With the economy in the doldrums, everyone needs a little bargain, especially for families raising little kids. While every child is a blessing, you need money to raise one. A 2006 US Department of Agriculture study estimates that the annual cost of raising a baby 0-2 years old is around $13,140.
MamaBargains.com is a new online store that offers baby products at least 50% off its retail value (or even up to 80% off in some cases). What sets this online store apart is its use of one deal at a time concept, wherein MamaBargains.com offer only one heavily discounted product until their inventory runs out.
We interviewed Jessica Singer, founder of MamaBargains.com, about her new business, and the challenges they face with the newly launched online store.
When did you officially launch MamaBargains.com?
How long was the preparation to launch the site? We launched Mamabargains.com on May 19th, 2008. The preparation was really over the last year, we had the idea, but were not sure which direction to go with it, so over the period of the year, we tossed ideas around and eventually nailed down our plan.
What is the concept behind MamaBargains.com?
The concept behind the site it really just simplicity…one product at a time, and at a deal that’s hard to pass up, and something that can be fun and interactive as well as a great avenue for our vendors to clear out their overstock, discontinued designs or out of season items easily…it’s a win win for everyone involved, the customer, the vendor, and us. It’s fantastic to read all the emails from moms who tell us that they are addicted!
You have set your site apart from other ecommerce sites with your one-deal-at-a-time model. What gave you the confidence that this would work?
We are addicted to another One Deal at a Time site called Steep and Cheap, located here in Salt Lake City as well. We actually met with the owner, John Bresee on April 24th, 2008, once our business plan was completed and we knew exactly how we wanted to move ahead. We wanted a professional point of view and to speak to someone who had been there and done that and knew how to be successful.
His insight was what helped us realize that Mamabargains could be something to be proud of, and his excitement for us was what helped take us to the next level, which was executing our plan. He talked to us for only an hour, and the fact that he took time out of his busy schedule to meet with us showed us that he was a down to earth, friendly guy, and that eased us into the next steps of creating Mamabargains.com.
How do you decide what products to offer in the site? What are your criteria for product selection?
This is the toughest part of Mamabargains.com. I spend hours upon hours scouring the internet for great ideas. It’s exhausting and time consuming, but well worth it in the end. We also implemented a tool on the site that makes our jobs just a tad bit easier that gives our customers a chance to tell us about specific products they are looking for. We try to respond to every request individually, but now with the high volume, its nearly impossible to respond to each one, eventually we will have someone whose job will be to respond to them each individually and keep a spreadsheet of all the requests, it helps us find great new products…we might be parents, but we certainly don’t know about all the great stuff out there!
Criteria…it’s a nasty little word, but there is definitely criteria…we are very selective of the vendors we decide to work with. We have to make sure that the product fits within the trendy, modern mold, and that the vendors products can be considered high end. We have a few vendors who will always stay close to our hearts, as they were our very first vendors who took a chance on us before our site was launched. We spent months before our launch calling vendors to try to line product up for our launch, which was a huge risk, but a necessary one to have tons of product sitting here in our garage just begging to be sold.
Timi and Leslie was our first vendor, Dogwood USA was our second, Me-in-Mind Footwear was our third. Next came New Native Slings, My Baby Nest and Slinglings…from there we had our beginning and our chance to show moms how much fun our site would be.
What was the most difficult part of starting MamaBargains.com?
The most difficult part was juggling my husband, two children, the oldest is two and a half, and the youngest at the time right before the launch was only a few months old and struggling with an allergy to my breast milk, and vendor calls and working with our programmer. So our lives were incredibly hectic and fast paced and hasn’t slowed down since.
We originally had a friend doing the programming, but a few weeks after he had been working on the site, he let us know that he was in over his head, which was a major setback, but regardless, we were thankful that he didn’t continue with our project knowing he was in over his head on it. We put out a desperate plea after that setback on elance.com letting programmers know that we needed someone to work on our site, we had product in our garage, and had lost a few weeks of work already, so we needed someone to start work as soon as humanly possible…that was one of the most difficult parts of the entire launch. I called around one morning and found this awesome programmer located in Florida, and he was able start work immediately, it was a right time right place kind of timing, and couldn’t have worked out better, he’s been phenomenal for MamaBargains.com.
How did you finance this business? What were the challenges you faced during the financing stage?
Financing…ugh. This part was the scariest part of starting this business. Not the most difficult, mostly because I LOVE SHOPPING, so I didn’t have a hard time spending the money at all, it was just a scary prospect.
We are just a small little family, my husband works full time for an engineering contractor here in Salt Lake City, and I was a stay at home mom. Taking a chance like this is still pretty scary at times, we look at a lot of different elements, though, the future and where MamaBargains.com will be down the road, what we are doing for moms, we feel is a great thing, and its hard to say that without sounding all snobby, its not like that at all, we just really knew that this was a site that parents need, our economy pretty much stinks right now, and having a bargain site that is fun and addicting and a brand new concept for the mommy market is something to be excited about.
So as far as financing goes, we have some dough that was hanging around waiting to be used, and of course, like anyone else, a few little loans here and there were helpful as well. You will most likely never ever see any advertisements on MamaBargains.com either, the income from them would be nice, but we think it would make our site lose its personality. it makes us less of people and more of a corporation, which we feel is not healthy for our business model.
How are your marketing MamaBargains.com?
Word of Mom is a powerful, necessary tool for any business focusing on the mommy market. Moms make up 1.7 trillion dollars of consumer spending each year in the U.S. and we just wanted to focus on a small portion of that spending total by giving moms a cool, new website that gives them an exciting new way of making a bargain purchase…simplicity.
MamaBargains.com will flourish, and flourishing means adding new products to our list, and it also means that the bargains will continue to be unbeatable.
Very soon we will have a forum added to the site which will also be a fun way for moms to talk about their likes and dislikes of certain products they have purchased from MamaBargains.com, and meet each other in a fun forum atmosphere that is intended to be a laid back place to just chill with other moms.
How are you balancing a new business, family and other interests?
Balancing is a tough act for sure. We had to hire a nanny to help out, since I was home all day answering emails, calling vendors to line up new product, and printing receipts for each customer, shipping labels, inventory, and adding items to our inventory, playing around in Photoshop to edit items, it’s a LOT to take on. Our nanny comes a few days a week, and those are the days I focus on trying to line up new product, and those are also the days that I spend answering a lot of emails, questions, inquiries, and such. h.
I also had to purchase a Blackberry. I always said I would NEVER own one of these, since my husband has one for his job and spends a lot of time on his, it used to always annoy me…now the tables are turned! There are times a customer will email a question at midnight and I answer them, whether we are at home, or recently, at the airport waiting to board a flight! I had a customer email me a few weeks ago with a question, I happened to be awake, at 2 AM still working, and I emailed her back. I quickly received a response that said, “Thanks a million for the quick response, do you ever sleep?”
It was actually a light bulb moment when I though, geez Jess, sleep is nice. So now I try my hardest to stop emailing responses if its after 7 or 8 pm. It’s hard, though. I strive to give excellent customer service, and a prompt response is part of that. But I can only be stretched so thin.
Our customers are fabulous, though, and understand that its just a family run business, so sometimes a response may take a few hours or even a day or so. Fridays are our days off also, we know we don’t have to ship anything out on Saturday or Sunday, so we take Friday and most of Saturday and hang out with our friends and our boys. We always like to go somewhere fun just to get away from the house and every day chaos that is an essential part of MamaBargains.com.
What are the pressing challenges you see ahead?
The pressing challenges ahead are for sure lining up new fun products. We just have to think that for every 10 ‘no’s’ from a vendor, there has to be at least one ‘yes’, so we keep pushing forward and actually have some vendors that contact us, which makes us feel like we are doing a good job with the site, and that makes our job easier, and really gives us more time to spend as a family, which we cannot risk losing as MamaBargains.com grows. The bigger we get, the better products we get, and the more products we sell, the bigger we get as well, so having a business that grows is wonderful, but also challenging to respond to that growth appropriately, buying a warehouse, hiring employees, watching our two boys grow and making sure that we are making time for our family while keeping MamaBargains.com growing in a healthy direction.
What are your expectations of MamaBargains.com? What are you hoping to achieve?
We have a lot of expectations of MamaBargains.com, some of them we won’t say, because we have to keep some element of surprise, but some of them are the obvious ones, like healthy growth, having return customers that talk about us to their friends and family, and calling vendors that say, ‘oh yeah, I’ve heard of you before’, those are things that we hope to continue to achieve.
As far as future achievements are concerned, our biggest achievement will be to get to the point that MamaBargains.com is more of a household name, and to be a company that customers talk about as far as customer service goes. I worked in the customer service industry for such a long time that giving good customer service has been a huge focus of ours, and we seem to be doing very well with it. we have lots of parents that emails us (dads too) that tell us they are so happy with our customer service, so this is something that we are incredibly proud of.
How do you expect to compete with the big boys of the business – e.g. Amazon, Toys R’Us?
Wow, those are the big boys, and I guess we never really thought of them as competition, more because we want to always stay that type of site that offers one deal at a time, not several items on one page, and deals that can’t be beat. Even if those stores had a similar concept, there are a ton of parents out there that have expressed to us that they enjoy shopping from a small, mom owned business, that lets them feel almost like family through the emails we send, the newsletters we write, and just the style of wording we use on the site. I don’t like to sound sterile or generic in my writing, I like to write more like I’m talking to a friend, so when I write our newsletters, I write them like I’m talking to my friends, just laid back and casual. Its seems that parents appreciate that, and hopefully they will enjoy those little things that make us more ‘human’ than just simply ordering from a huge conglomerate corporation that has become fairly generic in their online presence.
Not saying that its not intimidating to be in the same ball field as those companies, just saying that we aren’t looking to take over the world, we just want to hit a few homeruns every now and then, not hold the homerun record! d!
Do you have any lessons you wish to share to other entrepreneurs?
Persistence and Patience.
I can’t think of two more important qualities you will HAVE to learn to embody if you want to try to be a success at starting a business. You need not just one or the other, but you need both, and those go for both your personal life as well as your business life, you will have to learn to multitask like you’ve never done before too!
I have two boys, I have had a vendor on the phone lining up new product, while changing two dirty diapers at the same time as trying to quiet the dog who is at the front door barking at our UPS man who is waiting in the driveway for our garage to open so he can take all the boxes away to be shipped to their new owners! That is a normal day for me, some days, I crawl into bed at night, and wonder why it seemed the day only lasted 15 whole minutes. I have so many things I juggle everyday, none of this would be possible if I hadn’t figured out how to have persistence and patience, and it didn’t come easy!