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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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13 Responses »

  1. Wow! It's so encouraging to see a mom step up and do something big like this! I've been looking for products for my kiddos and think yours may be just what we need. I don't see that they are available in Minnesota so I guess I'll be ordering online!

    • Hi Suzanne,

      Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to read my story. We don't have any retailers in Minnesota just yet but keep watching- growth is a slow process but we are expanding.

      Kindly,
      Megan

  2. Just wondering what the dangerous chemicals or Toxins that are in the products that are dangerous?

    • Hi Jill,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my story and for asking such a good question :-)

      I was shocked to learn that a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group concluded that 57% of the top selling baby soaps were contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, an eye and respiratory tract irritant (and a known carcinogen in animals). A separate study conducted by the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics suggested that 82% of the top selling children's products contained formaldehyde (a known carcinogen in humans). Neither toxin is required to appear on an American label because both are byproducts produced during the manufacturing process (a+b=c).

      My products omit these chemicals in addition to many others and I was shocked to learn that common products aren't nearly as safe as people think. 1 in 3 American children have allergies, asthma, autism, or ADHD (I saw on the news a few weeks that these rates have recently went up, though I haven't seen the actual research to change the statistic that I'm familiar with). That being said, I think we should all begin thinking critically about why the rate is so high and what we can do to improve things.

      Europe has much stricter policies regarding chemicals in personal care products. My products are E.U. Compliant, as I hope that someday the U.S. tightens its standards. 28 states are currently considering chemical regulation this year (Colorado is one of those states and is also where my products are manufactured).

      Lots of good information can be found online and I have posted some resources on my website too (http://www.hottot.com/ingredients). I hope this helps :-)

      Best,
      Megan

  3. So happy for you Megan! You are really inspiring me to do something w/ my list of ideas I have been sitting on for years! I currently a SAHM and don't have a big budget like yourself so if you can do it so can I. I can't wait to try your products as I will only use non-toxic products for my boys. :)

    • Thanks Korie!

      I sincerely appreciate your kindness and support :-) Shoot me an email if you'd like me to send you some samples to try for your kiddos. I am more than happy to do so if you're interested :-)

        • Megan-

          What an inspiring story! I have been tinkering on a few ideas for years now and am finally getting a prototype made that will be complete in next 30days. I love the fact that you express the passion it takes to drive your idea to a reality. I am ready to exit corp america and do my own thing. I hope one of my product ideas takes off like yours and I will definitely try some of your products. I am in sales and marketing right now in healthcare 6figure salary, but no time to focus on my own ideas.... have you or are you considering carrying your products in these "kids spas" that are popping up everywhere? I am in NC and I have seen several of these pop up in the last few months in my area. I think it would be a great venue for your product. Thanks again for sharing, I am extremely happy for you and your success! Best~Kim

          • Hi Kim,

            Thank you for taking the time to read my story :-) One of the best parts of my experience thus far has been connecting with other like-minded women; I have gained so much inspiration and learned many lessons.

            Congrats on being so close to having your first prototype! I wish you much success and would love to support you when you launch your product. Please feel free to get in touch via email (megan@hottot.com) or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/hottothaircare).

            Slowly but surely, Hot Tot is being placed at kids salons and spas across the country. It has been really difficult to place a product line that nobody has heard of, even though we've been featured by countless blogs, magazines and tv shows. The retailers that have purchased the line are doing well, and each successful salon makes it a little bit easier to sell to the next. However, progress has proven to be a very slow process. If you have any suggestions for places in your area that I might reach out to, I would certainly give it a try and appreciate your help :-)

            Best,
            Megan

        • We've never met, but I've been following your blog since berfoe you became pregnant with Cohen. Seeing his picture and knowing that you're both doing well brought me to tears, literally. What a precious, precious baby :).GOD BLESS all of you!!!Love, from Germany

  4. INSPIRATIONAL!!!!! CAN'T WAIT to try your products Megan!!!!!

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