Heather Ferguson is the force behind the modern pacifier clip company, Madeline's Box. Not only did she come up with a completely unique product design, she's grown her company into a popular baby lifestyle brand. Often when looking at successful start-ups it's easy to forget they started from zeo and have encountered huge learning curves and overcome challenges. We asked Heather to share some insights from her journey so far.
What was the hardest or most daunting task for you once you decided to start your business?
When I opened my business back in 2014, I was a stay at home mom with my then 3 year old little girl, Madeline, and 6 months pregnant with my baby boy, Ezra. My husband was in medical school and he had a grueling schedule, often not around. I’m not sure why I decided to open up a business during this insane time in our lives, besides the fact that I loved my product too much to not see it on the market. I had to learn how to juggle being a mom, wife, and business woman all at once. I often would get to work once my little girl was in bed and I’d work until 1 or 2 in the morning. I called myself a mama by day and a business woman at night.
One of the most difficult times of my business happened just a few weeks before my baby was born. We live on the East Coast and we get some pretty harsh winters out here. That particular winter, we had a bad ice storm and black ice covered the roads. I was 9 months pregnant at the time. I can’t remember what I was doing (or why!) but I took one step out our front door, slipped, fell and broke my wrist and cracked my pelvic bone. Long story short, my baby was okay ( most importantly) and I ended up getting surgery on my broken wrist 2 weeks before he came into the world. There was nothing they could do about my pelvic bone and I couldn’t walk for about 2 weeks. I remember being in bed, so uncomfortable, and any move I made hurt like crazy. Walking at all felt impossible, I could only use one hand, and I felt like I had abandoned my 3 year old daughter. It was a very difficult time for me to say the least.
I had only been in business about 3 months when all of this happened and I was too stubborn to close down my shop. I was a one woman show at the time: making the pacifier clips, fulfilling orders, answering e-mails, etc. Thank goodness for mothers because my mom flew in from Texas right away to help me with my little girl and anything else I needed. She and my sweet husband also helped me with my business during this difficult time. Since I couldn’t use my arm, I taught my mom how to make my clips, so she made the pacifier clips as the orders came in and my husband fulfilled and shipped them out each day. This went on for a couple of weeks. My healthy baby boy was born shortly after and everything went much better than I expected. Thank goodness for family and loved ones! Once I could move my fingers again, I got right back into the drivers seat and started making my pacifier clips and fulfilling orders again.
What about your product made you passionate to the point where you wanted to build a business around it?
When I was pregnant with my boy, Ezra, I was shopping around for some pacifier clips. I really wanted something simple, but cute. I just couldn’t find anything out there that I liked. Everything seemed tacky, bulky, or too long. Do you remember those braided leather belts we used to wear in the 90’s? This is what I envisioned when I was searching for a pacifier clip. I loved the thought of a skinny, simple, leather braided pacifier clip. I even searched the web to see if anyone was selling anything like that and I couldn’t find anything.
This made a light bulb go off in my mind and I realized I could try my hand at making them myself and open my own shop to be the first to sell them online. They turned out really cute and I went out on a limb and opened an online shop. I am big on the fact that baby items do not have to be tacky. I felt there was a huge need in the baby market for simple but stylish pacifier clips and these leather braided pacifier clips were just that! We’ve since added other types of stylish pacifier clips, headbands, and other baby items to help bring “chic and stylish” to the baby market.
What resources or skills did you draw from to help launch your business?
Honestly, I graduated college in Elementary Education. I had zero knowledge in the business department and never thought in a million years I’d run my own business. What I did have, however, was drive and motivation. I love being creative and trying new things. When I was little, I used to invite the neighborhood kids over and I’d offer to paint their faces for a quarter. I used to do things like this all the time. I don’t even think I kept the money, I just loved pretending like I owned a business at a young age without even realizing it.
My dad is an entrepreneur and I think it’s just in my blood. I have 2 sisters who are artists and also run their own businesses. When I first opened, I spent many hours and countless nights reading articles online on how to better my business. I also asked advise from close friends who also run their own successful businesses. That helped a lot! I think I’ve become more seasoned with time and experience, but still at times - I just do what my gut tells me and I go with it. Sometimes I fail and sometimes I succeed. It’s all a learning process and I love it!
If you could tell your fledgling self something at the beginning of your venture that would have made a big difference what would you say?
I love this quote by Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
What are some skills you've had to learn along the way to get your business to the point it's at now?
1. Customer Service: This is number one in my book. Being kind, helpful, honest, and giving my customers the best of the best.
2. Learning to let go and let others help. It got to a point where my business was growing and I was in need of help. I just couldn’t do it alone anymore. Some advise I received from a good friend and a fellow business owner was to do the things I enjoy doing for my business and hire out everything else I don’t really enjoy doing. This has helped tremendously because I’m now able to have more time to be creative and grow my business.