Home-based businesses yield products for children
Boulder, Colo. — When people work at home, the business often becomes a family affair. Perhaps that's why products designed to support good parenting are naturals for cottage industries.
In Colorado, Ann Moore's desire for a soft carrier that would hold her baby close to her has burgeoned into the international Snugli corporation. Marcia Johnson's idea for children's foam block furniture that doubles as creative toys is a growing enterprise. And Meg Hansson catapulted her family's devotion to outdoor recreation into a successful business career.
''Many innovative ideas for children's products have originated in the past 20 years, because changes in family life styles have presented needs, and women have become involved in finding the solutions,'' says Mrs. Hansson, a pioneer in the field of manufacturing juvenile products in cottage industries.
Early in the 1960s she worked in her Boulder home, doing advertising and public relations for Gerry Cunningham, designer of mountaineering equipment. To help carry her children on camping trips and around the home she and Mr. Cunningham designed the Gerry Kiddy carrier. It was manufactured, together with other items for children, in a cottage industry using the Gerico label.
Two other Meg Hansson enterprises were Maginarys, manufacturer of imaginative multiple-use furniture for children, and a company that makes strollers for the handicapped. Since she has sold all three corporations and has been a member of the Presidential Commission on Small Business, she is in a unique position to act as mentor to people like Ann Moore and Marcia Johnson.
Dispelling the ''sweat shop'' picture many have of cottage industries, Mrs. Hansson, from her experience, views work that can be picked up, done at home, and brought back to an assembly or shipping point as convenient, well-paid work for many women. ''You must tell the people who work for you what your goals are and why,'' she says, stressing the need for cooperation between employer and employees. Equally important, as she sees it, is the cooperation of one's family - whether they are actively involved with the business or not.
Ann Moore's idea for the Snugli carrier was spawned in Togo, West Africa, where she and her husband, Mike Moore, were Peace Corps volunteers.
''It was in the noisy marketplaces there that we discovered the marvelous inner calm of the African mothers and their children. We didn't hear any babies crying - and we saw that the children were being held, with long shawls, snugly against their mothers' backs, while the women worked,'' Mrs. Moore explains.
When her first child was born in Colorado in 1964, she remembered the contentment of the African children. Looking for a practical way to hold her baby close to her, she consulted her mother, Lucy Aukerman, an expert needlewoman. In one long night Mrs. Aukerman designed and sewed what was to be the prototype of the Snugli baby carrier.
From then on the business seemed to be self-starting. Ann Moore took her infant daughter everywhere with her. There were many questions about the carrier she used. Requests for her mother to make more baby carriers began to mount.
Back in her home in the traditional Dunkard (German Baptist) farming community of West Alexandria, Ohio, Mrs. Aukerman made the carriers, one at a time, at her kitchen table. After sewing 20 or 30, she enlisted the help of neighboring farm women who were skilled in needlework.
Soon there was a brisk parcel exchange between West Alexandria and the Moores' mountain home in Evergreen, Colo. While she took care of her three young daughters, Mande, Hopi, and Nicole, Mrs. Moore and a neighbor packaged Snuglis to send to mail-order customers.
Mike Moore, continuing the story, says, ''In 1972 I realized that this hobby had become a business, so I left my job in Denver to spend full time on management. It was necessary to think ahead and plan for change. We needed more expertise.''Today Snugli Inc. has three vice-presidents - specialists in finance , marketing and sales, and manufacturing. Snugli 2, a lower- priced alternative to the original carrier, is being produced in a Lakewood, Colo., factory. Nine distributors sell Snuglis overseas - in Britain, Europe, and Japan. The Snugli name, written in rounded letters, has become a familiar logo.Still, the company is very much a family business. Ann Moore's parents are on the board of directors with Ann and Mike Moore. He continues to manage the business. She takes a hand in designing new products - like the Quiet Book, based on her memories of the cloth activity books made by Dunkard mothers to keep their children quiet during two-hour church services.The corporate family circle extends to the 130 cottage workers who make the Snugli carriers in their Ohio homes. Among the 20 workers in the Evergreen headquarters building - a short walk down the hill from the Moores' home - are many who were dedicated Snugli users before they came to the company. Marketing consultant Mary Snyder, who discovered Snugli in Canada, now recruits local children, with their own parents , for advertising photos. Jean Wahlstrom, who backpacked her three-year-old in a Snugli, works as support services coordinator with professionals and groups helping new parents.Another idea evolved in 1975 when Bea Romer, mother of seven , presented Denver interior designer Marcia Johnson with a challenge: design a room for her five-year-old son, Tommy, which would stimulate his imagination and develop his muscular coordination. Inspired by her client's nurturing, ''you-don't-interrupt-a-child-at-play'' feeling for children, Mrs. Johnson created a set of giant polyurethane foam blocks covered with fabric, which could be used for play or, pushed into a neat rectangle, converted to a comfortable bed with matching sleeping bag.''Tommy and his friends would build, jump, and slide all day. He considered himself the luckiest boy in the neighborhood,'' Mrs. Romer reports.Marcia Johnson's cottage industry began when her idea for ''furniture'' received encouragement from friends, who ordered it for their children, and from preschool directors, who saw it work well with their groups. She gave the set a child-appealing nonsense name, Olemos (oh-lee-mohs). Fabric covers for the Olemos, produced by a Denver upholsterer and a backup seamstress, were custom-made at first, but now are standardized in blue brushed denim, with orange nylon webbing which hides the zippers.To solve shipping and manufacturing problems, Mrs. Johnson orders all foam in a 16x16x36-inch size and makes the larger pieces by fitting two into square or oblong covers. A wedge is the standard piece, cut in half.More challenging are the marketing problems Olemos faces. ''I'm trying to tell people they have a need that they don't know they have,'' Mrs. Johnson says succinctly, adding, ''After crib and nursery furniture has been outgrown, most parents plan a child's room to fit the adult concept of what is 'cute.' Until they reach the pre-teen years, children usually don't have much to say about the design of their rooms.''Tommy Romer was an exception. When he was nine, his mother decided he was ready for ''real'' furniture, so she sold his Olemos at a garage sale - without consulting him. ''He came home so angry - and was so persistent in pointing out her mistake - that she ended up ordering him a new set when he was 10,'' Mrs. Johnson says.The flexibility of Olemos, which can be ordered to make a single or double bed, or seats, is constantly stressed by Mrs. Johnson and her sales representatives. But, as with Snugli, the customer is probably the best salesman. Says Donna Shaft, whose son Colby has his Olemos in a small, red-carpeted room under the eaves, ''It's a wonderful way to use a little space. We have all been taught not to jump on the bed, but with Olemos everything is all right!''