In the Beginning: Morag
The Nappy Lady was started back in 1999 by Morag, this might have been only 20 years ago, but this was before the days of internet shopping and easy internet access. Morag originally bought Kushies “modern” cloth nappies from the high street but found they were a leaky disaster. Morag did not want to give up, so she started trying to research washable nappies on the new-fangled internet. Morag discovered there were other brands available, some which you will recognise from today: Motherease, Popolini, Daisy Diapers, Yummies. This gave Morag more nappy options, but it was so confusing how would she know what would work for her? Morag ended up spending a small fortune trying out different brands while learning what would work best for her. As many new Mums do Morag began to work as a rep to bring in a little bit of extra money and for a little bit of grown up conversation. Rather than something like Avon Morag began to work as a rep for a nappy company (the company is no longer in business). Morag was soon unhappy with their business methods. Given Morag’s mixed experience of different nappies she did not feel it was right to recommend a style or brand of nappy that might not suit a parent just to get the sale, a principle we still uphold today. It was at this point Morag realised there was a gap in the market and a need for an independent nappy website. What to call the new website…. Morag originally resisted the name The Nappy Lady, but her husband persisted in the idea as that was what parents referred to her locally. Finally she agreed and back in November 1999 Morag registered the domain www.thenappylady.co.uk and the company nappy journey begins!
Morag’s key aim was to make it easier for parents to choose the best nappy for their circumstances. She wanted to make it easier for parents to buy cloth nappies and not to be restricted to just what was available on the high street. There were not any fancy web design agencies or website templates to use, Morag just learnt how to create a website and built her own. As you can see from the pictures the website was very basic without any product photos.
What the site lacked in images Morag made up in writing! Morag was a very wordy person and The Nappy Lady site was very word heavy, with long product descriptions and in depth pros and cons, Morag was a voracious writer and started building a vast collection of advice articles, many of which are still on our site today. Morag also created our original tailored advice questionnaire which really hasn’t changed that much in 20 years. The advice questionnaire covers everything that should be considered and plays a part when choosing the best nappy for your family. Back in the old day’s parents would fill in a paper copy of the advice questionnaire and post it to Morag and their advice would be typed out and posted back! To this day our advice questionnaire remains the starting point we use for all our customers but now it is completed online offering a rapid response rather than post.
The Golden Years
Morag was becoming increasingly busy as the internet began to take off. The Nappy Lady went from a few storage boxes in a cupboard, to the conservatory and then to a small warehouse unit. Morag could no longer keep up with the level of advice requests and slowly started recruiting a team of nappy lady advisors. Initially the advisors were local customers but eventually they became remote advisors located around the UK. Advisors would help reply to questionnaires and would hold local demos while Morag and an assistant controlled distribution. The team of advisors would chat via Yahoo groups sharing knowledge and experienced. If ever there was a tricky nappy problem someone on the team would have dealt with it before. Morag was very practical and most of the time she kept our product range to just white items even if other colour options were available. Morag was a qualified accountant, and this makes sense from a stock holding cost perspective, but it did mean we were missing out on sales of some of the new bright colours emerging into the cloth nappy world.
Fiona the founder of TotsBots came across The Nappy Lady in October 2000 after she had her first child. Fiona had made her own nappies and one of her friends was a Nappy Lady advisor, they encouraged her to get in touch with Morag to show her design. The good old nippa cotton tots were born and there are still some in circulation 19 years later! After very successful testing by The Nappy Lady team we placed an order for 100 Cotton Tots nappies, this was TotsBots first ever wholesale order and it arrived with a handwritten invoice. TotsBots quickly went from strength to strength and became one of The Nappy Ladies bestselling brands, a position it still holds today.
Everything was looking rosy, the company was growing, internet shopping was growing, councils were actively encouraging the use of cloth nappies, what could possibly go wrong?
Other than a few suppliers who were right back in the beginning most people don’t realise I (Wendy) wasn’t the original Nappy Lady. I had worked for WHSmith for 13 years working up from Saturday girl to Store Manager. I just loved retail, helping people, the excitement of a new product range, the pressure and buzz of busy days. My speciality was solving the problem of I want this book all I know is it is red, I was always the one they called for those as I have a rather good memory! We were in our mid 20’s when we had our first baby having got married a year earlier. We were the youngest in our ante-natal group by almost 10 years! I was told in my early 20’s it was unlikely we’d have children naturally due to me suffering from PCOS, we were advised the younger we started trying for a family the better. Six weeks after we got married, I was pregnant! I knew as soon as I was pregnant there was no way I could continue my retail career. The 60+ hour weeks and 6am starts do not fit in with the needs of a young baby and those who work in retail know it is not well paid even at management level. The cost of childcare would make it impossible to go back to my previous role. While pregnant we knew we had to keep our costs low to allow me to take a year’s maternity leave. I decided I wanted to breast feed as that would save the cost of formula (I wanted to for other reasons too but cost was an underlying concern for everything we did) but also if I used cloth nappies we wouldn’t have the weekly cost of buying disposable nappies, the environmental benefits of cloth nappies were a bonus for us it was all about saving money. I spent hours reading The Nappy Lady site and all the advice articles trying to decide what was right for us. I initially bought a mixture of nappies second hand via eBay and was disappointed in the quality and did not save us much money considering the postage costs. With financial help from my Father in Law we went onto buy some new Popolini Koala and Terry Square nappies and Motherease Airflow wraps new which worked much better. The Koala by Popolini is not available now but it was a mix between a prefold and a terry square and while super bulky were really absorbent. I went along to some local “nappicino” events run by the local council and nappy network. I got to meet some other cloth nappy using parents and the wonderful Paula an advisor from The Nappy Lady! Paula suggested I consider applying to The Nappy Lady as there wasn’t anyone covering my town. I joined TNL in 2005 as a local advisor in Farnham earning commission from sales.
This is where my nappy collection started to grow. As I made any commission, I added more samples to the starting kit I was given from The Nappy Lady. I wanted to ensure I had samples of everything to show parents but also so I could fully understand how they worked and could talk from personal experience. I went out on demos with Paula to learn The Nappy Lady way. I was taught early on the reason why something is not suitable is just as important as what is. I built up to running my own demos and went out on demos in an evening when my husband came home from work to have the children. After my year’s maternity leave, I went back to my WHSmith but just as a weekend manager to help bring in a bit more money. My love of the job had gone though, I missed out on the weekend family time and no longer had the patience for corporate decisions that did not make any sense. I stayed for six months and then handed my notice in shortly after I found I was pregnant with baby 2. This gave me more time to concentrate on my nappy demos and my other side-line mystery shopping. I managed to just about scrape together enough income each month through these jobs to match what I had been earning at WHSmith, but I wasn’t losing valuable weekend time. I was working during nap time and our eldest had just started preschool, so I had a couple of hours free then too.
Fast forward a year however and not all was rosy with TNL. An unexpected family bereavement and a bad website build meant The Nappy Lady was in trouble. Leads declined, cashflow declined, lack of stock and a lack of money to buy more stock. It could take 6-8 weeks for an order to be fulfilled as not all brands and items were in stock at the same time. The Nappy Lady wasn’t buying in new brands on the market as there wasn’t the money to invest. The advisor team was reduced to just the three lead advisors which I was one. Morag asked me to start helping with behind the scenes to improve the website and I started our You Tube channel in a bid to make the wordy TNL site more user friendly. I had never done anything like this before, so I started learning websites and Google rankings! At the same time things were not great for my family. My husband works in house building and in 2008 the credit crunch meant he was made redundant, TNL could not afford to pay me my commission and my husband took any work he could get. Money was beyond tight, family would help with food parcels and my Dad would regularly turn up at the door with an extra meal he’d made for us (we live an hour’s drive away from family so it wasn’t just popping round). Our weekly shopping budget for four was £30 and we ate well, hours spent on money saving expert gave me a library of cooking on a budget recipes! This went on for around 18months while things steadily improved at home, at TNL things had got worse, at one-point bailiffs were at the warehouse. I now had not been fully paid for over 18 months. I was largely working for free.
In 2010 outlook was incredibly bleak, life had gone from bad to worse and I ended up buying The Nappy Lady. It was either buy the company or it went into administration. Looking back, it was a crazy thing to do just three weeks before I was due to have our third child. We used our life’s savings, took on all the company debts and had a website in dire need of an overhaul. I will never forget taking some very angry phone calls from suppliers demanding overdue payments while at the same time breastfeeding our newborn baby. Rebuilding the Nappy Lady was slow progress fighting against abysmal online reviews and being known for being exceptionally slow to ship. I spent the next year rebuilding stock levels, clearing company debts, very slowly increasing our range as money allowed. All profits were reinvested back into the company and I finally began to be able to take a small income for the first time in two and half years! My goal was to keep myself busy enough that I could work from home around the children, but I never wanted it to work full time.
Boxes Boxes Everywhere
From 2010-2017 I ran the business from my home and eventually there were boxes everywhere, the Charlie Banana wall was a permanent colourful feature of our dining room! Reusable Nappy Week meant the family entirely lost the living and dining room too. The family were so used to boxes for three days my husband never noticed the BBQ he ordered had sat in the dining room, it was only when I asked when he was going to build it he realised he thought it was more boxes of nappies! I spent a very long time trying to find a warehouse but finding affordable warehouse space in Surrey is not easy at all. We finally found an affordable unit on an enterprise estate locally and moved out in the spring of 2017, it felt like we’d had an extension built at home we suddenly had so much more room, when we moved into the warehouse I couldn’t actually believe we’d managed to fit all of that into our home. My work hours were steadily increasing but as all the children were at school this was manageable, our team consisted of myself plus 5 ladies working a few hours each. We were in our first warehouse for 18months but then it became a squash and a squeeze once again. Interest in reusable nappies was booming and we had added many more lines to our range. Luckily, the unit next door to our warehouse became vacant in November 2018 and days before Black Friday we moved in and knocked through to join the two units together. The interest in cloth nappies continued to snowball, the Blue Planet affect in action, within a year we had filled our second warehouse too, we had taken on another 3 members of staff to help support packing and advice. During this time lots of exciting events happened including being approached to take part in The Parliamentary Review for best business practise, we helped on the TV Show Shop Well for Less and advised on articles about reusable nappies in the mass media. We ended 2019 filming with the American Associated Press and created a news piece that was seen around the world. This was a world away from where I ever thought my little hobby would go.
Where we are now
After ten years of being at the helm of The Nappy Lady we are in a good place and I am thoroughly looking forward to the future. We’ve We have just moved into our new 4000ft² warehouse which gives us plenty of room for our current range and room to grow. Our team has now grown to 21 ladies who all work a mixture of full time and part time but all in family friend roles around the demands of their families. It is very important to me that none of the team misses their child’s special assembly or sports day due to their Nappy Lady work! None of our team work on commission like I used to, I do not want our team pressurised to try to get a sale and not being paid for their time and effort. Our advisor team are on track to advise over 30,000 families in 2020, that is over 100 questionnaires a day which is a crazy change from the 4 or 5 a week I used to complete as an advisor! We continue to increase our product ranges and I love finding a product that fills another niche, I got very excited when I recently found the hip abduction pants for babies with hip dysplasia. We have strong relationships with all our suppliers, and this has led to some wonderful exclusive products and prints being developed. The release of my special “Pop Pop” nappy last year in honour of my Dad is soon to have its final batch released which will help us raise over £10,000 for a local hospice. I am incredibly grateful to our customers for helping us be able to give back. I’m very debt averse and never want the company to go back to where we were ten years ago. I prefer to pay our suppliers in advance as they are all small companies too. Lately I see it as increasingly common practise for stores to take preorders for goods that have not arrived yet, I know this helps the retailer fund the purchase, but this does not sit right with me. I often get asked why we do not take preorders for highly sought-after items, but I know how delicate the supply chain can be for our small manufacturers and how easily it can be disrupted. If you place an order with The Nappy Lady I want that item immediately available for you or in the case of a few items we take preorders for such as hire kits or made to order items, that we have a kit available or that supplier is trustworthy.
So, this is our story from beginning to end warts and all. It has certainly not been easy, but I have thoroughly enjoyed (most) of the journey and look forward to where our journey continues to take us! What is certain COVID19 is certainly not going to make the next few years easy on any of us with new challenges facing us and our customers every day. We remain true to delivering Morag’s vision except for white only nappies (sorry Morag I hope you would forgive me!)