Starting a new business while making babies? Why not, says architect turned entrepreneur Anita Lincolne-Lomax
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She knows from first-hand experience just how possible it is to start a new business and family at the same time.
"Growing a young family and a business at the same time is very intense," says Lincolne-Lomax. "Often women feel it's an either or situation, so they wait until their kids are in school before they start their business. But I think you can bring the two stages together. It's high energy and high stress, but I didn't wait."
Lincolne-Lomax was working as an architect in a Hobart-based architectural practice she ran with her husband when she had her first baby. She started using a baby sling so she could keep her baby close and her hands free, and loved the design so much she sent an email to the American company that produced the sling. She organised a co-op order for her friends, and the idea for her business, Babes in Arms, began to germinate.
From this simple step of appreciation and feedback grew a business that now turns over more than a million dollars a year. "I had developed a strong email relationship with the company and they were looking to open up distribution rights internationally, and ask me if I was interested," says Lincolne-Lomax. "I had no idea what that meant really! I thought it would be a Tupperware party style business, where I could bring the baby along to mothers groups and run demos. I had no clue it would lead to national distribution and being in almost every baby store, but I said yes."
The opportunity enabled Lincolne-Lomax to create a role better suited to her needs as a parent. "I realised quickly that balancing a baby with running your own service-based business was challenging. I wanted to move into a product-based business so I could balance everything, and train other people so I could juggle the needs of my business with a child on board."
The business took off. "I thought it would stay being smaller and manageable, but it grew 190% in the first year and the 90% in the second," says Lincolne-Lomax. She and her husband decided to shut the architecture practice where he was still working in 2005. He now heads up the finance and logistics division while Lincolne-Lomax crams her director role into three full days and plenty of very late nights while their four children (aged eight, six, three and 16 months) are sleeping.
Lincolne-Lomax attributes the rapid growth of the company in the early years to product design, and the advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing strategies of the company. "Mums are very information-hungry, so word-of-mouth spreads like wildfire," says Lincolne-Lomax. "Our niche target market has shifted; originally we sold mostly to emotional attachment parenting. Now we talk to mainstream parents who are interested in maintaining an active lifestyle. There is a lot of scope to remind parents of how baby slings have been a great way to look after kids since prehistoric times, and will continue to be a great way."
The growth of the business has also required some serious thinking about how to best serve nation-wide demand and where to invest the Babes in Arms team's time. Lincolne-Lomax credits the ongoing support of the Tasmanian state government and her networks for helping her build the business from Tasmania. "Hobart is a very passionate place and it hasn't been a hindrance, it's been a sanctuary for me. We travel a lot from March to September, as the parenting expos are on then. There is one in every state except for Darwin and Tassie, so we're always travelling around in our expo teams."
The recent decision to outsource the distribution and warehousing to a Sydney-based firm has shortened lead times on orders and freed up Lincolne-Lomax's time to focus on the advocacy component of her work.
"We've set up Australia/New Zealand Baby-Wearing Week which happens in early October each year. As part of this, we've set up grants to support community events for baby-wearing mums so they can hold events. They've run picnics, dance parties and flashmobs in Ikea! I'm so passionate about baby-wearing and want to get people talking about the benefits of baby-wearing."
Anita Lincolne-Lomax is up for the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the NAB Women's Agenda Leadership awards. Check out the full list of finalists.