Here are four key questions to ponder when starting up in the baby industry. I don’t pretend this is an exhaustive list, it’s merely an instalment of a slightly random thought process prompted by four email requests, this week, from newly hatched entrepreneurs seeking advice and guidance. The questions assume only a high degree of enthusiasm and commitment to the cause. And if you'd like to see what those look like in practice, refer to the following handsome, little baby. Let's go!
#1: Is the product idea legal and safe?
Can it be proven as being so and fully tested for EVERY relevant market? While this might sound incredibly simplistic, it's easy to think that something which solves a problem is 'of course' safe for its intended use without actually considering how it could be misused.
A very helpful tip is to ask yourself are all of the components safe when taken out of context?
If the manufacturing is outsourced, can you be absolutely sure of the above? We would highly recommend always visiting the factory with which you’ve chosen to partner. I would, personally, never ever sell a baby product from a factory I have not visited … we visit ours at least annually, and sometimes more often. Not everyone thinks this way, but I personally think it’s a must.
#2: How protected is your idea?
Trademarks provide brilliant protection for the money and would be the first thing I would recommend in protecting your trading name and your brand. Consider registering your trademark(s) in all of the territories in which you intend to trade. And, when registered, use the wee R (®) in a circle symbol every single time you mention the registered name/brand. If not, stick to the wee TM (™) which at least works as a deterrent. But remember trademarks are territory specific, so you can’t use the ® in a territory where your trademark is not registered.
If you’re considering a patent, you need to be completely confident that your idea is so novel that no one else can come along and say you've copied them, and you can’t tell ANYONE anything about it for a long time … And, if your patent is, ever, registered, it’s a very expensive, and slow, process – and, in the unlikely event of being challenged, defence is seriously expensive. Get proper advice from trademark and patent attorneys, many of whom should give you an initial chat for free.
Your product needs differentiation to be novel – with or without a patent. It needs a USP (unique selling point) just to create a reason for someone to want it – whether it’s the colour, the fabric, the design or its functionality.
#3: What safety marks do you need?
The ‘CE’ (the abbreviation of ‘Conformité Européene’, meaning ‘European Conformity’ to the EU’s essential requirements) is only relevant for certain products. The Totseat is not one of them, for example, despite the fact this would make life much easier if it were! Start with the General Product Safety Directive and find a decent testing house to guide you (Intertek, Bureau Veritas, SGS, TUV are all accredited internationally, amongst others).
If planning to export, you may also need specific industry accreditation, so do your research. Your local Trading Standards office is also a good place for advice. And if you only remember one thing, never, ever, scrimp on safety.
#4: What insurance do you need?
Think very carefully about public liability and product liability. Do you need cover for stock (in storage and in transit) and/or your employees? Always better to be safe than very (financially) sorry. Again, there’s always help you can find and it’s a very good idea to become well acquainted with those giving it. If you’re exporting to the USA, this is a seriously expensive market in terms of insurance for baby products, in particular, and often adds thousands and thousands of pounds to premiums for SMEs.
So there you have it. Tick each of these off (with long consideration, resources, and advice) and move forwards. It's so much better to try than wonder ‘What if?’ and severely damage your business. Good luck!