by Jessika Hepburn of O Happy Day Handmade
How does a great handmade idea become an award winning business, on it’s way to becoming a global company, with products carried by major outlets? Read on for an inspirational interview with a savvy business woman who has managed to do just that while balancing parenting a young family!
1. Tidy Books is an award winning line of creative storage solutions for children, designed by violinmaker, and mom: Geraldine Grandidier. Thank you for sharing your business with Oh My! Handmade. What inspired you to create the Tidy Books design?
The Tidy Books story began in 2002 when I was looking for a bookcase for my young daughter Adele, and I found I just couldn’t buy the bookcase I had in mind. I wanted a practical, compact bookcase that would be easy for her to use independently, and that would show the books’ front covers. Adele had a small room so the bookcase had to hold a lot of books, to display and store them at the same time. I wanted a bookcase that would be easy for her to use independently. Traditional bookcases for children simply made no sense to me. Adele’s picture books, like most children’s books were outsize, differently shaped and hard to keep tidy. As you know, children don’t choose books from the spine but from the cover, and when a child takes a book from a traditional bookcase, the rest collapse.
When I went out to purchase the bookcase I had in mind, it simply didn’t exist! There was nothing like it for the home market-I looked at bookcases for libraries and nurseries, but soon realized they were not suitable either, too bulky, not that easy for kids to use independently etc…so I just had to make the bookcase I wanted! I made a bookcase that gave these beautiful books a special place, and that was straightforward for children to access. I was just thinking about Adele and her books at that point. Then, I found myself making them for my friends too. In an experiment, I placed a small ad in a nationwide parenting magazine, and I couldn’t make them fast enough. It was then that I knew I had a business to get on with!
While I was making the bookcases I was planning my expansion and sourcing manufacturers, because I knew early on that I would be looking at expanding and exporting. I changed the bookcase to a flat pack assembly to enable easy shipping and storage. All Tidy Books products are designed to fulfill a particular purpose be practical, easy for kids to use and look great in the home! My ideas are borne out of my own family’s needs for storage and are totally authentic. I’ve never wanted to copy anyone, or tag along on a trend.
2. How has Tidy Books grown from its beginnings in your violinmaking workshop into the company it is today?
I started small at first. I made each bookcase by hand in the violin workshop my partner Matthew and I had set up in our spare bedroom. As the business started to grow, I hired my first manufacturer to create the bookcases to my design. Soon, the demand meant I had to hire further companies to produce my designs. I moved out of our home and rented a small office nearby and recruited my first staff member to help me with the administration. As my business grew, I expanded the business one step at a time, hiring further members of staff when needed and working closely with freelancers to help me, for example, with branding, advertising and public relations. I’ve been careful to expand gradually and consolidate my success in one area before moving to the next.
I’ve had to do it this way because I had no business or marketing experience, business contacts or even worked in an office with others. Violin making can be quite isolated! And the business has been a totally new world for me. I’ve learned each step along the way, and so it’s been a steep learning curve, as well as raising a young family at the same time.
Our products got noticed organically. For instance editors of parenting magazines were buying the bookcases for their own children and then featured them in their publications. Having a very unique and useful product that parents could relate to as well, helped to propel the business and how it got noticed and talked about.
3. Tidy Books products are sold in the UK at Toys R Us, John Lewis and Mothercare as well as at many independent children’s retailers and have recently become available for sale in the US. How do you attract wholesale clients and market/ promote your business?
I’ve taken a step by step approach to recruit stockists and wholesalers. I started with individual independent shops and then moved one at a time to winning accounts with the main retailers and department stores in the UK. So much of this is a learning process. It made sense because of the steep learning curve involved in securing a contract with one big retail chain. I need to absorb any learning points, and then move on to the next one on my list, rather than taking a “scattergun approach.”
I have also taken this approach to customer service, manufacturing processes, because I want a business to be proud of. It’s my big focus, and to manage all of this takes time, and resources. Wholesalers have approached us as well, because they have discovered Tidy Books’ products for their own children! My marketing started with a simple print advertisement in the magazine of the UK’s main parenting organization. Because the product was so different, and actually incredibly useful, it got noticed. Word of mouth took us on from there, and our sales began to build.
I worked with PR and marketing companies for a while, but now I prefer to work with individuals with marketing skills who focus only on Tidy Books, and with whom I can work closely in each area of the business. When I started out I did mainly PR and advertising in print media. More recently I’ve developed the Tidy Books online marketing strategy to focus on social media, blogging and internet marketing. Tidy Books is fast becoming an international brand, and embracing the power of the internet has been a key part of our marketing success.
4. What have been the biggest lessons you have learned about balancing parenting with entrepreneurship, do you have any suggestions for other mother run companies?
It’s hard work being a mom and building your company! Both parenting and entrepreneurship are incredible commitments. My partner Matthew is self employed so we haven’t had the luxury of secure employment to fall back on as a family. I gave birth to my youngest child while Tidy Books was just starting. I worked while my son was sleeping, and at night for a while to get Tidy Books going, rather than taking a break. I learned to prioritize because I had to! You learn quickly because time is limited and in my case, my priorities were just the children and the business. And I employed help and delegated whilst keeping a close eye.
Good quality childcare was key. Eventually both of my children had part time childcare outside the home so that I could concentrate on the business knowing they were safe, happy and stimulated. I could then become “mommy” again when we were together as a family. I embraced flexible working, often planning in the evenings while they were in bed. Matthew and I share our parental responsibilities and support each others businesses, so if say, I needed to attend a trade fair, he would run the home while I was away.
I think what has fundamentally helped me is that I knew where I wanted to go and what type of company I wanted to develop from the beginning. I had a vision and drive even if I had no idea how it would happen. This helped me keep focused, and meant I could keep going despite the inevitable set-backs.
5. Tidy Books is growing as a company, are there any new and exciting projects in the works?
There are many more Tidy Books ideas in the pipeline and I’m working on these, so watch this space. Since creating the bookcases, Tidy Books has expanded, and I created more additions to the range, including the Bunk Bed Buddy™ and the Tidy Box™, all designed to fulfill a practical need, work well, look good and be a lasting addition to the family home I love to use my creative skills to solve problems. I have close, personal experience of practical issues involving space, organization and the growing clan. I’ve got more ideas up my sleeve to help families keep everything in place – but they have all got to have style too – after all, I am a Parisian!
Editor’s Note: Geraldine sent one of the original Tidy Books bookcases for me to review and I am excited to share my thoughts on the Tidy Books bookcase next month. Let’s just say for now that I think it is the best storage solution for kids books ever! Find out for yourself and save 15% on your order by heading over to the Tidy Books website and entering USL15 at checkout.