Kerry Gilmartin | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kerry Gilmartin

Background:  

Bamboobies produces eco-friendly, premium nursing pads and related products for pregnant women and new mothers. The company was founded in Boulder in 2010, and its products are available in more than 10,000 stores across the United States.

The Mistake:

We expanded too fast – twice!

About a year and a half into starting the business, I went to my first trade show. Buyers from the two major companies in the baby industry were there; I presented our products to them and there was some excitement.

When I came back from the show to my office, which was still in my living room, I told the one woman working with me at that point the great news. She panicked and said, “How are we going to deal with that demand? We don’t have any inventory.” 

It was early to be courted by big retailers like that.

I should have been panicked too, but I stuffed that down. I believed in our product and told her, “Don’t worry, it’s not going to happen all at once. They probably won’t even bring us in. We’ll be able to manage.”

Of course, both chains wanted our products and they wanted them on their shelves at the same time. It wasn’t just coincidence. Retail chains in different segments tend to make decisions for “resets” – the times they change up which products are on their shelves and bring in new products – around the same time.

It was good luck and bad. We had to get a line of credit from our bank and completely focus on making that production happen.

I had to hire several people. We focused on packaging the product. It was a struggle to ramp up, and we barely got it done. There were all kinds of costs associated with meeting the last-minute demand, and that meant lower margins, higher stress, and uncertainty. We knew we may not even get another chance the next year.

After that, we continued to grow, and maybe three years later it happened again. We were pitching to drug stores, grocery stores; we had a test in a small set of Target stores. We thought the same thing: These won’t hit all at once, so we should keep pushing sales.

The same thing happened. I went to one trade show and picked up both the CVS and Walgreen's accounts. A meeting with Kroger turned into a contract. We grew by over 10 times in about six months.

It was total insanity. We repackaged products. We put stickers over universal product codes. We went out of stock on our own website to satisfy these retail partners.

We grew by over 10 times in about six months.

The Lesson:

Having the belief in yourself to go sell yourself and your product is essential to being an entrepreneur, but having the guts to run up a line of credit and make the product available if people say “yes” is another really big challenge.

It’s really important to us now to maintain a flexible supply chain. I also see the value in doing just-in-time manufacturing. It lets you wait until the last minute to decide which type of product you are making. It’s expensive, and that’s why a lot of people don’t do it, but I see the value in it.

Growing businesses are cash-strapped, but you’ve got to do these things to back up sales.

Follow Bamboobies on Twitter at @Bamboobies.

​Photo courtesy of Kerry Gilmartin

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