I wanted to have four children and I wanted to have my own business – and follow the path my parents did. I am one of four siblings (Kate, myself and two brothers) and both parents were entrepreneurial. My father had his own accounting firm and my mother was a framer and artist. We grew up in the Dandenong Ranges until I was 18 and we relocated to Caulfield – Dad had always wanted us to move to the city but we all resisted. We’re hillbillies from way back! Both of our parents went through illnesses when we were kids and as a consequence we became exposed to natural health. Kate and I are both hippies at heart – my brother calls us gypsies. I did a degree in natural medicine, a Bachelor of Health Science, and then Kate and I opened up an organic store together in Hawthorn with organic fresh fruit and vegetables, wine, meat etc with a cafe and yoga – and we worked together really well. I went off and had children (Floyd is four, Baye is five and Chloe is eight) - I’m up to three kids now which is where it ends, four would tip me over the edge! We sold the store and I raised my kids and Kate worked for a fashion label in Melbourne called Obus as a business manager.
We came back together when Kate started conjuring up businesss ideas. We decided that Australia needed fashion bedding, so we went for it. Alex, a friend of Kate’s from University is the third member of the Kip and Co team, she’s still child-free so she didn’t make the Business Mamas cut today! It was 2011 when the three of us got together. Floyd was just a tiny baby then and I was desperate to do something new. I’d been at home for two years doing full-time motherhood so I was ready for a creative outlet and it was the right time to do something for myself again. There were lots of challenges raising three little ones and starting a business. Kate and I don’t have grandparent support so I found some local help with babysitters and I’ve been so fortunate – I found the best bunch of girls and they have been amazing. I’ve had the same three of four girls helping out for the last eight years, since Chloe was 10 months old. There were a few years when I didn’t need them as much but they’ve been a part of the kids’ lives for a long time now. In saying that, we lead really flexible work lifestyles. We work at night and there’s only really one day a week I need help. I suppose a good husband comes in handy too. My husband and I both have our own businesses so we are both busy, but we love what we do and it’s not purely about making money and paying the bills.
I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t with Kip and Co. It feels fresh and new and we keep coming up with new ideas. Kate is the real business mind out of the three of us and she’s a real perfectionist so she keeps driving everybody to do their best and pushing us all along. Alex is the free spirit with no kids and we kind of live through her – she has a social life! She brings that energy to the group. Alex and I weren’t particularly close friends before we started and now I consider her one of my best friends, and Kate and I have our sisterhood so it all works together beautifully.
Colour is our thing. Kip and Co is fresh and colourful and it’s fashion bedding. We’ve branched out of bedding now to sleepwear and some other categories. Being fresh and fashion-driven is our key. Adult bedding was our main focus for the first two years. We dabbled in the kids arena pretty early on but it was a hard sell. Our product’s not super cheap – it’s high quality cotton and we’re a premium bedding product, relaxed with colour and fun. Our wholesale side makes up about 50% of our business with the balance via our online e-store. We have an amazing girl, Anna, who helps with our wholesale side. It’s got to the point now where we can get the help we need without compromising the control of what goes on. Wholesale nearly tipped Kate and I over the edge, it’s a huge workload. Being on the phone and talking to customers with kids running around just doesn’t work. We found that quite testing at times. It’s all very well responding to emails at night, but customers want to talk with you on the phone during business hours. So we realised early on that this was the area that we needed help with.
We really wanted to focus on product development, that’s what we love – it’s our passion and creating product is what got the business started. It’s a big business to run now and there’s not enough time for us to do all the product development as well as everything else that’s involved. There’s so much competition out there in bedding, so we really need to focus on the design and set the benchmark each season. Kip and Co has become a national brand now, and we need to maintain the design aesthetic that our customers love. We put a lot of energy into what we do, and we also had some great things happen to us along the way. We worked with some really great stylists who used our product and gave it exposure. We’ve really put ourselves out there – Kate’s had her home photographed about 10 times and I’ve had my home photographed three times so you really have to open your life, offer your time and make yourself accessible. At the end of the day we want the business to be successful so we can keep doing it.
Australia has really accepted our colours and designs. We’ve got a loyal, strong following – every day we get new customers but we also recognise the names of people on social media and with repeat orders. People do keep coming back and add a bit more to their Kip and Co collection. That’s why it’s important to keep offering new things. When we are in the design process we always stay true to the Kip and Co identity, as well as offering accent pieces and co-ordinates for those who don’t necessarily want the bold, crazy things we do. People have embraced the colour and seem to really love it. It’s so easy to give your room a makeover by throwing new sheets on and putting a few new cushions around.
Social media has been huge for us. I don’t know what businesses like ours would have done 10 years ago. We’ve been blown away by the response, particularly on Instagram. We don’t put as much energy in to Facebook but we can see instant results with Instagram. We put a post up and see an immediate response. Setting up social media channels was on the list of things we needed to do when we set up Kip and Co, but none us understood the power it would have. Everyone we speak to in business says how amazing Instagram is. We have relationships with our customers and I spend a lot of time writing back to people who leave comments on Instagram. We really appreciate their comments and their feedback. We’ve started up an Instragram family of our own – we have a few girls that we send some product to who love our brand and have an organic following. We’ve created an identity and a personality for our business.
We do two collections a year, Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. We did a few trade fairs initially, and that would be my advice to other mums wanting to launch a product range. In your business plan consider investing some money in doing a few trade shows. For our first season we had a stand at Life Instyle and all we had to display was a set of pillowcases which was all we’d received from our Supplier, and a few scraps of fabric that we had sewn together as a tablecloth. We stacked our pillows up and a few stylists took an interest – one in particular – and the next thing we knew we were in the magazines. It’s amazing who could be out there watching and looking for something new, so it’s really worthwhile investing in events like that.
If you want to start your own business, I’d say go for it! No-one’s going to bring it to you – you have to go out there and get what you’re after. It has definitely helped to make me a better mother – I’m a more sane person for having done something for myself. Don’t over commit yourself financially, plan to put in only what you can afford to lose because there’s no sure thing. Be open and form relationships and get your product out there through as many channels as you can. And keep it fun. We’re in a fortunate position where it’s not been about the bottom line the whole time, with our partners working, so we’ve been able to relax about it all and not lose sleep over colour choices and the products that don’t do well. Hopefully you don’t have to take it too seriously and it doesn’t become a burden so you can enjoy it and share the fun with your family and friends.
When I was at school I did work experience to be a Naturopath, which is what Hayley went on to do. Our two brothers really encouraged us to go to university - at the time Naturopathy was just a private course. (Our parents passed away when we were little, about 12 years old. Our brothers looked after us so we could all stay together.) Hayley started studying Commerce but changed to Naturopathy and I decided to go to Melbourne University and did Commerce Arts. I’m the sort of person who will stick with something and see it through even if I’m not loving it, so I finished the course and worked as an Accountant for two years. I did enjoy it, it was fine at the time – and then Hayley and I started planning to open a health food store. We had the health food store in Hawthorn for four years. We always felt comfortable enough to want to work together, maybe because we spent so much time together growing up and we got on so well. We really quite proud of ‘Sprout’ – we sold it after four years and it’s still going today. We were so young when we started that business and we just kind of did it, we were young girls who didn’t want to work for anyone else and we wanted to travel and have the freedom to run our own lives. Hayley fell pregnant and then she fell pregnant again so we decided to sell the business. After we sold Sprout I worked for Obus, the Melbourne fashion label, for two years as a business manager. By the end of the two years I was pregnant - I would like to have four children. Zig is three and a half and I am due with my second child in November, so we’re nearly half way there. I really hope we have two more.
I was pregnant with Zig when we started Kip and Co. I started talking about a business idea with Alex, our other business partner. We were going to do something with Alex’s sister but then she dropped out so Hayley decided she wanted to jump in. Alex was a lawyer at the time, she’s now in Corporate Communications, but we all just had a love of interiors and were into creating nice homewares. Nothing we do is particularly designerish but it’s colourful and it’s fun and it fills what we saw as a gap in the market. We felt that everyone we knew was just buying the same bedding brand. It was beautiful but just satisfied one market and we thought that there was room for something that was a bit more colourful and a bit more fun – with the same high quality at a slightly better price point.
We didn’t expect Kip and Co to become the national brand that it is with the following that we have. But I definitely always hoped that I could contribute monetarily to my family at a level where my husband didn’t have to work so much. He has his own landscaping business and he has started to work a bit less but if he could consistently start working four days a week I’d be really happy. I just want us both to work a moderate amount. We have always wanted to be that family where we both work three days a week – with enough money to live a really nice life, together, and both be there for the kids. Reality gets in the way and you realise it’s really hard to grow a business and go away on holidays and do all the stuff you love – and progress in your career - if you’re only working part-time at it.
I never wanted to be in the corporate world but I did want to make money and be satisfied by something outside of the home. I know I would be bored just being at home seven days a week. I work outside of home one day a week and that’s perfect for me. Zig is in day care two days a week, and one of those days Hayley and I spend a huge day in Melbourne – we leave home at 4.30am and get home about 10pm. We just work all day from our warehouse – focusing on product development. All three of us are there (Alex works four days a week in her other role), and we sit around a table all day and work on product development which is really fantastic. On the other day Hayley and I work from her home or my home just dealing with emails and production issues and doing research. We have two staff who work in the warehouse, one who looks after the wholesale side and one who takes care of the dispatch, orders and customer service.
Design wise we all contribute pretty evenly – Alex is a bit more commercial, I’m the most left of centre and Hayley is somewhere in between. She’s probably into the crazier looks but in her home she has a more mainstream style. I have a business strategy background, Alex takes care of the legal side and communications and in the last three years Hayley has become our social media expert. That side is so important to our business and she has really embraced that area. It’s been awesome and really helped us cut through. We live in a time where social media is so important – it’s free and it’s easy and in this day and age people are quite voyeuristic and like watching each other and getting inspired by others. I do think our success has a lot to do with the time we have dedicated to social media – I don’t think any small business could start without it. We focus on Facebook and Instagram, Pinterest a little and Tumblr a little, and Twitter in a really small way. I think social media as been pivotal for us.
My advice to other mums wanting to start their own business, is not is not to take it all too seriously. Just enjoy it for what it is. Sometimes it does get too busy and if you can’t manage it all, don’t worry about it. We’re not saving lives here, we’re not doing anything very profound. Just give it a go. For a small amount of money you can really get a small business started. And get your head around social media. It’s a really easy platform to not only market your product but set the tone for your brand. Just communicate with a group or people that may or may not ever become your customer – we have so many followers who have never bought from us but they appreciate what we do. It’s the same for us, following Prada or other aspirational brands. Don’t take your brand too seriously, just have some fun.
Kip and Co will always be expanding. Sometimes we wish that we just had one product that we could roll out for years, but with bedding there’s so much competition and so many brands entering the arena. To be honest we are really a reactive business. We go with the flow and take the opportunities that come our way. We really are a brand that says yes to everything. So that’s my other advice – just say yes. Just try – what’s the worst that can happen? We get contacted a lot for all types of projects and stories and collaborations and there are times when we’ve thought ‘is this going to damage our brand’, but really they’re just awesome opportunities to open our brand up to a bunch of people who generally wouldn’t buy our product. Perhaps some people think we don’t care enough about protecting our brand, but to us we care about it to the level we need to. Sometimes we just connect with a brand, or have a really great conversation with them and we think, bugger it, let’s just do it. We just want to have fun, and for us that is being reactive and saying yes to things and trying new things out. A motto in our business is that we’ll always try everything once. Of course it depends on what you’re doing, but we’re not changing the world, we’re just having fun in our own worlds.
Alex, Kate and Hayley launched Kip & Co in 2012 offering bright, colourful, beautiful bedding – and the range has quickly expanded into a covetable, vibrant lifestyle brand. Kip & Co’s collections are inspired by the everyday and the out of the way – life’s big moments and its sunny days, laughter, adventure and the next sip of champagne.
Having a multi-level marketing strategy is so important, and you can’t underestimate the power of social media. Business Mamas can demystify the social media platforms, and set you on the right path with your very own marketing strategy.
Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
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