How a lost set of keys led to the birth of an infant business empire.
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Elspeth Fawcett, founder of teething toy brand Yummikeys, describes the trails and tribulations of navigating manufacturing, health & safety and even Sterling-Dollar exchange rates to produce a new line of shiny baby products.
What’s the business in a nutshell?
Stainless steel toy animal keys, teething rings and teething necklaces for babies.
Everyone knows babies love keys and we believe this is in large part because metal is very exciting for them. It’s cool, shiny, reflective, hard, smooth and jingly and this all makes our stainless steel toys fascinating for babies to explore.
Why did you start it?
My first baby loved keys and my second was absolutely obsessed, so we bought him a plastic toy version, but he just wasn’t interested.
We tried to keep him away from our actual car-keys, as of course they’re not safe for babies - being sharp, containing batteries, potentially lead and having a soft palate impact risk - but when we were down to one car key my son got his hands on them and we never found them.
After a lot of searching we eventually had to pay £400 to get a new set...and the car had to be towed...
After that I decided to buy my son some metal toy keys as so much of what he loved seemed to be the metal, but I was amazed that there was no-one offering this in Europe. That’s when Yummikeys was born.
How did the business develop?
I spent a lot of time researching baby toys and discussing my ideas with fellow parents and small business owners. I then sketched vast numbers of designs and a friend of mine helped me make some very crude prototypes.
As soon as I found a suitable manufacturer I arranged proper prototypes and worked closely with a safety consultant, which for me was essential.
From here I had my first batch manufactured and did a soft launch into the market to learn more from our initial customers.
Tell us about market conditions
I’ve generally found market conditions to be pretty favourable with a huge support currently for smaller businesses and plastic free products. Massive Scottish and UK support too.
I can’t get our products made in the UK and they are instead made in a luxury jewellery manufacturers in China, where the quality is exceptional. However all orders are paid in US dollars which is not ideal with current exchange rate dips and this is making stock costs 30% higher than this time last year.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge before launching was finding a suitable manufacturer. I was desperate to have Yummikeys made in the UK and spent days and days contacting stainless steel manufacturers and was almost universally laughed at!
What is left of the steel industry in the UK is largely architectural stainless steel and therefore nothing like my toys. I eventually found one manufacturer who made us an exception and a separate polisher for our very first batch.
The quality was ok but nowhere near as high as it now is. For the first batch we had to hand clean each key and assemble the sets and it took hours and hours and was hard, monotonous work!
What’s been your biggest mistake?
In the first batch of Yummirings teething rings I had manufactured in 2017, which was a small batch of 100, one of the rings came apart and therefore there was a chance that a bead could come off.
This wasn’t a risk I could take, not knowing if it could happen again and cause actual harm, so I immediately recalled every single set of Yummirings I’d sold.
We did some further safety testing and had every set remade with a much stronger weld to ensue that this could never happen again, and it never has recurred in the thousands of sets that I’ve now sold.
What major bumps have you had in the road and how did you overcome them?
We’ve has many small bumps but fortunately few major ones so far. Recently we had a visit from Trading Standards as someone had sought out toys online and reported them, as they didn’t think metal was safe for babies.
This was slightly terrifying, but I’ve taken safety incredibly seriously throughout this whole process and Trading Standards were happy to see the evidence of all our testing and voluntary additional testing.
This has cemented the importance of keeping good records and always prioritising safety above all else.
How do you attract and retain good people
I believe that there’s a wealth of experienced mums out there who may be working part time or not at all while their families are young, as many large companies aren’t hugely flexible. I actively tap into this resource and almost all my business support has been from women who have set up businesses around children.
Our web design, photography, packaging design, videography, logo and general design and business coaching has all been from women with families and they have all been fantastic in the quality of their support.
Our one permanent staff member is getting back into work after 2 children and has a wealth of knowledge and understands our customer base perfectly.
She works totally flexibly from home, around her family and I believe this is essential for the role to work for her and therefore for it to work for us both.
What’s your best advice to would be entrepreneurs?
There’s never a perfect time to take the plunge so just do it and embrace the chaos. You’ll find enough time to work somehow and it will get easier and change your life massively for the better.
When I launched Yummikeys I was 6 months pregnant and working as a chartered accountant. I also had a 1 and a 3 year old.
It sounds a bit insane but I knew the business could be a success and I wanted a lifestyle where I could work around and support my family as my priority. Having your own business absolutely gives you that.