It’s something that any mother and father of a baby can use in spades, that being blissful peace, quiet and sleep while on vacations or even during a trip to grandma’s house.
A Columbus woman and her daughter in Atlanta have created a practical solution, it being a tent-like product that can be placed over a crib or playard, shutting out light and the mere sight of parents that often stirs an infant to cry and whine for attention.
More than two years into the development, the product called SlumberPod is moving into the critical stage of sales to the general public following a recent $45,000-plus Kickstarter crowdfunding effort to pump up the supply and get the pods into the hands of grateful moms everywhere.
“We have product in hand and our Kickstarter went really well, and it’s getting a lot of buzz with mom groups and mommy bloggers, so we’re very excited,” Columbus resident Lou Childs said of the product that she invented with daughter, Katy Mallory, who lives in the Decatur area of Atlanta.
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Already, 90 of the pods are in the hands of consumers, Childs said, with 410 more now being shipped from a factory in China, with all but 130 of those already having been pre-purchased as of this week, with plans to ship them to customers before September is gone.
“We have already pulled the trigger on the next 2,000 and those are in production now. If all goes well, we hope to get those by the end of November, so we’ll be taking pre-orders for that shipment as well,” said Childs of the SlumberPods that will be sold both on their website and via Amazon.com. They retail for $149.99 apiece.
For the record, Childs, who was born and raised in Macon, Ga., is marketing director for Columbus software company Delta Data, with an overall communications background dating back about 25 years. Mallory works in marketing and advertising with Autotrader in the Atlanta market.
“Katy started a marketing and communication group for women in Atlanta that I think has 8,000 members in it, and she’s also a member of a lot of mom groups. So she has a lot of support and people are hearing about our product through her connections,” Childs said.
Mallory, the mother of three young children, including twins delivered in 2016, described in a video the need for a product like SlumberPod after experiencing a couple of near-sleepless nights on a visit to her family’s home during the holidays. Her research afterward for something to help with the problem was fruitless.
“Our daughter was a great sleeper at home. But there in the same room, she saw us across the room and she couldn’t go back to sleep when she woke up, and it was miserable. Getting two or three hours of sleep two nights in a row was so awful that we ended up going home a day early,” the co-inventor said.
“I’m sure you’ve been there. You’re trying to sleep and your baby wakes up and sees you across the room,” the mom of three continued. “SlumberPod allows the baby to have their own dark and private place to sleep so they don’t wake up and see you, which allows you to sleep longer. Put the baby to bed and you can stay up a bit longer. We’re just real excited about making vacations and trips less stressful and more restful.”
Childs acknowledged the early feedback that the creative duo is receiving from those who ordered the first 90 pods, then took them on vacation over the Labor Day weekend, bodes well for the product heading into the lucrative holiday shopping and traveling season, if not long term. There already has been an uptick in additional pre-orders since the first ones were delivered.
“So we feel like as people get their SlumberPod and begin to use it … moms love to talk about things that work with baby products. So we feel like that will have a lot of impact with mommies sharing their success of getting their babies to sleep when they’re away from home,” she said.
The long journey to this moment in the life of the fledgling company has been amazing, Childs said, explaining it is not for those who aren’t motivated and determined. With mom and daughter inventors both working two full-time jobs, any spare time in the early morning, at lunchtime and in the evening has been spent on the project.
Childs ticked off what it has taken to get everything together, from doing research on the baby product, registering for trademarks, filing for patents and working with advisers and investors. They also eventually sought out an Atlanta product development firm that assisted with a redesign of the product and creation of drawings and schematics.
One step or connection often led to another, she said, with a local business startup accelerator class putting her in touch with Josh Dunlap from Synovus, who helped the inventors develop a spreadsheet to keep track of expenses and profit margins.
Dunlap then put them in touch with Jeff Vinson, chief executive officer of Muscogee Mills and Ridgeway Products in Columbus. Part of his expertise is in sourcing materials and lining up manufacturing with factories in the Asian nations of China, India and Bangladesh.
“He also helped us to reach out to manufacturers in the United States, and either they weren’t interested or their estimates were up to three times the cost of doing it in China,” said Childs. “It’s already expensive enough. We just didn’t feel like the market would tolerate a higher (retail) price.”
Vinson, who has an extensive background in the textile industry, said his business is a cut-and-sew manufacturer that occasionally is approached by companies seeking an affordable place to have their products made to remain competitive in the marketplace.
“So we moved (production) to China. They had ideas and concepts, and we helped with the sourcing of all the raw materials,” he said. “We had the factory that assembles all the raw materials in her product. And then we have the boxes made and the packaging all done, and we help with the importing. We actually import the products to our facility in Columbus and distribute it to her online customers.”
Vinson said he would not have taken on the SlumberPod job if he didn’t have confidence that Childs and Mallory could succeed with it. He can’t afford to invest time and resources into a venture in which he doesn’t have a good comfort level, he explained.
“When I first saw their product, I really had the confidence that it was going to be a hit,” the Columbus businessman said. “I have two kids. They’re not sleeping in pack ’n plays anymore; they’re in high school. But when they were, we had the struggles that the market that they cater to has — traveling with kids in the motel room. We went through that. I think that product’s going to be a good one.”
Looking ahead, Childs said SlumberPod sales are on track with the conservative estimates that the mother and daughter team set initially, considering it is a new brand entering a crowded marketplace overall for baby-related products. They also are working already on developing additional items both inside the baby sector and out of it.
Childs also said there are plans next spring to apply to be on the hit TV show, “Shark Tank,” which brings entrepreneurs before a panel of business people to — include Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran — who typically invest money in the company in exchange for a share of the profits. Thousands of people apply to be on the show to promote their products and potentially get help with growing sales.
“Shark Tank likes for you to have some sales under your belt before you go on the show, so that’s why we were waiting until the spring to apply,” she said. “And different sharks have different expertise, so we’ll see what happens from there.”
Asked to sum up what the adventure has been like, Childs said it has been remarkable considering she lost a previous job right after her daughter had twins, with the former employer losing one of its largest clients and having to let some workers go.
“The motto of this story is great things can come out of bad news, because if I had not been let go from my job, we would have never done this,” she said. “I stayed with Katy while she was on maternity leave and we got this product going. We both have completely enjoyed the journey. We’ve learned so much and continue to learn so much. And it’s so refreshing how other entrepreneurs will take the time to help you.”