Production to Distribution: An Invention Journey Continues
Lyssa Surface knew she had invented a unique product that was both fashionable and functional. She and her partner Jessica now needed to find the best factory to manufacture their Uptown Diaper Clutch, a stylish tri-fold bag providing quick access to essential diapering supplies including diapers, wipes, and rash ointments. They realized their journey to bring this great new product to market was just beginning.
Once Lyssa and Jessica received the final products from the factory they had chosen, they decided to test their Uptown Diaper Clutch on a national retail scale. First stop: Atlanta, Georgia. “The reception to our product [at the apparel show in Atlanta] was really positive as no one had seen anything like it on the market,” Lyssa said. “The retailers loved the thoughtful design, aesthetic look of a designer purse and the functionality.” One of the unique features of their diaper clutch was the interchangeable strap that could be worn a number of ways including over-the-shoulder or as a handbag, wristlet, or clutch. However, the year was 2008 and the economy was rather volatile, so some retailers hesitated at the price and an unknown brand. Still, they were able to sign on several new retailers and learn about all the fun elements of pulling off a tradeshow on their own. They also refined their storytelling and product demonstration skills.
Atlanta prepared Lyssa and Jessica for the next stop on their journey: THE industry trade show — the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Initially, they were blown away by how huge the event was and “just a bit” intimidated by exhibiting alongside some of the largest baby brands in the world. In Las Vegas, Lyssa and Jessica signed additional retailers and made other promising industry connections. They also networked with other manufacturers, both veterans and others who were also just starting out. “Everyone was wonderful to share experiences and suggestions,” Lyssa said. “We left the show overwhelmed yet optimistic that we had created something truly unique.” They also knew they had a lot of work ahead of them to make an impression on the enormous baby product industry.
The next task for Lyssa and Jessica was growing brand awareness. Lyssa felt equipped to launch a product and brand because of her training and first-hand experience. Her background was in market research, brand strategy, and general marketing, and she had earned an MBA while working in a corporate marketing position. She had a lot of experience working with various sizes of brands and had helped a variety of industries research consumer needs, product innovation, and go-to-market strategies. “I wanted to see if I could do it for myself,” Lyssa said. “And let me say, it’s a lot different when you are doing it yourself.”
Lyssa put her experience to work in order to grow brand awareness. She and Jessica continued reaching out relentlessly to retailers, both independent stores and mass retail companies, and increasing consumer reach. They worked with bloggers to conduct reviews, updated their website to best showcase their brand, began building a customer base on social media, and worked hard to establish relationships with retailers. “We had some big wins with large retailers up front but along with that we also learned some of our biggest business lessons and how to work smarter,” Lyssa explained.
Listening to customers and continuously making adjustments to the product was a priority to the two entrepreneurs during their venture, in terms of both fashion and functionality. Input from moms using the product led to several improvements, including an elastic strap in the middle for diaper rash cream, a full back pocket for moms’ personal items, a swivel hook on the side to hold keys or hand sanitizer, and a turn-key lock to make the bag more secure. When cloth diapers became popular, they added depth and elastic to both pockets to better accommodate them. Customers have also influenced decisions about patterns and prints.
In addition, partnerships helped Lyssa and Jessica make product adjustment decisions. For example, Pampers and their Rewards program carry LillyBit as a redeemable product, so the pockets were designed to be deeper to accommodate Pampers’ travel wipes case. A recent partnership with DEMDACO did not change the look of LillyBit’s product, but it did take the brand to the next level by helping their products reach a wider market. “They have a great vision/mantra that is aligned with LillyBit — “Lift the Spirit” — and have a great team that not only believes in LillyBit but is extremely passionate in seeing it be as successful as possible,” Lyssa said. “I get to grow the brand awareness and continually innovate new product lines, and DEMDACO provides the necessary support to make it happen. I am thankful for the opportunity.”
Customers and partnerships are not the only ones who’ve helped guide Lyssa through her merchandising journey. Business mentors have been very generous with their time and insights through the years. “We’ve had strong women who have mentored us through growing a business, as well as past presidents of large consumer brand companies that helped guide us,” Lyssa said, “especially when working with large retailers.” Lyssa also credited family and friends that have been “my biggest cheerleaders and have been with me through the entire ride.”
In looking back on her invention adventure, Lyssa admitted the path hasn’t always been easy. “It’s been quite the ride — both challenging and fun with lots of great ups but just as many downs!” she said. “I also agree with the statement that if entrepreneurs knew what they were getting into, they may never try or else run far, far away…..but I’m really glad that I stuck with it!” The future also looks really bright for LillyBit. “We’ve navigated many challenges and many absolutely exhilarating experiences. We have built wonderful relationships with our retailers and absolutely love connecting with our customers. Now, with our new partnership with DEMDACO, we are able to bring even more products to market to a wider audience with a bigger brand reach.”