Taking A Brilliant Idea To Market: The Ready Girls Story
Every day people come up with new ideas for business, some will remain a dream whereas others will become a reality. Aileen Rogers of Ready Girls is one of those people who took her idea from concept through to a product which currently retails through a large number of pharmacies here in Ireland and through her website also. It took time to bring the product to market but hers is a story that proves when an idea is right, with the right planning, assistance and sheer hard work you can deliver the goods.
I’ve interviewed Aileen as I think hers is a story worth sharing whatever stage of the business journey you’re on.
How did the idea of Ready Girls come about?
The idea of Ready Girls came about when my eldest daughter was hitting puberty. Unlike her younger sister, who was very much a girly-girl, my eldest was very much a sporty girl and didn’t like the idea of puberty at all (the other was skipping into it with open arms!!). Periods concerned her because she didn’t want them to interfere with her football matches etc. So I had to give her something that would make periods and puberty seem less intrusive and less of a big ordeal. I went looking for a pack for her that she could carry in her school bag / football bag and I was genuinely surprised to find nothing in the shops. So I put together a small period pack for her.
This made a massive difference to her as she told me sometime afterwards, that it had made her feel confident about dealing with any unexpected event. I had made a really difficult time for my daughter seem less so for her and at the end of the day this is what we as mams want to do for our kids. That’s what got me thinking, I felt there had to be many many more mams who wanted to make their daughters feel as secure and confident as I had. This product felt so right from this moment, gut instinct was telling me that this product would succeed.
When you made the decision to create the product, from where did you start the journey?
It was quiet simple actually, surprisingly so. I started dipping my toe in the water, I reviewed the CSO stats on the Irish population to see the size of the potential market. I reviewed the same CSO figures in the UK, USA and China. I then started trawling the internet to see what type, if any, products were available online that claimed to cater for tweens and teens first periods. To my surprise again I could find nothing that fit the bill exactly.
There were products available in the US online, many of which I purchased. Most of these did not contain all the elements I wanted for my product offering. For example they were big and bulky, none had the underwear that we included at Ready Girls and they were generally quite expensive.
I visited every pharmacy in the city of Dublin and costed Feminine Hygiene products. I looked at how they were packaged and priced. Where they were positioned. I purchased every type of pencil case and glasses case I could find in stores. I ordered numerous cases online to test quality and various closing mechanisms. With all of these I began to form a product idea and what I wanted it to be.
Were you in a position to avail of support from enterprise boards? If so, what options were available to you?
I found the Dublin City Enterprise Board excellent. I attended quite a few of their courses, particularly around the online area. I received a small feasibility grant back in December 2011 which was very useful. And the Dublin women’s network have been a fantastic support to me also.
As you were introducing a new product what sort of market research did you conduct?
I carried out focus group research with mothers who had daughters aged between 9 -14 years. I held a lot of one to one interviews with mams of tween girls and spoke with lots of 9 to 14 year old girls directly too. From this the product personality emerged, what it should look and feel like and of course what it should contain. At this stage I had a design company on board and they developed logos and brand images which we presented to the groups.
The final result was the product as we see it today. When I received prototypes I visited a number of pharmacies to show them the product and get their reaction to it. This was amazing as they all loved it and couldn’t wait to have it on their shelves!
The finished product is very high quality, was the development of a prototype a lengthy process? And is the product stocked at over 200 pharmacies as you envisioned?
Thank you Debbie, I love the finished product, to be honest it has exceeded my expectations, I get such a buzz when I see it in-store, I have to pinch myself and ask “Did I really do this? Is this my product?”
Sourcing the product was a bit of a challenge, in so far as being cost effective, and making the product financially viable. I tried to get it manufactured in Ireland then UK and then Europe but the costs just didn’t stack up so I ended up sourcing it in China.
The first prototypes I managed to do myself all via the internet and the quality was excellent. However it became clear that as there were so many elements in the product, it would all have to be coordinated and packed in China and then delivered to Ireland ready for the retailers.
This is when I got a little anxious. Placing a large order over the internet with companies I hadn’t met etc made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on edge. I decided to use an Irish company who had offices in China and could coordinate everything over there. They would ensure the quality of the product, deal with and problems and have the product delivered to Ireland. It has taken me a while to find the right company but I am very happy with the agency I am now using.
Ready Girls is distributed by United Drug which is a wonderful endorsement of the product so I’m assuming this would have been one of the highlights of your business to date? Are there others you’d like to share?
Yes, United Drug came on board very early on in the process. When I had the first prototype I had a meeting arranged with United Drug. The outcome of the meeting was just amazing. It was during that very first meeting that they said they wanted to list our product and they would be thrilled to do so. This is exceptional as there is normally a process that products have to go through, which normally takes 3 to 4 weeks before approval is given. I was overwhelmed.
However there have been so many other highlights that I could write a book!! But to mention a few I would have to say being short listed for the O2 Start up Business of the year awards in May of 2012 was such a buzz as we hadn’t even started selling the product at that stage.
Winning the Dublin Women’s Network – Business Women Of The Year for a start up in July was amazing. And then following this up by winning Network Ireland’s National award for Business Start Up Of The Year in September was incredible.
The Ultimate Girls Day Out in August of 2012 was a very humbling experience. I could not believe the amount of women who just “got” the product. Women of all ages telling us how brilliant they thought the product was and how they’d wished it had been around when they were younger. Lisa Fitzpatrick endorsing the product at the fair was as you can imagine a real plus.
And finally, our most recent win the “Moms Choice Award Gold Medal” was the icing on the cake as this is a US award and is for the product itself rather than the business. I was tickled pink with this one.
What areas in business have you found the most challenging?
I have to say it’s the first time in my working life that I feel I am actually using my business degree (and that wasn’t acquired today or yesterday!) I don’t know if it’s because I feel so confident about the product and business but I haven’t had any major challenges yet. The thing however that I find the most difficult to deal with is the whole social media side of things. It sort of scares me a little especially the anonymity of those on it.
The other thing I suppose is that things tend to take a lot longer to happen than I would like. I want everything to be done yesterday when in actual fact it usually doesn’t get done until the following week! It’s difficult to get suppliers and designers on the same page and keep to your schedule!
Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself in the course of launching Ready Girls that has surprised you?
I have discovered that I have a knack in finding the right people to do the jobs I required. One of the nicest surprises is that people are so willing to come along with me on this journey and contribute so much to the process. People see in my product what I see in it and this is very flattering
Now that you’re out there in the marketplace, what advice would you give to somebody who’s come up with an idea they consider to be a viable business?
The one thing that I would say is trust your instinct. Having a product idea is one thing but you need to feel it and breath it almost. If your gut is telling you that the product is right, then look just a little further too. I would suggest talking to some business people you may know to see what they think of it. Family and friends aren’t necessarily the most reliable as they will tend to tell you what they think you want to hear. Visit your local city enterprise board to get their opinion. If you have no business experience there are lots of courses run by the City Enterprise Boards which are excellent. Make sure you have a business plan in place.
Wise words from Aileen. I look forward to seeing where she takes Ready Girls in the future.