This week, we meet ANA Founding Member, current ANA President and owner of Nest Nappies, Elizabeth Guthrie.
Tell us about your background. What did you do in your past life, before children? Before cloth nappies!
The last five years owning and managing a retail business has been instrumental in helping me feel comfortable with the fact that I’m a serial Jack-of-all-trades! I’ve finally reached a point where I can combine and use all the weird and wonderful jobs and work experiences I’ve had over the past 20 years!
My past life ‘careers’ include nannying (for triplets in full time terry squares!), visual merchandising, retail buying, advertising, travel, events management, corporate relocations, sandwich deliveries on a bike (you’ll do pretty much anything to pay the rent when you live overseas!) and running my own interior design business.
Tell us about your journey into the cloth nappy industry.
When I had my first baby nine years ago, there were some fitted nappies on the market and a few all-in-ones and pockets were starting to make an appearance but we decided to go down the road of terry squares.
It makes me sound really old, but in those pre-Facebook days people joined online forums which I found excruciatingly boring and cliquey, so I just did my own thing.
Pretty soon I found there were other people who were interested in cloth but didn’t know how to start or what to do, so I became the unofficial go-to-girl for advice at my mothers group and my ABA group.
Before too long I was getting emails and messages from people who had tried to find out information online or on a forum but found the experience as isolating and confusing as I did.
By the time my second baby had come along there were more modern cloth nappies on the market and more forums and more and more people asking me for advice. Around the same time I visited a lovely eco baby boutique in Adelaide and thought it would be great to have something similar in Brisbane.
At Easter time in 2009 a space became available in a small shop behind my friend’s eco clothing boutique. In some crazy moment, with a 3 year old, a new baby and next to no start up capital, I decided to ditch my interior design business and make a foray into bricks and mortar cloth nappy retail.
The rest, as they say, is history!
How has the cloth nappy industry changed since you started your business?
There are significantly more retailers of cloth nappies than when we started and there are more ‘standard’ brands of nappies and ‘budget’ options available on the market than there used to be.
In terms of nappy styles we have seen a fairly big swing from pocket nappies and all-in-ones to all-in-twos and hybrid nappies over the past five years. Our sales of traditional nappies has also grown in the past two years.
The biggest change we’ve noticed in our own business is the number of people who come to us intending to use cloth nappies, full time from the start. When we first opened people would say they didn’t know anyone else doing cloth and they were almost embarrassed to admit they were thinking about it. Now we hear of friends and relatives who are using cloth, loving it and recommending it (and us!) to others. It feels like cloth nappies are finally hitting the margins of the mainstream!
We’re also excited that the message is finally getting out there that using cloth nappies doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision. There are so many families using cloth nappies some of the time, part of the time or just for a period of time. And there are lots who are doing it all of the time – and finding it really easy and enjoyable. It’s great to finally see the old cloth VERSUS disposables paradigm being replaced by a cloth AND disposables view post.
What is the hardest thing about running your own business?
In the early days, I would easily put in 70 and 80 hour weeks to keep my business operating. That was on top of all the other things I was doing (being a wife, being a full time mum to very young children and renovating a house). When my husband works a 70-hour week they give him the next week off work to recover – I just did it week in and week out for about two years!! I look back now and wonder how I got through that period.
When our third baby was born I made the decision to make my business more sustainable (and enjoyable) by limiting my input to 5 days a fortnight. Whilst I’ve managed to achieve that, working limited hours brings it’s own challenges. I’ve had to be less of a control freak and entrust many tasks I used to do myself to other people. I’ve also had to surrender to the fact that not everything will get done, no matter how great the idea is or how much it could improve the business.
I’ve often said the hardest thing about running a business is you get a balance sheet at the end of every week / month / quarter / year. It’s a constant reminder of what you’re not doing right. If you don’t use those tools correctly and make measures to ensure the way you run your business is sustainable then it can end up controlling your life.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you started your business?
I think I would focus more closely on having a plan and some professional strategy. We just jumped in, paddled like crazy and learned as we went. The beauty of hindsight and experience has shown me that having a bit more strategy and a slightly clearer direction might have got us to the same point with slightly fewer grey hairs and wrinkles!
Who helps you run your business?
My husband Wally has been the long suffering silent(ish) partner in this whole circus! He handles all the numbers stuff – the stuff my creative brain just can’t handle! Paperwork, wages, accounts, etc. He has been so incredibly supportive and I know I could never have done this without him.
The girls who work with us are absolutely instrumental in our success. They are my friends, my supporters, my reminder fairies. They treat this business as if it is their own. We are so seriously blessed to have had such amazing people on our team.
What do you do to relax?
Ummmmm, I don’t really do relaxing!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of business advice I’ve received is to stop trying to do what everyone else does and do it the way that works for you.
What’s something you’d like your kids to remember about you?
I tell my girls all the time I just want them to be the very best “me” they can be. I guess I’d like them to see (and remember) that I worked on being the best “me” I could be too. I won’t have always got it right but I always tried to be the best I could.
Tell us your favourite quote or saying.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.” Dr Seuss from Oh the Places You’ll Go.