Little Wigwam: Jo and Mark Slade

The founders of the children’s educational placemat venture on the difficulties of getting in touch with retail buyers

Name:Jo and Mark Slade
Company:Little Wigwam
Staff numbers:
Company description:

Company name: Little Wigwam Founders: Jo and Mark Slade Age: 44 and 41 Based: Woking Staff Numbers: 2 Date started: February 2010 Tell us what your business does Little Wigwam has produced a range of brightly coloured educational placemats for children aged 2-11. They have been designed by teachers to tie-in with the National Curriculum and are eco-friendly. Everything is 100% recyclable. We started being mainly web-based but have now sold into a few shops around the country.

Where did the idea for your business come from? We had been looking for a couple of years for ideas to start our own business and when we needed to replace our children’s mats, we wanted something that was not only attractive to children but also stimulating. We found that although there are various designs of placemats available, there seemed to be a gap in the market for educational ones. The trick then was to make them fun – many educational products are seen as boring or old fashioned and are not attractive to kids. We think our mats appeal to parents, grandparents and children!

What were you doing before starting up? I was at home bringing up the children and wanted to do something to start using my brain again!

Have you always wanted to run your own business? Running my own business wasn’t something I had really considered until my youngest was approaching school age. This was when I started thinking about working again, but it’s not easy to find employment that fits around school hours, inset days and holidays. By being my own boss, I can work during school hours in term time and work in the evenings during the school holidays.

How did you raise the money? We funded the Company from our own savings so fortunately didn’t have to apply for any loans.

How have you promoted your business? We first launched the business at the Spring Trade Fair at the NEC in February. The Trade Show, trade magazines and direct cold sales calls have led to us selling into several shops, on-line stores and even a distributor in Australia. We also approached our local newspaper who featured us in their business section. Unfortunately an advert in a nationwide garden centre magazine, which is distributed to buyers, hasn’t proved fruitful yet.

What has your growth been like? We are slowly growing and web sales are increasing. Sales to stores are behind plan, but those that have ordered are re-ordering very quickly which is good – we knew we were starting up in a recession so the slightly slower progress is not that unexpected. We are already profitable, and are still on target to have completely repaid all our start-up costs within the first year as planned.

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up? The greatest difficulty in starting up has been getting our product known in the marketplace without spending huge amounts of money on marketing and advertising.  Finding out who the buyer is for a shop and actually getting them to speak to us has also proven extremely hard as telephone calls, letters and emails remain unanswered.  We’d love to find a decent salesman to do that part for us!

What would you do differently? Not get barcodes produced at such an early stage as no-one seems to want them and they’ve been a waste of money so far.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?If the business is a success we would like to increase our range of educational placemats and expand into other educational goods starting with jigsaws. We would also like to employ a salesman. If it takes off as well as we hope, my husband would like to stop working in London and be more involved in the day-to-day running of things. Our exit plan is ultimately a trade sale of the company, but first we plan to build up the business over the next few years.



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