Virgin StartUp of the Week: Tickle Tots
Looking after the planet is a big job - so it's heartening to see the increase in startups who are doing good with their products or services. One of these is our StartUp of the Week, Tickle Tots. They sell colourful reusable nappies, providing an alternative to the disposable nappies which fill up landfill, and each nappy comes accompanied with a story to help spark the imagination. We caught up with founder Sophia over a cuppa.
Business name: Tickle Tots
Founder name: Sophia Ferguson
Loan funds received: £15,000
Based in: Leintwardine, Shropshire
1. Explain your business in the time it would take the kettle to boil or drink to be poured
We design and manufacture reusable cloth nappies and baby accessories. Functionality and innovation is at the forefront of all of our designs, along with fun, rural, vintage-inspired fabric patterns. Our nappies stand out from our competitors for their unique leg gusset design, ease of use, and our brand's green ethics, which includes planting a UK native tree for every 1000 nappies we manufacture. Each of our new fabric prints released come accompanied with a story from ‘The Adventures of Little Fox’.
On top of the success of our nappy range we are now about to launch our nappy wetbag, which features a unique detachable mesh-lined system.
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
We are based in rural Shropshire, close to the border of Herefordshire and Powys. This location provides a great setting and inspiration for the rural aspect of the brand.
3. How did you come up with the idea?
Tickle Tots was a venture born out of a kitchen table business selling handmade baby clothes and accessories. With the birth of my own children I wanted to use cloth nappies, but I couldn’t find a design that worked both functionally for my little ones but also offered fun prints. So the sewing machine came out and I began to develop nappy designs and test them on all my friend’s little ones until we found the final design. The great feedback from everyone that tried the Tickle Tots nappy gave me the confidence to take the business forward.
4. What’s the business model?
We currently sell both wholesale to our growing list of stockists and retail via our online shop. Our nappies are stocked by various retailers across the UK, with interest from Europe in the pipeline. We currently design and test all our products in the UK and they are manufactured abroad.
5. Who are your competitors?
There are a number of nappy manufacturers around the world that sell to stockists here in the UK and abroad. Some of these brands are very well established with a loyal customer base. However, all of our competitors are offering something different. We all have different nappy designs and are therefore reaching out to different members within the same market. What works for one baby does not always work for another. Our main competitors include Bumgenius, Close Parent, and Tots Bots.
6. What’s unique about your business?
Tickle Tots is an ethical brand that prides itself on quality and innovative functionality of design. Along with trustworthy products we want to try and capture a rural charm in our fabric patterns, encouraging children to use their imagination through the stories from ‘The Adventures of Little Fox’, and nurturing the bond between parent/carer and child.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
I launched Tickle Tots in July 2015 with the product hitting the shelves in September 2015. By Christmas we had sold nearly 500 units and were being stocked by retailers across the UK. We received our Virgin StartUp loan in January 2016, and it's been all hands on deck since then!
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
The Virgin loan has allowed the business to stay competitive. It's a very fast-paced industry with competitors releasing new prints, designs or a new product every three months! We are about to launch a new product, developing a new print, which is the first from our theme ‘The Adventures of Little Fox’. Each new print in this range will come with a story that can be downloaded from our website, a feature that will encourage parents to engage and read to their little ones. We also hope that it will encourage parents to collect the set of nappies as they are released. We have also been able to order larger quantities of stock to keep up with demand, book to exhibit at the Baby Show at the NEC in May (which has 23,000 visitors over the weekend), and finally look at exporting. We have had various enquiries from across Europe and the loan has allowed us to attend the ‘Passport to Export’ programme run by the UKTI and various other workshops to prepare the business for this next step!
9. Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?
We are at the start of our journey with our mentor. So far we have had a great chat with her and she offered some valuable advice regarding the website and steps to move forward. We're looking forward to our next chat!
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
Fay Easton at StartUp Hub was our delivery partner, and I cannot thank her enough. Without her advice and expertise the process would have been much more daunting, and it would definitely have taken twice as long! It is quite a lengthy process due to the amount of paperwork required but with Fay’s help it took no time at all and ran seamlessly, resulting in us securing the loan we needed!
11. Biggest achievement so far?
I definitely feel our biggest achievement so far has been the product itself! It took 2 years of trialing and testing and re-sewing, but to have finally settled on a design and see it for sale with stockists online and in shops is an amazing feeling. Most of all it's great to hear the amazing feedback that we have received, and ultimately provide a product that works for other mums out there wanting to use cloth nappies but who couldn’t quite find the right design!
12. What’s next for your business?
There is so much on the horizon for Tickle Tots! As mentioned we launch a new product at the end of this week. We are attending the baby show at the NEC in May which will be timed with the release of our new print from ‘The Adventures of Little Fox’ and we will be attending various masterclasses to prepare ourselves for the next step to export. It has been an exciting few months and I can’t wait to see what is next to come!