Guy Schanschieff, Bambino Mio
Great business ideas can come from anywhere, as Guy Schanschieff and his wife Jo discovered on a round-the-world trip before setting up Bambino Mio, which makes reusable nappies and has a turnover of £13 million.
- What was the inspiration for your business?
I had been working in accountancy but had always wanted to run my own business and so when my wife and I went travelling for nine months through Asia and Australia I was looking for good business ideas. I wanted to find a business idea with purpose; something that I could really believe in.
When we were at the Taj Mahal we met a guy from New York who started talking about washable nappy laundry services. It planted an idea and when we came back to the UK in 1992 we set up a washable nappy laundry service. We ran it for a few years and it was never a great business model but we learnt a huge amount about the products and the category.
We closed the nappy laundry service down and started up Bambino Mio in 1997 selling environmentally friendly washable nappies. At the time most people used disposable nappies and everybody thought we were mad doing what we were doing, but we wanted to establish ourselves as the main player in this market, which we have been able to do.
- How did you find your first customer?
It was pre-internet days so we put little adverts in the back of baby magazines. People would ring up for a brochure and we would send that out and they would post back an order form with a cheque and we would send the nappies out.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
Family put in a bit of money to support us in the early days and the early 2000’s was also a time when the banks were throwing everything from overdrafts and import loans to credit cards at new businesses so that helped fund the business too.
- How did you grow the business?
After a year of selling our nappies by mail order we invested in some packaging and started supplying independent baby shops. From that we got our first national account with Babies R Us in 1999.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
When we reached a turnover of £2 million we hit a plateau with the business. We had been selling half our products through overseas distributors but in 2010 our two key distributors in France and the US stopped ordering from us overnight because they had issues in their own businesses. As a result our turnover halved to £1 million.
We spent the first bit of time thinking the sales would come back, but then we realised we were doing great things with marketing - having a decent website, using email software, social media, working with bloggers – which had really stimulated our UK market. So we thought, maybe we don’t need distributors, maybe we can just go straight to the market. So we contacted some small baby shops in Germany and the first order we got was more than our German distributor had ordered all year. So we stopped using distributors in most of our overseas markets and as a result our turnover increased from £1 million to £10 million in five years.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
As soon as lockdown came in March we saw a big spike in demand for our products online through our website and through Amazon. I think people were focusing more on the environment and had decided they might try washable nappies now they were at home. For me personally it was exciting from a strategic point of view because I wasn’t travelling so it was a chance to really focus on what we were doing.
- What do you wish you had known from the start about setting up and growing a business?
That you need to have the confidence to go with your gut feeling.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
Having a purpose-driven business. That purpose has allowed us to have a brilliant team around us that is as committed as we are, and have the same vision that we have.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Have the confidence to keep trying everything. As long as your successes are greater than your failures, you will be ok.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?