Cash-strapped mom starts million-dollar business

When Robyn Collar was pregnant with her second child in 2005, her husband was earning $11 an hour at Home Depot.

“Our first child had special needs and was still in diapers. I couldn’t afford a baby carrier and didn’t like the ones I saw anyway,” she recalls. “I saw a mei tai (Chinese-inspired soft baby carrier) and thought I could sew my own.”

Friends who saw the homemade carrier encouraged Collar to make and sell them. She tested sales on eBay and by June 2005 she had her own business — BabyHawk — and website. And by 2008 sales exceeded $1 million.

While sales have been impacted by the recession, BabyHawk – her son’s nickname – is “holding steady” because it never relied on debt to grow.

Still, the company is far more successful than she initially envisioned. “We were doing anything to supplement our income. I thought maybe it would be a little extra spending money,” she say.

Despite recession, “there are still parents out there; people didn’t stop having babies,” Collar says. “Baby carriers are cheaper than strollers so they’re an affordable option.”

The business moved from the kitchen table of a two-bedroom apartment to an 1,800-square-foot warehouse and now to a 5,000-square-foot warehouse. It has 10 employees who sew the carriers in the United States, and products are in 250 retailers worldwide. Sales are about half online, half through other retailers, Collar says.

BabyHawks come in three styles: mei tai for infants to 40 pounds, mei tai toddler for 18 months to 40 pounds and Oh Snap for up to 45 pounds. And buyers can design their own, choosing from 300 different fabrics and 11 strap colors. “Our tagline used to be ‘a million combinations,’” Collar says. Prices are $80 to $140.

The most popular look is Black Calavaris — black background with colorful skulls — and cherry-red straps (right photo below):

“Retailers look shocked when we show them the Black Calaveras, but we promise them it sells and they always come back and say it’s the first to sell out,” Collar says.

Her biggest mistake, she says, was trying to start her own baby retail shop in 2008. She closed it in 2009. One smart move that has helped weather the recession is taking on contract manufacturing for another baby carrier company.

Now as Collar continues to grow Babyhawk, she’s considering expanding into other reusable product lines.

Copied from The Orange County Register and written by Jan Norman, small-business columnist

Our note – way to go Robyn! I’m so happy for you and wishing the very best!

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