ToyBoxLive: Alison Chesworth
The founder of online toy rental service ToyBoxLive on balancing starting a business with being a first-time mum
Tell us what your business does:
Toyboxlive.co.uk is an online toy rental service, allowing parents, carers, nannies and childminders to access thousands of toys for £24.99 per month. It gives parents an alternative to never-ending spending.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
As a first-time mum, I saw just how much money you can spend on toys – and the amount of clutter that can quickly build up in your house! Children are changing and developing all the time, and rarely play with the same things for long.
They constantly need new challenges, but parents can tie up so much money in toys that often they can’t afford anything else. Talking to other mums it seemed this was a common problem. I could not believe that no-one in the UK was offering a proper solution.
What’s your unique selling point?
I knew there was a market from our competitor research and by doing an online survey, but we differentiate ourselves by giving the subscriber a choice of items and not charging a deposit.
Our website is also really user-friendly, and fully-automated, making the job a lot easier for parents.
What were you doing before starting up?
After completing a business studies degree at Lancaster University I worked for an enterprise trust as a marketing adviser. I had a year off with my daughter but prior to that I had a marketing company.
I wanted to do something that was more rewarding than marketing and I felt that ToyBoxLive.co.uk was a service that the UK needed – especially in the current economic climate.
What appealed most about being your own boss?
I’ve always wanted to run my own business and be in control of my own success. I have big dreams that could only be fulfilled by running my own business.
I also want my daughter to understand that work is important, and that with hard work and determination you can reap the rewards.
What planning did you do before you started up?
My market research consisted of an online survey and competitor research. I put together a concise business plan, but that was just for my own benefit.
I sought advice from suppliers and online experts. Our e-commerce provider, ekmPowershop.com, has been fantastic.
How did you raise the money?
The business is self-funded, so I’m fortunate that things are going well.
How did you find suppliers?
Finding suppliers has been difficult, as many of them are wary of dealing with new businesses.
However, once I had my own premises, I had a breakthrough. Our suppliers are now really excited by the concept of online toy rental, as it’s an additional revenue stream and offers consumers an affordable way to access toys.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
There have been lots of challenges, including packaging and delivery.
However, we have built up a really good support network and are able to get items to people at short notice now. Something that was difficult initially.
How have you promoted your business?
I’ve always believed in the power of online marketing, so we mainly promote our business online, through social networking and press releases.
How did you decide how much to charge?
Our packages start at £24.99 per month. We decided on this pricing point as we wanted to make our service affordable.
What about staff – how many do you have?
Currently there is just me, but I hope to recruit in the next month.
What has your growth been like?
Our growth has been fantastic. We are where we had planned to be.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
It hasn’t been easy juggling family life with starting a business. In fact, I often find myself up until 3am and then getting up at 7.30am to sort my daughter out. But, to be honest, I love every minute.
I take a balanced approach to work. I’m fortunate to have family around who help out a lot.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
I think the biggest difficulty has been marketing; getting people on board with the concept of renting toys instead of buying them has been a slow process.
What was your first big breakthrough?
My first customer!
What would you do differently?
I would have made sure I had all the policies and procedures in place before launch.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Go for it! If you fail, you learn. If you succeed, you win.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I would like to have offices throughout Europe, and travel the world.