For best friends Kate Compton Barr, Lauren Hughey and Amber Kroeker, an annual girls’ weekend was the launchpad for their now-thriving business.
Kroeker, an infant safety expert, knows that every year, 3,500 babies die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or suffocation. She identified a pattern and realized that many of these deaths could be prevented if infants 0-6 months old had a safe and portable sleep space. Kroeker had been awarded a $25,000 innovation grant from the University of Michigan to solve the problem by creating an American version of the 80-year-old Finnish Baby Box.
But during their annual get-together, Kroeker told Barr and Hughey that she had no idea how to get her product to market. Hughey says they “fell in love with the idea and agreed to jump on board and help launch the business.”
The Path to Success
According to Hughey, the three founders (who all live in different states) spent a year “climbing the business learning curve (trademarks, patents, SEO, website development, branding, prototype refinement, supply chain, logistics planning, etc.” They launched Pip & Grow at the ABC Kids Expo in 2016. Now, Hughey says, “a provisional patent, and a whole lot of learning later, the Smitten Sleep System is changing the way infants sleep by providing parents a convenient, recyclable and safe sleep option beyond a crib or pack-n-play.”
The Smitten Sleep System is a recyclable and portable bassinet box (about the size of a legal file box) that comes with a firm mattress, cotton sheet and carrying handles. It weighs just 2 pounds, yet can hold up to 100 pounds. The boxes are manufactured in Atlanta, Michigan and North Carolina. Hughey explains, “We chose to work with American manufacturers in communities that need the jobs the most, and who treat their workers well.”
How SCORE Helped
None of the founders have a business background. “We needed (and still need) help navigating this new world,” says Hughey. “We found SCORE just in time to help us.”
Hughey says their mentor, Jon Stuart, “keeps us on track, encourages us and raises red flags if we start to go off course.”
Barr, Hughey and Kroeker have worked with Stuart for two years and interact at least once a month. Hughey says, “Jon is amazing. He is my brain trust and my cheerleader. He gives me honest advice, even if it's hard to hear. He connects me to other experts who can help. He gives me perspective. He helps me identify obstacles and figure out solutions to work around them. He lets me work on my own time, but doesn't allow me to get lazy. He keeps me from getting discouraged on this wild ride. Jon keeps me sane!”
Hughey adds, “SCORE made us significantly more efficient, because we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We could lean on an entire stable of experts who have already ‘been there, done that.’ We would have made a lot more mistakes and not have grown on a stable foundation.”
The trio have learned a lot from Stuart. Hughey shares some of those lessons:
- “Failure is not permanent. You have to pick yourself up off the ground and keep moving forward.”
- “No matter how hard you work, you cannot run a successful business alone. The stronger your network, the more successful you’ll be.”
- “Done is better than perfect.”
Pip & Grow Today
Hughey is proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. She says, “In 18 months we started from scratch and are now profitable. We’ve created a new market — a lot of American parents aren’t sure about their child sleeping in a cardboard bassinet, even though families in Europe have been using them for nearly 80 years.”
Stuart agrees that Pip & Grow is on a prosperous path. He says, “They’ve had great success to this point, with even greater to come.”
In March 2018, Pip & Grow was named a finalist in the American Small Business Championship (ASBC). Hughey and Kroeker attended the ASBC symposium, and promptly “changed the way we approached social media and increased our Instagram followers by more than 50 percent and our Twitter followers by more than 25 percent.” Moreover, says Hughey, “Sales have skyrocketed since our training.”
Pip & Grow has since been named one of the three 2018 ASBC Grand Champions, meaning that they were awarded $15,000 to grow their business, courtesy of Sam's Club. Pip & Grow is also the 2018 SCORE Award winner for Outstanding Retail Small Business, presented by Liberty Tax.
Paying it Forward
Pip & Grow’s vision is built around paying it forward. As Hughey says, “We believe that it’s possible to do good while doing well.”
Hughey adds, “I am most proud of keeping babies safe and bringing a new product to market in an ethical way. I sleep well at night knowing that we are supporting American families with our manufacturing and that we aren’t adding a ton of plastic waste to the planet.”
If you’re thinking of starting a business, Hughey says, “Go for it! It’s a wild ride of highs and lows, but if you believe in your business and do the work, the rest will come.”