"It was a struggle to juggle," Carr told Startup Savant, and she couldn't get much else done. Soon enough she would need to home-school them and knew she wanted more babies, having fallen in love with children as a preschool teacher (she now has seven). But she was home alone most of the time in Lindstrom, Minn., her husband was working long hours six days a week, her mother was a busy pastor, and his mom lived in another city.
Carr had an idea that perhaps she could put the twins into baby loungers that provided an extra sense of close comfort as if they were being held, and she could carry them from room to room as she did housework or other tasks. She and her mother-in-law came up with the first "sensory infant lounger," and they sold a dozen handmade versions at craft fairs by the end of the year.
Two years later, Carr had been awarded patents for utility and design, thanks to the help of a law firm that had an intern do the paperwork cost-effectively, but it was still just a "hobby business." Then in 2015, her mom-in-law no longer could help, so Carr decided to pursue Snuggle Me Organic full-time and hired her first employee, a marketer. The following year, it reached nearly $300,000 in sales. In 2017, it topped $1 million, then $7 million the following year, and $10 million in 2019, as the company kept adding more products.
"I'd rather not be too specific about how we're doing beyond that because it encourages those who think they can imitate what we offer, but so far we haven't had to enforce our patents against attempts to knock-off our products, since they really can't be compared," Carr explained. But her ambitious vision has just gotten started: she expects that over the next two to four years, sales will top $100 million.
The pandemic has boosted baby loungers (including one for toddlers) as new moms and dads have found themselves trying to babysit, supervise schooling, and do their jobs at home, with crying infants interrupting Zoom meetings. "The aunties, grandmothers, and friends who used to be able to help have not been available for postpartum support," Carr noted.
The Carr clan has since moved to Stillwater, Minnesota, near White Bear Lake, where their new 23,000 square-foot warehouse is.
The key to being able to juggle a growing family and business has been to "block your time and reduce the number of times you need to 'switch brains,'" Carr said in an interview for a blog on AmaraOrganicFoods.com in 2018. "Now, we wake up, focus all on the kids, school, and house, until 1 p.m., then focus on business. This gives me permission to ignore phone calls and emails during the first part of the day."
Pay Attention to the Details on Instagram
The growth of direct-to-consumer sales was driven almost entirely by social media. "We used to do Facebook, but they changed the algorithm and you have to pay to be seen, so we've been focused almost entirely on organic Instagram marketing," she explained.
How did she get the company to 1.7 million Instagram followers?
- "You have to be authentic. If what you are showing and saying about your company is not fully in line with your values, it will backfire. Be sure your featured partners also share those values consistently."
- "Video is better than still images in terms of getting engagement, but both are important and have to be done with first-class quality."
- "You want images that show emotion, especially facial expressions, because that results in likes and shares. We poke fun at some of the professional photos we use in some of our marketing because they are perfectly beautiful but not emotional, so they don't get the same reaction."
- "Mostly we show an insider's view of the company, like how products are developed, what it's like during a sale, or an employee answering common questions. We also will feature things like a customer explaining how she uses a product, a picture right after birth, or a video of a cute moment with a baby."
- "We post about three times a week, enough to satisfy our followers without taking up too much of our time to create content."
- "A talent agent approached us who had connections to major influencers on Instagram, and we worked out a mutually beneficial risk-taking venture to attract them by exchanging value. For example, we teamed up with five of them and promoted a big prize together, sharing those who participated between us. Find a talent agent who can appreciate what you are doing, and it will save a lot of effort trying to get traction on social media."
Carr's latest effort is on TikTok. "We've been experimenting with videos that are under 15 seconds, and in a year, we've attracted 400,000 followers, but we don't yet know whether this will be worthwhile in terms of getting sales."
The Art and Science of Retailing
In June 2021, Snuggle Me Organic's products will be on the shelves of over 800 Target stores after being available to its customers online since spring 2020. "Target was my dream to be in from day one because so many of our own customers shop there," she recalled. "We found out that we needed to hire an agent to get a meeting, but when we arrived, the executives already knew all about our products because of our social media presence, and it was a no-brainer to test us out on their website."
Retailers overall, including Nordstrom's website and those for some baby product specialty stores, already account for 20% of sales. Much of that comes from Amazon, where Snuggle Me Organic has been selling since 2015. "It took six months before we had enough orders make a difference, but this captures traffic that would not come from social media that is directed to our website, so we monitor our listing constantly, responding to comments and making sure the content is up-to-date, and images are perfect."
Selling to a global audience is the next great challenge since it costs $60 to $70 to ship to the United Kingdom, where the company is already active. The marketing to draw consumer traffic to the website for the target country for direct orders should get the interest of distributors, but you need an agent who can guide you through the process of selling wholesale there. Canada was the first outside of the US to give attention to Snuggle Me Organic, but perhaps more surprisingly, its products are now becoming popular in Poland. International sales are 5% to 10% of the total now, Carr said.
The sacks are handsewn by a few individuals working in their homes, then shipped to other companies for the filling, where they then sew the sacks closed. Another company sews the covers, and all the organic fabrics come from another source.
The company is truly an extended family, with Carr's mother having left her position as pastor in 2016 for a new calling to manage the exploding demands of shipping. Now, she oversees human resources and helps in the warehouse. Her husband quit his job to become the CFO, and her stepfather is the CEO. Her twins (now 15) and her 17-year-old work part-time in the warehouse and full-time in summer.
Her mother, Lynne Jeffers, recalled how Mia was a high-achiever as a kid, deciding she would learn French and how to play piano and being laser-focused on those until she was satisfied with her skills. "She was always very determined to do what she set her mind to, so it doesn't surprise me she's become so successful," she told the Forest Lake Times in 2018.
"My mom told her kids we could be anything we wanted to be and I read a lot of books about how to achieve excellence and thrive," Carr said. "You have to learn how to shut out all the negativity and create a vision of what you want for yourself and believe that you deserve it."
About the Author
Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.