Anita Lincolne-Lomax, owner of Babes in Arms.
Tell us about your business?
Babes in Arms specialises in award-winning baby slings and carriers from around the world. Our handpicked products are perfect from birth to preschoolers and we believe, are the key to peaceful families.
Our flagship products include the world’s most loved ‘ERGObaby Carrier’, the celebrity endorsed ‘Peanut Shell’ and the cool comfort mesh ‘Breeze Baby’ sling. We supply these products exclusively to leading baby stores and boutiques across Australia and New Zealand and also showcase them via our website and our ever-growing Facebook page.
Babes in Arms has also become well-known for raising awareness about the benefits of baby wearing. We support both parents and health professionals with information that details the emotional, neurological and physiological benefits that flow from holding your baby close for a significant amount of time on a regular basis. These amazing facts are what parents have intuitively known as ‘best parenting practice’ for thousands of years but what modern parents are only now rediscovering as being beneficial.
Why did you start your business?
I had an absolute ‘a-ha-moment’ when I tried the ERGObaby carrier with my first daughter almost six years ago. Tilli was seven months old at the time and while it sounds completely cliché, the ERGObaby really changed our lives as parents! Being able to put Tilli in any carry position – front, back or hip - in complete comfort and have my hands free, suddenly gave me more time as a busy working mum because I didn’t have to spend time settling her to sleep. Tilli would effortlessly nap on my back and be completely happy as I went about my day. Parenting became a whole lot more fun and I felt much more able to balance my needs with Tilli’s while she was in the ERGObaby Carrier.
At this time I was actually running an architectural practice with my husband and fellow architect, Ralph. I was finding it increasingly difficult to juggle architectural site visits with a young baby and had been consequently toying with the idea of shifting professional gear into a product based business that I could run with Tilli safely in tow. Having an eye for well designed products, I knew the ERGObaby would hit the spot. My feelings were confirmed every time I stepped out of the house with Tilli on my back. Parents would even stop me at the park, in the supermarket aisle and in aeroplanes, all asking where they could get a carrier too!
Since the ERGObaby wasn’t available in Australia at the time, I contacted the U.S based manufacturers and expressed my interest in becoming a distributor. In the end, the opportunity simply boiled down to being in the right place at the right time. And so in July 2005 I received my first shipment of ERGObaby carriers and went a ‘peddling. I travelled the eastern seaboard of Australia with Tilli attached, showcasing the ERGObaby to staff in baby stores. We became a living, breathing product demonstration and a true testament to the ERGObaby’s versatility and unmatched comfort. The combination was a winner and led to some amazing business growth curves, far beyond my wildest dreams. The ERGObaby is now one of the top-selling baby carriers across Australia and NZ, often outstripping sales of other less comfy but well known brands.
Has starting your own business lived up to expectations?
Ralph and I often laugh when we remember my initial business goals. I simply wanted to “be a full time mum and sell baby carriers on the side”. Well, ‘on the side’ came to mean something completely different since I have never worked so hard in my life!
My favourite networking opportunity is the school gate! There are quite a few entrepreneurial mums at Tilli’s school that I am often encouraged by, even if it’s just getting a knowing wink as I stumble through the gate late for drop off.
Babes in Arms grew so quickly from the outset due to the popularity of the ERGObaby, that it was necessary to close the architectural practice so that we could both focus on meeting the demands of business on an upward j-curve. While the business has afforded us the flexibility of being able to work when we want, the sheer workload has eroded most lifestyle aspirations that we originally dreamt of. We are currently trying to define and set some work-life-balance goals but it is a on-going challenge.
I currently manage the Sales and Marketing division while Ralph focuses on Finance and Logistics. He (not-so) secretly longs to get back behind a drawing board so one day I look forward to being able to afford to ‘sack’ him and release his creativity from the world of Excel spreadsheets and back to design. Till then, we try to juggle as best we can.
What have you enjoyed most about running your own business?
Call me arrogant but I love being in the driving seat. While I sometimes wistfully long for the regularity and simplicity of a pay cheque and sick leave, I ultimately love the freedom of being my own boss.
I also appreciate the way Babes in Arms has been the catalyst and framework for my personal growth. I have developed in many areas, passed through many pain barriers, pushed myself more than any other time in my life and the satisfaction is very rewarding.
As we become increasingly successful, I really enjoy being able to increase our philanthropic giving proportionately. We support three sponsor children in developing countries and instead of sending Christmas chocolates to all our stockists, we use the opportunity to buy water wells in Africa or India through aid organisations such as Tear Australia. I am highly motivated by our business’ potential to affect change beyond our immediate family so that other families across the globe can enjoy basic services that make their world safer and more child friendly.
What is the biggest challenge?
Starting a business from scratch is a challenge at any stage of life but trying to juggle little kids on top has sometimes felt overwhelming. The enormity has sometimes felt like blowing up a hot air balloon with a short straw!
It is very easy to lose sight of the big picture under the sheer length of the ‘to do list’. We try to make time to work ON the business rather than just IN the business to keep our perspective sharp, strategic and forward moving.
Do you have any children – what are their names/ages?
We have been blessed with three children; Tilli (6), Jontae (3.5 - but keen to have his next birthday and get a new fire engine) and little Aviya (15 mths). Ralph calls them our “bouquet of children”.
How do you manage to juggle the running of your business with family?
It is a simple equation. Firstly, I don’t sleep much and secondly, I surround myself with capable staff to manage the day to day running of the business. I also outsource all the boring stuff (a.k.a cleaning).
Right from the beginning I have been adamant that I would only work maximum 2.5 days a week so that I could be with my children during the day. I make up a full time load by working at night once the children are in bed. I work till the wee hours of the morning to keep on top of priorities. I am blessed with high energy levels but often wonder how I keep it all together sometimes.
What is the hardest thing about being a working mother?
Feeling like I am always running. My life is a series of segues from one task to the next with little space in between. It’s not all taxing but just oh-so-constant!
I try very hard not to let the business affect my time with my children but I can sometimes be interrupted by urgent issues. Thankfully my children are fairly gracious towards my business distractions. We have a wonderful in-home carer two and half days a week which allows the children to come in and see me when they need. This arrangement has allowed me to continue breastfeeding for an extended period of time. A baby-friendly work space has many pluses but we do often find paper clips in the printer!
What do you think about ‘me’ time? And do you manage to fit some in?
Well, just about the only thing I get to do with ‘me’ time is think about it... and wonder what it’d be like!
In reality I can count on two fingers what I consider ‘me’ time. I slip off two mornings a week to do a Pilates circuit (this helps my abdominal muscles who aren’t talking to each other after three pregnancies) and I also meet with a personal mentor every six weeks to ensure that I am developing as a whole person, not just as a mum or business owner. It is so easy to lose yourself in the busyness of life so these meetings help give me a sense of purpose and of the bigger picture that I am painting with my life.
I don’t often resent the lack of ‘me’ time. I try to remember that I am in a ‘servant-hood’ stage of life as a mother with three young children and at some future stage I will be able to remember what I loved doing before I had them and the business. A mirage of ceramics, printing and gardening shimmers on the horizon but all I know is that I’m not there yet!
Have you ever thought about giving it up?
Of course! While I completely love what I do, business pressure can easily send the rhythm of my family and marriage out of sync. Usually these feelings are a sign that I need to top up on much needed sleep and by the morning I have managed to sift through the feelings and muster the energy to keep going.
Do you have a favourite networking opportunity or event?
The school gate! There are quite a few entrepreneurial mums at Tilli’s school that I am often encouraged by, even if it’s just getting a knowing wink as I stumble through the gate late for drop off. Beyond school I enjoy attending PBC expos and sharing ideas and experiences with other business mums.
Do you have any advice for someone starting their own business?
It is very easy to dream up businesses. Ideas are important beginnings but they are only powerful when you put ‘reality’ legs on them. Developing ‘legs’ to ‘run’ a business will take all the courage you have. It will take longer, cost more and be more challenging than most things you have yet attempted, so make sure you want to do this.
While I love my business and am proud of the achievement, I always warn new mums considering such a venture when their children are still very young. With the benefit of hindsight, I recommend postponing a business start up till your children are school age. It is otherwise a big juggle that many people give up on and lose a lot of capital as a result.
If you are really sure that you want to give business a go, consider the following ideas:
• Write a thorough business plan with clear goals. Revisit it often and measure your milestones.
• Surround yourself with good advice. Business mentors are invaluable and will help you short cut many time consuming pitfalls.
• While you will need to do and be everything at the beginning of your business, remember to engage competent people as you grow. Delegate as many tasks as possible to help free up your time and avoid micro-managing. This will help you stay focused on what only you can do. This will definitely drive the business forward.
• Get good at numbers, measuring them, predicting them, counting them. If this is not your strength, find someone who can. At the end of the day you are a business, not a charity, so make sure your key numbers are going in the right direction.
• Celebrate your achievements. Businesses can take all you’ve got (and more) so remember to measure how far you have come and give thanks.
10% OFF for EB Members
Babes in Arms is offering a 10% discount on babycarriers for Essential Baby members! Visit www.babesinarms.com.au and enter coupon code ‘EBPROFILE” at checkout to receive 10% OFF the entire product range (excluding sale items).
If you would like further information on the benefits of baby-wearing or further product details, please feel free to call Babes in Arms on 1300 725 276 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in starting your own business? Chat with other entrepreneurial mums in the My Business Forums.