There is something about keys that small children seem to love, and Elspeth Fawcett’s kids were no exception.
She says her second child was “obsessed” with keys, but wasn’t interested with the plastic toy version Elspeth had bought him. This caused havoc when her son got hold of the last set of car keys “and we never found them”.
After two weeks of turning the house upside down led to nothing but a Sh50,000 bill for having the car towed and a new car key sorted, Elspeth set about trying to find some metal toy keys for her son to play with, only to find nobody was offering this in Europe.
So she decided to make her own, launching Yummikeys, a business selling a range of toy keys and teething rings made from stainless steel.
Safe as spoons
Elspeth says the initial reactions to her Yummikeys products were reassuringly positive, with parents who had already gone through the fun of the teething process quickly grasping the concept.
“First-time parents who hadn’t yet experienced the key obsession stage, which most babies seem to go through, needed more explanation and to see Yummikeys in action, but were mostly enthusiastic.”
She acknowledges that some people questioned giving a baby metal “but it’s the same as giving a baby a stainless steel spoon and fully approved by safety testing and assessments”.
Elspeth emphasises that the toys are chemical and toxin free, with no lead, BPA or phthalates. What’s more, they are completely recyclable, so if parents don’t want to hold onto them as a keepsake once the child grows out of their keys phase, they can get rid of them responsibly.
After spending months getting the product design right Elspeth, who had previously worked in life insurance for a decade, used all of her savings to fund her first stock order as the smallest order she could make for such a unique toy was 500 units.
She says: “This was pretty terrifying and felt like a huge investment for us. My first order was 250 units and because I had to do it as cheaply as possible, I painstakingly cleaned each one by hand and assembled and packaged them."
Money from sales has been ploughed back into the business, while the business is now eligible for government grants which will be the first external money going into Yummikeys.
Juggling business with babies
Elspeth says that time pressure and small children have been the biggest challenges with getting Yummikeys off the ground.
“I started trading three months before I had my third baby ? I also had a one and a three year old at that stage - so I didn’t take any full days of maternity leave. I even checked my Yummikeys emails the day my baby was born. And then we had a busy Christmas and a baby who did not sleep or want to be off me, so I spent evenings packaging orders one handed and I was thoroughly exhausted.”
While she says things have now got easier, as she doesn’t have a lot of childcare for the youngest two children she still ends up working until late almost every night.
Keep active online
Elspeth says that having a “very active presence” on social media ? particularly Facebook and Instagram ? has helped to raise awareness in Yummikeys.
But there has been plenty of backing outside of the online world too “largely by word of mouth and support from local friends who are mums and fellow small business owners”.
There’s never an easy time to launch a business
The hard work Elspeth as put into Yummikeys is paying off, with the business on track to pass Sh25 million turnover by the end of the year.
She points out that other would-be entrepreneurs need to recognise that there will never be “a good or easy time to start a business”, but that shouldn’t discourage them from following their dreams.
She adds: “It will be tiring and full on but it will also be the best journey and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn and the support you’ll receive.”
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