How I Turned My Obsession with
Handwoven Baskets Into an Award-Winning Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Helen Chapman, founder of Bellybambino. Our award-winning products are a collection of handwoven seagrass belly baskets, which include our popular animal designs, creating a unique solution to toy storage. Our handwoven baskets are aimed at children and grown-ups wanting to make toy storage fun but practical. The large size fits beautifully into Ikea’s best selling Kallax Unit, giving customers a new way to style their storage units.
I started the business in May 2019, and we currently have one employee in our production department.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
Before setting up the business, I was a stay at home Mum to my three young children for the previous six years. Before this, I had a successful pet care business in Manchester which I set up after leaving university. Following on from my obsession with handwoven storage baskets in a bid to tackle the never-ending chaos of children’s toys, the idea for Bellybambino was created.
I wanted to make tidy up time fun, and incorporate stylish designs for kids and grown-ups wanting to make toy storage practical but beautiful. Armed with my marketing degree, and love for interior design, I trialled some designs and after positive feedback from family and friends, the business was born!
I first noticed that our baskets fit perfectly into the Ikea Kallax unit when I was photographing them for the website, and I quickly realised there was a gap in the market for people wanting to update their mass-produced units with unique hand made products.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
The main challenge in the early stages of the business was finding the right paint, and materials to use to give the best quality product possible, whilst maintaining the relevant safety standards. There were many trials and errors before finding the perfect materials.
Another challenge we faced was when our basket supplier shut their factory for three months with no notice, so sourcing another quality supplier quickly took a huge effort! We now have a back-up supplier in place for any future supply chain issues. Also, juggling the business with three young children has taken a lot of time and effort. My youngest was only 3 months old when the business was set up, so this has been a massive personal challenge.
Who is your target market?
Our target market mainly consists of families, with children aged 0-12. They will usually have a higher disposable income and have a fondness for uniquely designed and bespoke products. We sell our handwoven baskets all over the world, with sales in New York, LA (Hollywood!), Sydney, Moscow, Luxembourg, Paris and Beijing. However, the majority of sales are from here in the UK.
We also offer a range of baskets for grownups, to use as plant pots or storage baskets to brighten grownup spaces.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
The marketing tool which has been the most effective for us is Instagram. It is a fantastic platform to showcase our products, and we have gained a loyal following in a short period. We have had high-profile people follow us and purchase our baskets. IKEA UK even shared our picture of our baskets (with their almost 1 million followers!) inside of their Kallax unit – a picture which was liked by almost 10,000 people!
By using the right hashtags, and encouraging people to tag us in their posts, thereby creating content on our behalf, the Bellybamino love has been spread around the world! As of yet, we haven’t used any paid social media advertising, quite simply because we have been fortunate enough so far that we haven’t needed to. However, we will almost certainly be pursuing that option when we scale up our operations once the current, tragic Coronavirus situation is over.
We have been lucky enough to have featured in British Vogue, Tatler and House & Garden Magazine, and we were approached by the magazines through our exposure on Instagram. Also, we recently won a gold medal at the 2020 Made for Mums Awards, which is a great achievement and an invaluable PR tool moving forward!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
We have a very high rate of repeat purchase. This is due to our customers wanting to add to their Bellybambino collection and the fact that they are so practical and help people to stay organised in their homes. We strive to deliver outstanding customer service with a personal touch, treating all of our customers like family.
The reviews we receive often tell us they will be purchasing more baskets, and that they can not wait to add to their collection. We also keep contact post-sale through our subscription emails and send out offers and updates on new designs keeping people engaged.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
The culture at Bellybambino is quite simply, ‘work hard and have fun!’ The production studio is attached to my home, so we are very family orientated and welcoming.
We offer a flexible working environment to our employee, and she is a very valued member of the business.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use Xero for our accounting software and this has streamlined that process for us. All systems are integrated to ensure the business runs as smoothly as possible on a day to day basis.
For the website we use Shopify. I edit, manage and run it on a day-to-day basis from my phone. Within the website, I use Mailchimp for our subscriptions, newsletters and keeping in touch with customers. For my emails, I use GSuite. I use Microsoft Excel for the day to day running of the business and recording sales and figures.
I have an App called Over, which I use regularly to edit images and help create content for social media. It’s very simple to use, and as I produce most of our images myself, I needed something quick and phone-friendly.
I don’t really use much software other than that mentioned. I literally run the business off my phone!
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
The most important lesson I have learned on my business journey is to keep focused and calm during challenging times. For instance, we encountered a situation where a supplier had shut down, and we didn’t have any way to fulfil orders we were receiving. We stayed calm but assertive. We kept our customers up to date and eventually, a solution was found, with little harm done.
Two other important lessons I have learned are first, that reaching out for advice from other business owners is an extremely beneficial step to take. They can offer you so much guidance about how to deal with certain situations. Second, don’t be afraid of allowing others to take the load when needed. This has been something I have adapted to even though it is quite difficult to do for many conscientious entrepreneurs!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love the freedom, and personal pride that I feel from my success. It is amazing to have complete control over my creative process and business ideas.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Taking my work on holiday, working very anti-social hours through busy periods, and dreaming about baskets in my sleep!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
The book that has been most influential in my entrepreneurial journey has been The Magic by Rhonda Byrne. Through this book, I have learned to be grateful for all the successes and achievements I’ve had. It has also taught me to remain positive throughout. Every time I make a sale, I say ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ out loud. This keeps the idea of gratitude at the forefront of the business.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I’d like to scale the business 10-person production team, with a turnover of £60,000 a month.