The Baby Loft is an online baby rental equipment service that offers parents a range of products for all stages of their baby’s life. Founder Denise Proctor, 36, talks to inspiresme about the birth of the idea and the challenges of being a Mumpreneur.
The idea for The Baby Loft came about when Denise was on maternity leave and she saw a gap in the market for a reputable baby equipment rental service.
“I had just had my daughter Olivia and was constantly astounded as to the amount of “stuff” that such a little person needs. In addition, family members also stock up their lofts with baby equipment ready to call upon when little ones come to visit.
"The idea to start The Baby Loft began as a few scribbles on a sheet of paper, something that I would maybe do at some point in the future. I then returned to my software sales job and three weeks later was made redundant. It couldn’t have happened at a better time; it was the motivation I needed and soon after The Baby Loft was born.”
At age 18 Denise started a year-long management trainee position for ladieswear retailer Hamells. At the age of 19 she became a deputy store manager and at 21 she was promoted to store manager, followed by a stint at head office as a Customer Service and Systems Support Manager.
This 15 year retail career gave her the experience and confidence she needed to start out on her own. With £2000 of her own savings, she started The Baby Loft in October 2010.
“I was lucky enough to have a little savings behind me so I used this to get The Baby Loft off the ground. I didn’t need much to get going, I had roughly £2,000 and so decided to buy stock on demand when the orders began coming in rather than to buy stock in anticipation. I am so glad I did it this way as my idea of what I thought would be most popular at the time did not reflect the reality.”
Denise is the first to admit she has faced her fair share of challenges along the journey to setting up in business.
“When you set up your own business you soon learn that the working day does not stop at 5pm. Especially in my field of business many of my customers are abroad planning their visits to the UK, so the emails and calls kept coming at all times of the day and night.
“To begin with I would be checking and answering emails in the middle of the night but I soon made use of that silent button until the sun came up at least. You also have to learn very easily to become a ‘jack of all trades’ and master many new skills, e.g. marketing, advertising, accountancy.
“You are your own advocate and have to shout to be heard. I also realised I couldn’t be too rigid as the business focus can shift in a way that you do not anticipate.”
Being a mum with a young child also bought along another set of obstacles and challenges.
“I would say to any Mum thinking of starting their own business to be prepared for a lot of hard work, feeling guilty and being pulled in all directions, but remember you are not Superwoman and that you are a Mum first and foremost. I was given a piece of advice during my first year which I found to be invaluable: “invest in good childcare.”
“In the beginning Olivia would come with me on deliveries, I quickly realised it was unfair on her and she wasn't getting much from it or from me during endless hours stuck in traffic . She now goes to nursery three days a week which allows me to focus on the business and she has a great time.”
In creating The Baby Loft Denise has used her experience of being Mum to help create the right mix of products and brands available to customers. In addition the company runs a ‘Try before you buy’ service that gives parents the opportunity to check a product’s suitability before committing to buy it.
In order to allay potential concerns of parents, which Denise feels she truly understands, the company is a member of the Baby Equipment Hirers Association (BEHA), and ensures all products meet the latest safety standards as well as being professionally cleaned between uses.
Now that company is trading profitably, Denise is keen to grow the customer base and spread the word about the business.
“My main aim is to educate people to the fact that you can hire baby equipment hire in the UK as I hear so often from people that they had no idea that it was possible. My next focus is to really build on The Baby Loft brand. The next natural step for me is to have a visible presence in the airports much like the car rental companies have. I am part way to achieving this so watch this space!”