxins commonly found in popular baby products. Alarmed and outraged, I decided to do create a healthy styling line for children.
Mom Invented: What were your initial goals?
Megan: In the beginning, I just wanted to make my investment back. I was terrified to lose any money in such rough economic times and was nervous to launch a luxury line in a recession. After receiving a positive response from other moms, however, I set my goals much higher. My dream for Hot Tot is to be sold at upscale salons, boutiques, and department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Barneys, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Mom Invented: Describe yourself and your family. What is your background and how does it relate to your company?
Megan: I am a wife and mother of two (my daughter Jaiden is nearly 12 and my son Christian is 2.5). I have a master's degree in Clinical Social Work, which is where my heart will always be. Before my son was born, I quit my full-time job to spend more time with my family. I always knew that I needed to have some type of involvement with a cause committed to improving the lives of others though I never expected it to come in the form of a hair styling company. As Hot Tot began to take shape as a brand, I knew that I would integrate my social work roots into the daily business practices. I love the fact that my company has an opportunity to do something good as we grow and succeed!
Mom Invented: What process did you follow to develop a prototype?
Megan: I used Google to locate a few private label facilities that specialized in organic and/or healthy products. I interviewed numerous chemists and provided detailed instructions on what I was looking to create. After testing products from each lab, I settled on a facility in Canada. My limited budget, product specifications, and lack of experience made it very difficult to find someone who was willing to work with me.
Mom Invented: How did you determine your product’s marketability (is there a need, would people buy it)?
Megan: Knowing absolutely nothing about how one obtained media coverage, I wrote a press release and emailed it to a few editors who I hoped would be interested. Within 12 hours of sending it out, I received an email from Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine requesting product to be tested and photographed. I interpreted this as a very good sign…
I contacted every mommy blogger I could find focused on cool finds and/or children’s health and asked them to write about / review my products. I was overwhelmed with support and positive responses. I felt like if they liked my products and brand than other moms probably would too.
Mom Invented: How did you find a manufacturer for your product?
Megan: After producing a small first order in Canada, I began looking for an American manufacturer, as this was very important to me. I called the number on a cosmetic sample that I received at an upscale department store and was shocked to learn that it was made in my home state of Colorado. I set up a meeting with the chemist that formulated it and began the process of moving Hot Tot’s manufacturing operation. As of October 2011, we are made in the USA! I love that my products are made so close to home, as it provides a wonderful opportunity to be directly involved.
Mom Invented: Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?
Megan: Moving the manufacturing operation to the U.S. required me to start from scratch on multiple product elements. This was very expensive, stressful, and very time consuming. We struggled to duplicate my original fragrance and spent many months trying to arrive at something suitably close. The new American Chemist reworked my formulas, taking into account all the feedback I had received from moms and stylists up to that point. My labels had to be redone, as we had used text that was too small (and the ink chipped easily) on the first round of Canadian products. Though the move was very difficult, it was well-worth the effort and expense.
Mom Invented: What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product?
Megan: My lack of industry knowledge and experience lead me to make a few mistakes early on. I was taken advantage of and grossly overpaid for several items, though I was eventually able to recognize and correct my mistakes. Moving my company to America provided a new opportunity to assemble a team of trustworthy experts that have helped me turn my vision into reality. I am confident that I now have the best people in the industry working on my products and am grateful for everyone’s hard work.
Mom Invented: Through what markets are you selling (retail, wholesale, internet, specialty sales)?
Megan: Hot Tot is the ultimate crossover brand and is available in a variety of arenas. I have wholesale reps that promote and sell my line in every region of the country but I also do much of the placement myself. I am very particular about the type of retailers suitable to carry my products and place a lot of importance on exclusivity. My products are currently sold at upscale salons, boutiques, and (5 Star) resorts in 14 different states.
Mom Invented: What secrets have you learned in terms of publicity and marketing your product?
Megan: In the beginning, I presented Hot Tot like as a large and faceless company. I quickly realized, however, that people were curious about the story and person behind my products. Because of this, I now willingly share a bit of who I am and why I am so passionate about healthy products. I have found amazing support in other women, especially moms.
Mom Invented: What was the biggest learning curve in terms of marketing your product?
Megan: I thought that editors would instantly begin writing about Hot Tot because the concept of specialized styling products for children was so different. I didn't realize how difficult it would be to get noticed. The vast majority of attempts go unanswered. I am sincerely grateful any time anyone mentions my products, even when they openly criticize the concept. At least they’re talking…
Mom Invented: How did you finance your business?
Megan: Hot Tot was funded on money my husband and I had saved for many years. It was scary to spend much of our savings on an unproven idea. It felt like a huge leap of faith, though I think I would have spent my life wondering “what if” had I not moved forward with the idea.
Mom Invented: What has been your greatest success or high point with your product or business?
Megan: I have put so much of my heart and self into Hot Tot so feedback always feels very personal. I am truly excited every time someone says something positive! Two large luxury retailers have expressed an interest in my brand, which is a dream come true. I recently learned that we have a few celebrity fans and am thrilled that Hollywood has discovered (and likes!) my products. I had the opportunity to speak with a well-known beauty industry consultant who was familiar with my brand and very complimentary about my products. I was flattered by his positivity and excited by the thought that the industry has started to take notice. I am enjoying this very exciting journey.
Mom Invented: Have you experienced a low point in business? If so, how did you get back on track?
Megan: The downside of pouring your heart into your business is that criticism feels very personal. While I fully understand that not everyone is going to “get it”, it is difficult to hear someone say something negative. Last week I was on the phone with a girl from a salon who had tested my products and she rudely told me that they hated my signature scent and didn’t think Hot Tot would sell just before hanging up on me. My feelings get hurt, though I remind myself that we all have our critics. These are the moments when we make a conscious decision to move forward despite the roadblocks.
Mom Invented: What kind of support system do you have in place personally and professionally?
Megan: My husband is my rock. He has been so supportive throughout this process, both emotionally and financially. He encouraged me to pursue this early on and believed in my idea before I ever believed it would sell. He has been very involved with everything, from graphic design to my website. He helps with household work and travels with me when I need to go to a trade show to present my line. I couldn't do this without him.
Mom Invented: What surprised you most about the process of starting your business?
Megan: I learned that passion was far more powerful than I originally thought. In the beginning, I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the idea of stepping into a foreign industry. People respond to enthusiasm! I am much more confident in myself and my ideas now as a result.
Mom Invented: What advice would you offer other moms developing their products/ideas?
Megan: Believe in yourself! Moms are masters of multi-tasking and capable of great things! Passion is worth a lot more than money and people will invest in you if you’re willing to share a piece of yourself. Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes- we all do and they are a big part of the growth process. You can do it!
Thank you, Megan, for sharing your story with us! Click on the link if you'd like to learn more about Hot Tots.
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