Launched after 18 months of meticulous research and development, SnoozeShade™ is a unique blackout blind for prams and pushchairs designed to help babies sleep during the day. Its inventor, Cara Sayer, explains how she turned her creation into a fantastic business
"One summer day I was out with my baby daughter who was in her pram when her nap time came. It's a common problem for busy mums. Babies need their sleep during the day, but it can be difficult when you're out and about. Even without noise, strong sunshine can make it difficult to get babies off to sleep.
"Later, I had a look around the shops and online for a product that would solve the problem, but couldn't find anything. So - rather madly - I decided to invent my own, even though I didn't have any product development experience."
Developing a prototype
"I made my own basic version of a pram shade or blind - using my elementary sewing skills. It resulted in the first workable version of my design, although many improvements would follow.
"I wasn't sure who to approach for help. I used to work for a magazine publisher, so I rang a friend there to ask where they got their 'cover mounts' [free magazine give-aways]. She put me in touch with a manufacturing agent called Giftpoint Ltd. Fortunately, they were based near my home in Surrey.
"We chatted over the phone, and after getting an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] signed, I took my sample over to show them. They knew exactly what to do, and had manufacturing contacts in China.
"I had different versions of my design made, each a slight improvement on the last. Finally, I had a working prototype, which I launched just over a year after my initial idea, at the Baby Products Association Showin London.
Launching a new product
"Obviously, I hoped to find a buyer, but thought the feedback would be useful, no matter what. In fact, the response blew me away. Pretty soon I had several orders placed, including one with JoJo Maman Bébé - a leading supplier of clothing and products for pregnant women and families with young children.
"Getting the product ready to meet JoJo's tight deadline was challenging, but I did it - including a few redesigns and rigorous safety testing to European standards.
"Things moved from prototype to product in just four months, which is quite amazing - it was a real rollercoaster ride.
Working with a manufacturing agent
"Working with Giftpoint was one of my best decisions. If I'd had to go to China to find a manufacturer and manage the process myself, it would have taken much longer and cost much more. I have family commitments, anyway, so I can't just hop on a plane at a moment's notice.
"I pay the agent a fee, but I still make a fair profit. Working with the agent removed much of the hassle; plus, they also knew a lot about baby product safety checks, because they work for Mothercare.
"They helped me with packaging, too. Without their help, I couldn't have supplied my first batch to JoJo Maman Bébé in time.
Protecting intellectual property
"I have patent pending and unregistered design rights. There's no point registering my design until I'm closer to having a patent granted - it could give away secrets.
"My logo is a registered trademark and - on the advice of a trademark attorney - I've registered SnoozeShade as one and two words. I've paid for legal advice, but I have also had free advice from the Intellectual Property Office.
"I used to work in PR, marketing and events, for amazing brands such as The National Lottery, Tesco and eBay. This knowledge helped me to secure a lot of free publicity.
"I've self-funded my business. Thankfully, developing the product didn't require a big investment, plus, I've been able to keep my costs down by, for example, getting a friend to design my logo, while my brother created my website.
However, I had to use all my personal savings to fund the first product run."
Looking to the future
"Since I started up, I've gone on to develop several new products in the line, including a version for use on car seats, a twin-buggy version and a SnoozeShade for cots. Our products are available nationwide through high-street retailers including John Lewis, Mothercare, Tesco, Boots and Asda.
"I also now have suppliers in several European countries, as well as worldwide in countries including America, Canada, China and Australia."
Cara's three key lessons
- "Make good use of all free sources of business advice - there's plenty out there."
- "Get a non-disclosure agreement signed before you reveal your invention to potential partners."
- "If you plan to get your product made overseas, find a good manufacturing agent. Their assistance and contacts could save you a lot of time, effort and money."