Following on from Fiona’s post about starting a cloth nappy shop, Cass from GroVia Australia, New Zealand & Asia tells us about her journey into distribution.
I started out with cloth nappies in 2002 when I had to do a nappy comparison in high school. I decided then that the only option for me was cloth and – luckily for me – when I meet my partner and started a family he was supportive of that choice.
When we had our first bub in 2006, I used traditional terry squares with covers and found none in the Australian market stood up to my expectations on quality – this being a mixture of longevity, material, fabric feel and fit. After much searching I found Imse Vimse and purchased a few of their shells to trial. Well, I was in love so approached them about getting more in Australia and they agreed to fly out and meet me (they had a NZ distributor who they had been meeting up with in Auckland so just a quick trip across the ditch for them and a flight up to Sydney for me). At this stage I had created New Age Nappies and was about 3 months into running my own retail business and 1 month from going back to full time work, but they agreed to give me a go as distributor! I had a lovely partnership with them until 2010 when I decided something had to give, as I had found Grobaby then, had my second child, and had moved onto One Sized nappy systems (this was not an area that Imse Vimse was willing to move into at that stage).
In 2010 I made the tough decision to leave retail in the form of my own New Age Nappies, as well resign from Imse Vimse. I passed Imse Vimse over to another couple who had been running the swim school side of the business (they hadn’t used cloth nappies just passionate about swimming) and I believe they passed the brand on again a few years after that. New Age Nappies was sold to a new mum who was cloth nappying and now it has passed on again to another new owner.
Instead, in 2010 I became distributor for GroBaby (now GroVia) and have enjoyed every minute. It is not the most profitable brand for me – the European brands offer much better distributor discounts in my experience – however I love the brand and love the team I work with in the US. Kim, the owner, has basically celebrity status in the US which I find so funny, and Jennifer, who is their operations manager, is just a joy and so supportive of me and the Australia/Asia Pacific business.
Thinking about distribution yourself? Before looking into distribution I think you have to consider the funds you need to run these kind of operations. I carry between $100,000 and $150,000 of stock in many stages as in deposits, final payments, actual stored items etc. It can take you years to get your head around cashflow and even today – 11 years into running my business – I can get stressed at different times of the year as cashflow will be down and I need to pay a final deposit or place the next purchase order.
Some of the fun parts of distribution are knowing 12 months out what the new prints are and laughing when Kim can’t control herself and lets things slip early. We still do things last minute like add a promotion or just 2 months ago decide to add some expo exclusive prints just to use up retired fabrics and offer something fun for our fans. The calendar always has something new coming up and even now when both of my kids have been toilet trained for over 6 years I get excited to see what’s new.
As for the negatives I – like our fans and retailers – can get frustrated when the US gets different things than us, but understand it’s not that we aren’t thought of over here, it’s just sometime things are last minute and spontaneous. Also you never have a true day off with your own business. I just went to Hawaii for 9 nights and multiple times a day I checked emails! I’ve learnt to get better over the years but people don’t understand it’s not like a day job where you can sometimes walk away (not true in my day job either, I checked those emails every day while I was away too). I think you need to consider your work background too, I have a Masters in Logistics and am thankful for that in the day to day operation. I came in with the knowledge of freight delays, customs clearance, customer complaints and a passion for the field as a whole.
Our boutique industry sees retailers changing hands multiple times over the years and this can be hard to manage as friendships are made and lost and businesses come and go and this impacts our business. You need passion, drive and a great support network to run any business and our industry needs all of these and more!
For those of you thinking about Distribution or just interested to know what it’s like I hope you have enjoyed my little piece!