Small biz: Lengthy bed rest begets online baby store

A wireless Internet connection helped Robin Morris pass the time during 17 weeks of pregnancy-induced bed rest. But those hours of surfing – including a lot of browsing for baby products – also inspired her to make the leap from corporate career woman to stay-at-home entrepreneur.

Morris, 34, had worked for about 10 years in human resources, the last three years commuting from home in Lakewood to downtown Denver for a telecom company. After her son, Levi, was born, she returned to work for six months before leaving to run Modern Mommy Gear, an online store that specializes in eco-friendly parenting products ranging from sippy cups to cloth diapers to baby hats to eco-friendly cleaners – more than 2,000 unique products from 75 manufacturers. “I came across a tremendous number of unique mom-invented products and organic products,” Morris says of her time spent in bed rest. “But what I found was that they were products you kind of had to stumble upon. One of the goals I had was to bring these lesser-known smaller products together in one place so moms could find them.” After a “soft” launch of in April, the online store held an official grand opening in November. Sales have increased 3 percent to 5 percent every month since.

So far, the top-selling single item is the Klean Kanteen re-usable stainless steel water bottle. The top selling product category is cloth diapers. Morris sells 12 cloth-diaper varieties, and they account for 60 percent of her sales. The diaper fabrics include cotton, hemp and bamboo, and range in price from $2 or $3 each up to $32. Unlike a lot of online business models, Morris actually stocks all the items she sells in her 600-square- foot basement.

“My basement is stacked floor to ceiling with plastic bins and tubs full of merchandise,” says Morris, who cites a few advantages to having the goods on hand. Number one, she can ship merchandise out the next day and have it in customers’ hands within two or three days instead of relying on the manufacturer to ship promptly. She’s also able to schedule in-person consultations and let prospective customers see and feel the merchandise. And finally, moms’ groups around Denver invite her to their events as a guest speaker, so she’s able to demonstrate the benefits of her products in front of receptive audiences and take orders on the spot.

Although revenues from Modern Mommy Gear don’t yet match the $50,000 annual salary she gave up to launch the company, the difference isn’t much when you consider she no longer pays for child care (about $12,000 a year), she no longer has expenses for daily commutes to work, and she and her husband, Paul, are enjoying some tax benefits.

“Straight dollar for dollar, it’s certainly not compensating me in the same exact way, but it’s a pretty insignificant dollar amount that we’re missing,” she says. Startup and operation costs for Modern Mommy Gear have been small. Morris spends about $250 per month on advertising. Her Web-hosting plan that allows an unlimited number of products costs $200 a month (it’s available for as little as $50 per month if you don’t mind a limit on products.) The Morrises also took out an insurance rider for the products in the basement for an extra $100 a year.

The greatest benefit isn’t quantifiable in monetary terms but in the family’s quality of life. “I think it’s de-stressed our family a lot,” she says. “I’m still working 30 to 40 hours a week on my business, but now a lot of times I work on it when my son is either napping or before he gets up in the morning. Once or twice a week I’ll pull a ‘college all-nighter’ and stay up till 3 or 4 in the morning so I can get a lot of work done, and I’m not really impeding on time with my family – just on my sleep.”

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