Saturday, January 30, 2010
A 1/4 of the front page and almost a full page inside the newspaper was devoted to the author's attempts to justify her choice to use disposable diapers. After reading this article, I was livid. This article featured very little in the way of truth, the author relied on a British study that suggested there were no environmental benefits to choosing to use cloth diapers over disposable diapers. To put it lightly, this study has been a matter of debate, however, it was a great way for the author to prop up her argument: disposable diapers are bad, and cloth diapers are just as bad: why bother?
The author of the aforementioned article used the same arguments I've heard time and time again.
Cloth diapers cost too much.
Say what? I know we've been over this before, but seriously. I get it, spending $20.00 every week seems a lot cheaper than investing in cloth diapers, but if you do the math, no matter what type of cloth diaper you use, you will always save money. Always.
Cloth diapers leak.
Sometimes, maybe, but not nearly as often as disposable diapers, which I liken to a launching pad for poop. If your baby is wearing a decent cloth diaper that fits well, you likely won't experience poop-between-the-shoulder-blades blowouts like a baby who wears disposable diapers. The texture and the bulk of a cloth diaper keeps poop where it belongs, in the diaper.
Cloth diapers are inconvenient.
If you're seriously going to use this as an argument, then I would strongly advise you to re-think the whole 'having kids' thing. Seriously. Nothing about being a parent is convenient. Pregnancy? Definitely inconvenient. Sleepless nights with a newborn? Tiring & inconvenient. Toddler tantrums? Soooooo inconvenient! Fortunately, we love our children, and we put up with it all to have them in our lives.
Cloth diapers are too much work.
Washing cloth diapers is a simple load of laundry (unless you have a frontloader, which requires a little tweaking). If you're going to use the 'too much work' argument, I fully expect you to wear paper clothes. Do you? I didn't think so. When you have kids, you do more laundry, if you know a way around it, please let me know.
Cloth diapers are messy.
Again, reconsider the whole 'having kids' thing if you're worried about mess. Aside from the fact that children in general are messy, changing poopy diapers is messy business, regardless of whether you use cloth or disposable diapers. Yes, you have to take the poop off a cloth diaper if your baby is drinking formula or eating solids, however, there are ways to make it a little less gross than it sounds. You're actually supposed to remove the poop from a disposable diaper, however, most people don't. Our landfills aren't meant to handle raw human sewage, so you should be dumping the contents of soiled disposable diapers into the toilet before you toss them. Poop removal aside, you have to wipe poop off your baby's bits and bum while she's trying to stick her hands and feet in it -- that's probably the hardest part of changing poopy diapers! No parent will ever be immune from poop.
Cloth diapers are bad for my baby's skin.
Highly unlikely. Have you ever looked at the long list of chemicals present in disposable diapers? You really think cotton is worse than that? How does male infertility sound? Asthma? There is a lot of conjecture about whether or not the chemicals in disposable diapers are safe, and there's an assumption that because a product is on store shelves, it must be safe. A quick perusal of the Cosmetic Safety Database dispells that myth. Why not err on the side of caution and put something against your baby's skin that has been used for hundreds of years with no adverse effects?
Cloth diapers are hard to find.
Well, slap me with a moldy turnip and color me flabbergasted! As if anyone could use this argument! True, when I started The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe eight years ago, there was a dearth of businesses that sold cloth diapers, the vast majority of which were strictly online. Since 2002, as the green movement has steadily picked up steam, cloth diapers have become readily available at most baby boutiques, and specialty cloth diaper boutiques are popping up everywhere. If you can't find a local source for cloth diapers, there are a plethora of online businesses catering to the cloth diapering parent, and there are lots of great educational websites with articles and forums that can help you figure it all out.
Washing cloth diapers wastes electricity and water, they're just as bad for the environment.
I'm wondering, once your baby is out of diapers, where will she be peeing and pooping? That's right, in a toilet! And what's in that toilet? That's right, water! Did you know the amount of water used to wash cloth diapers from birth to potty training in a high efficiency machine is the same amount of water used to flush a toilet five times a day during the same period? If you're going to use this argument, I assume you never flush the toilet. Between your toilet habits and your paper clothing, it must be hard to make friends!
If you are concerned about the electricity used to wash and dry cloth diapers, you can opt to wash your diapers in cold water, and line-dry them (inside or outside). Not so bad after all, eh?
So that's all I've got. You still want to argue that disposable diapers are a better choice than cloth diapers? Try me! But be warned, I like to argue (ask my husband!), and I'm pretty darn good at it.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
These requests have run the gamut from vague ("Do you have any tips to share?") to specific ("Here's a piece of paper and a pen, please be a dear and write down your suppliers, their contact information, and where you get your fixtures."). I'll be honest and admit that if you have specific requests like the latter person, I would suggest your preface our conversation with "Hi, I love your store, can I buy a franchise?", because that's about the only way you'll ever get the answers to your questions. A lot of thought and effort (and blood, sweat, and tears!) has been poured into this business (it's definitely my fifth baby!), and expecting me to give up the goods just because you asked is just plain absurd. Sorry, not gonna do it!
So, what pearls of wisdom do I have to offer other people who might want to consider the self-employment route?
- Do your research first. Just because I can make a go of it where I am, doesn't mean you can make a go of it where you are. You need to figure out who your target audience is (income, age, education, family size, etc.), and whether or not it is large enough to sustain your business idea. Opening a natural parenting business in a town with a predominately aging population, not a good idea!
- Don't expect to make money immediately. If you're in a cash crunch, and you're thinking of starting a business to add to your income, guess again! On average, it takes a new business approximately two years to turn a profit. After a year in business I was paying myself a salary of -- wait for it -- $50.00 a week. That amount has increased over time, but not without a lot of hard work.
- Do figure out what you're paying for a product before you decide how much you're going to sell it for. New WAHMs (work-at-home-moms to you!) are notorious for undercharging when they first open their business. Aside from the actual cost of stock, you will have to account for all the little charges that will put a dent in your bottom line -- credit card fees, brokerage fees, duty charges, the list goes on and on! If you start out charging low prices, it will be hard to increase them when you need to (and you will need to eventually, unless you like working for free!).
- Don't undercut. Some WAHMs undercharge on purpose, under the misguided notion that they will earn money based on sales volume. This plan will never work, you will work like a dog for little (or no) return. Don't undervalue yourself!
- Do know what your obligations to the government are. I often joke that I'm not really self-employed, I work for the government. There's a lot you need to know with respect to GST, PST, employee deductions, and importing goods into Canada. I recently learned a hard lesson that cost me thousands of dollars -- I wish there was a 'Canadian Government for Dummies' handbook, but there's not. However, the government does offer free workshops for business owners, it would be a good idea to attend them if you can.
- Don't copy, it's not nice. It's never OK to take someone else's hard work and claim ownership for it. Copying text from someone else's website and pasting it into your own website (or your newsletter, or your blog) is not cool, even if it's just a bit of text, and even if you change the wording a little. If you would like to use someone else's information, link to it, or ask their permission to use it yourself. It's called common decency. Same goes for images (even a Facebook icon!).
- Do it because you like it. If you enjoy something, you're more likely to be successful at it. Passion is great fuel!
- Don't do it because you want to spend more time with your children. This is a nice idea, and one of the reasons I started my own business, but in actuality, it doesn't work that way, especially if your business is successful. While my job (yes, it's a job) affords me the luxury of being at home when the kids leave for school, and when they come home from school, the reality of it is that while I'm at home, I do a lot of work. I order from suppliers, I answer customer e-mails, and I talk to (both) stores freqently throughout the day. The time I spend with the kids isn't always what I would call 'quality' time, but it's a tradeoff.
- Do take time off. Have a designated 'day off', you will need it! Have you noticed our stores are both closed on Mondays -- I enjoy having one day a week when I know I won't be needed by the business. As important as it is to put the time and effort into a new business, it's equally important to put time and effort into yourself, and your family. Sounds easy, but take my word for it, it's harder than you think!
- Don't treat your business like a hobby. It makes me cringe everytime I come across a person who makes this claim. A hobby is fun. You do it because you enjoy it. It gives you personal satisfaction. The same can be said for a business, however, unlike a hobby, a business is not something you do at your own leisure. You need to take it seriously, and you need to put the effort into it.
- Do consult an accountant first. Yes, it costs money, but it's money well-spent. I didn't do it, but I wish I did, because getting caught up after the fact is hard! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...
I know you're probably expecting to see a reference to a business plan here, but I never had one, and I still don't. I started this business based on a gut feeling, at the time, 'natural parenting' stores weren't as abundant as they are now, they were virtually non-existent. The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe was started in a spare bedroom in our home, it grew slowly, first into a stall at the Stittsville flea market (raise your hand if you visited me there!), then into a retail space not much bigger than the spare bedroom we started out in. We now operate out of two lovely storefronts in Ottawa and Waterloo, ON, we have a great staff of moms who are equally as passionate about cloth diapers, breastfeeding, and babywearing as I am.
Starting a business isn't something that should be entered into lightly, and finding the balance between home and work can be tricky, but it is very fulfilling to earn a living doing something you enjoy.
Monday, January 18, 2010
So, how many diapers will I need?
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I signed up for a diaper service before Maddy, now nine years old, was born. At the time, I chose cloth diapers for environmental reasons. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that using and washing something over, and over, and over again is better for the environment than using something once, and throwing it away. Considering the average baby will pee and poop her way through approximately 8,000 -10,000 disposable diapers, the amount of waste generated by disposable diapers is mind-boggling -- they take 250-500 years to decompose, is this really the legacy we want to leave our children?
I missed the diaper service drop-off one week (seriously, will I ever be on time for anything?), so I had to wash the cloth diapers myself. It was a load of laundry -- a simple load of laundry! I did a little research and realized I could buy and wash my own cloth diapers for a fraction of the price of the diaper service, so we cancelled our contract (it was an introductory package) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since my love affair with cloth diapering began, I've tried many different types of diapers, as many of our customers note, cloth diapers are fun. I can only imagine how boring it must be to put the same paper diaper on your baby every. single. day. To call your diaper stash a wardrobe for your baby's bum isn't far off from the truth, from leopard minky to bamboo flats to alpaca wool, the combinations are endless. Of course, I keep coming back to old faithful, cotton prefold diapers. Yes, despite the fact I have access to pretty much whatever my little heart desires, I ♥ prefolds!
In the eight years we've been in business, we have turned thousands of parents onto cloth diapers through our workshops and our loan program. Our customers have also been really great at spreading the cloth diaper love, it's fun to watch them come in with expecting friends, taking them on a tour of the different styles of diapers, explaining what they like and dislike about certain diapers (like Ruffles potato chips, betcha can't have just one!).
We held a photo contest in November that resulted in a fabulous gallery of babywearing pics posted to our Facebook page. We'd like to create a new gallery featuring pics of your babies wearing cloth diapers, please e-mail me your pics, and answer the following questions:
1) why did you choose cloth diapers over single-use diapers?
2) what's your absolute favourite cloth diaper?
3) any advice you'd like to share (OK, so you're not really answering a question here, details, details!)
Please keep your answers (somewhat) brief, contest ends on January 25th (Robbie Burns day, why not?). So, what's the give here? What am I offering you in return for your participation, on top of my (obviously) undying gratitude? The three (yes, three!) pictures that garner the most comments will receive a 50% off coupon that can be applied towards a purchase up to $500.00. Do you have a friend who wants to get set up with cloth diapers? You can give it to her! Do you need to move junior up to the next size of Fuzzibunz? Has that Beco been calling your name, keeping you awake at night? Keep it for yourself! We all know how cute fluffy butts can be, let's see what you've got!
Monday, January 4, 2010
If you had asked me before I was a mother if I would ever swear in front of my future children, my probable answer would have been 'no', in fact, I likely would have been horrified at the idea. However, when you've never been a parent, or when you're only a parent of one, it's awfully easy to pass judgement on other's parenting skills (I was sooooo holier-than-thou when I was a mom to one, I'll fully admit it!).
As much as I love our children, parenting is a stressful job. Fortunately for me, swearing is a huge stress-reliever (added bonus: it's free!). I come from a family of four children, I still remember my father making an effort not to swear in front of us (it didn't work), he tried to replace 'shit' with 'shovel', or 'sugar', and it was ridiculous! Both words were preceded by a long 'shhhhhhh' as we all watched my father teeter on the precipice of cussing (eventually, he would fall in). My own career as a potty mouth started long before I was a mother, I can still remember the first swear word I said (shit!), I was walking down the street with another girl (can't remember if it was a friend or my older sister), and we both took turns saying 'shit' and giggling madly. Ah, memories!
Of course, by my own standards, 'shit' is a relatively minor swear word, tame, in fact. If I'm going swear, I'm going to unload the good stuff. I like to use the eff word. A lot. I could be talking about something good, or something bad, no matter, 'Fuck' is a highly effective way of emphasizing my point, or to illustrate that I've finished my sentence (like a period, if you will):
"That cheesecake was fucking awesome. Fuck!"
"Aw fuck, we forgot your lunch, we've got to go back to get it. Shitfuckdamn!" (you like that?)
Despite the fact I swear around them like a sailor, my kids know better. Probably because since they've been old enough to speak, I have drilled it into their heads that *only* mummies and daddies are allowed to swear. In fact, I have told them that the more children you have, the more swear words you are allowed to say. Case in point, a recent exchange at dinner:
Maddy: You say the eff word a lot.
Me: I know, it's an adult word. I can also drive a car. I can also drink alcohol. Adults are allowed to do more things than kids.
Maddy: Rachel's mom doesn't swear.
Me: I know, but Rachel's mom only has one kid. She's only allowed to swear ten times a year. I have four kids, I'm allowed to swear 40 times a year.
Obviously, this explanation hinges on the assumption no one is counting how many times I swear. But still, it was a good enough explanation for her. Maddy is in grade four now, and she regularly comes home regaling us with stories about how so-and-so said the 'i word' (idiot), the 'j word' (jerk), or the 'sh word' (shut up). When I say my kids don't swear, I mean they *don't swear*. Quite frankly, I'm more concerned about name-calling than I am swearing, there's a difference!
I do censor myself where appropriate, I generally don't swear at the store, around my mom or my inlaws, or around other children. If I do happen to swear around you, it means I'm comfortable enough in your presence to indulge in my filthy habit, consider it a sign of endearance!
There was a time when I felt guilty enough about my potty mouth that 'not swearing anymore' actually made it onto my (now defunct) list of New Years resolutions, however, I have come to the logical conclusion that even if I didn't swear in front of our kids, someone else will (case in point: the kids in my daughter's class will eventually gradtuate from 'jerk' or 'idiot' to something stronger), I can't shelter them from everything. In the grand scheme of things, if you consider all of the vices I could have, swearing isn't so bad, is it?
The day will come when I hear a swear word fall out of one of our kids' mouths, but as long as they're not using their words to hurt another person, I can live with it, they all grow up eventually! My children are under strict orders not to swear until they're 16 years old (am I naive to think I can hold it off that long?). It used to be 18 years old, but I recently lopped two years off, DD#2 was quite thrilled, I can tell she's going to excel in that area, a chip off the old fuckin' block!
Friday, January 1, 2010
As it is, we already have a pretty generous return policy, 30 days for a cash refund or exchange with proof of purchase -- 45 days if the product is returned with a gift receipt. Items must be in like-new, unwashed condition, with the original packaging. Not an unreasonable request, we can't sell used items, and we can't sell unpackaged products (not without discounting them). If you don't have a receipt, with a credit card statement or bank statement that lists the date of purchase, we can likely dig up your proof of purchase. You see, we are actually pretty nice about it all! Despite our best efforts to ensure customer satisfaction when it comes to returns, it amazes me how some people have tried to thwart the system, the lengths people will go to can be pretty astonishing, to put it bluntly. There are a few that stand out!
Most shameless customer return -- When I was in labor with Owen, who was born at home, the business number listed in the yellow pages was our home phone number (we had a storefront at the time, however, the lease was signed after the phonebook was published). As I was lying in the bed (in labor, picture it!), a customer called to ask if he could return some washed (but not used diapers). I informed him that I was in labor, I could not discuss it at that time, call back in a week (he knew the return policy when he purchased the diapers, I specifically told him at the time of the purchase to wash and try a few diapers before washing them all, there was a question about size). What did he do? He ran down to the store immediately (immediately!) and told the salesperson I had OK'ed the return, he got a cash refund for his washed diapers. Thank-you, thank-you very much!
Most WTF happened? return -- I will preface this one by saying the customer in question was quite nice when he came in to exchange said item, and that makes all the difference in the world. It began with a phone call:
Him: Hi there, we just bought a wool cover there a couple of weeks ago, it has a broken snap.
Me: Sorry for your trouble, no worries, that manufacturer offers a lifetime warranty on snaps, we can exchange it for you.
Him: Thanks! I'll be right down.
So he comes into the store with his wool diaper cover. OK, so technically, I guess he was right. There was a broken snap. OK, there were, like, eight broken snaps. Maybe not so much 'broken', per se, as torn right out of the cover. And the elastic around the entire cover was busted. And there were small holes throughout the cover. And it was filthy (dirty, not poo!) in places. I was speechless at what he was holding, with a receipt as his proof of purchase, the cover was in fact only a couple of weeks old, and he swore up and down it had only been hand-washed and air-dried. To say what I was seeing and what I was hearing made no sense was an understatement. I really shouldn't have exchanged it, but I was stunned (so was a co-worker, lol), he was really quite nice about it, and he had been a good customer to boot, so as a gesture of goodwill, I made the exchange. He has returned to the store many times after that, so it was the right call on my part, and if there's a lesson to be learned here for you, the customer, the old adage 'You will catch more flies with honey than vinegar' is true. Be nice to us, and there's a good chance we'll be nice right back (although, seriously, if you accidentally ran over your wool diaper cover with your car, please don't bring it back, that doesn't qualify as a 'manufacturer's defect') !
Most 'please just leave me alone already' return -- this was just plain weird, thank God she lived four hours away, I shudder to think what this person would have been like to deal with in real life! She purchased two carriers in January, I assumed she was ordering both to compare, and that one would make its way back to us (we rarely sell two carriers at a time). I was right, five weeks later I received an e-mail indicating she wanted to return a carrier, was it OK since she was outside the thirty days? Because I'm not an asshole (I'm not!), I said "sure, no problem", and I gave her the necessary information. No carrier was returned. Until April (yes, three months after it was purchased). No phone call or e-mail beforehand to check if a return was still OK (no, it's not!), it just arrived on our doorstep out of the blue.
I e-mailed the customer to give her a heads-up that I was returning the carrier to her (mailing it back 'return to sender' without opening it), returning a product three months after purchase was simply unacceptable. She swore up and down that it was in like-new, never used condition, however, I had been burned in the past with such claims (case in point, a Hotsling that was covered in dried-up, crusted-on barf, a clearly washed (and faded, pilly) Ergo that was wadded back into the package, the list goes on!). If I were to open the package to inspect it, that sucker's mine, so I replied to her e-mail "Sorry, no-can-do". She called me. Wailing (and wailing, and wailing) that she 'needs' to return the carrier. She *neeeeeeeeeeds* to return the carrier! It was a very (very, very, very!) awkward conversation, I was thisclose to caving just to end the phone call. I put the package back in the mail to her, and received a handwritten letter in return. I admit I never read it, I felt quite horrid about the whole thing, I didn't need to feel even guiltier about it (my husband read it, but I made him swear not to tell me its contents).
I received an online order that week for the same carrier (same color even!), the new customer was in a town not too far away from
Most customer returns are quick and painless, these examples are definitely the exception to the rule. If ever there's an issue with a customer return (should we or shouldn't we?) I have advised staff members to refer customers to me. I'm a reasonable person to deal with, I just ask that people are honest and upfront about what they're trying to return (if you didn't buy it from us, please don't try to return it to us!). There have been a few bad apples who have caused a scene in front of other customers to get their way, and yes, this approach works (sad, but true), however we want our customers to be happy with their purchases. So, what can you do to make the process easier on us all?
Be aware of a store's return policies, and please adhere to them. Our return policy is printed on the bottom of the receipt, so you can rest-assured you have a copy. If you've washed the item in question, please don't try to pass it off as unwashed, we will know (wrinkled tags, the smell of detergent... it's usually quite obvious), and it's just plain awkward when this happens. If you don't like something, keep in mind we hold regular cloth diaper swaps, a great opportunity for you to sell your used items, recouping part of the original cost.
Please keep your receipt! If you don't have it handy, we can likely look it up, but on the odd day that a sales report has not been generated, you are out of luck. For warranty & recall purposes, it is good practice to keep your receipts anyhow.
Be gracious about it. Yes, barging into the store and yelling at us in front of prospective customers will get results, but it's just not nice. Fortunately, we don't encounter this type of exchange often, but when it happens, it sucks, and to be frank, it ruins our day (sometimes, our whole week!). We're a small business, and we can't afford to offer a 'we'll take anything back, whenever you're through using it, for whatever reason you might be dissatisfied' return policy. Yes, Wal-mart might, and MEC does, but they are considerably different operations. If you've used your Fuzzibunz diapers for almost a year, and you need to size up, please don't bring them back to us on the premise of customer dissatisfaction expecting to exchange them for the next size up. It's not nice, and you know it's not nice (yep, that's an explicit reference to a recent unpleasant exchange, being a jerk results in bad karma, but I expect you know that already). If I do bend the rules for you (like I already said, I'm reasonable!), please say 'thank-you', and please don't expect it to happen again.
Of course, avoiding customer returns is the ideal scenario, which is why we try to up be upfront about the products we sell. We encourage prospective parents to wait until their baby is born before purchasing a carrier, on a similar note, we suggest you wait until after your milk supply is established before purchasing your nursing bras, and we encourage a cautious approach to purchasing cloth diapers. Ultimately, our goal is for you to be happy with any purchases you have made from us, however, customer returns are a normal part of any retail environment, we only hope it can be a smooth process for both you and us!