By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming EntrepreneursSeven years ago, Grace Welch was talking with her sister about starting a business as she changed her baby daughter’s diaper. Then something happened that changed Welch’s life as well.
Snapping orders to her sister to bring wipes and other items, Welch struggled to keep the baby from squirming off the rectangle pad. “What they need to do,” she said in exasperation, “is get rid of this crazy pad.”
That aha moment led Welch to design the Patemm pad, whose round design is more accommodating to wriggling babies than traditional changing pads. The 30-inch Patemm pad, named after Welch’s two oldest children (Patrick and Emma), also has storage pockets to keep diapers and wipes within easy reach.
Since the pad’s launch in 2004, Patemm, Inc. has grossed an average of $400,000 annually. Prices for the pad, available in several different styles and material combinations, range from $30 to $88. With the exception of a few specialty brick-and-mortar stores that carry its products, Patemm operates online – which allows Welch and her husband/business partner Marty to organize their daily work schedules around the care of their four children.
The 43-year-old Welch describes herself modestly as “just a mom who sells pads.” Indeed, years of parenting (and diaper changing) gave her first-hand market research to design a simple but effective solution to an everyday need.
Still, the Patemm success formula contains other key ingredients, including the use of grassroots marketing. When Welch took her children to the park, she handed out Patemm pad samples to other mothers and asked for their feedback. “If a mom loves a product, she’s going to tell another mom,” said Welch.
More often than not, that communication occurs online, as mothers comprise a viral community that’s “very, very strong,” said Welch. In July 2004, when the Patemm website was up and running, she used her email contacts to introduce her “new baby.” The e-rollout started a ripple effect that led to Patemm’s first media placement: a write up in Urban Baby. Once it appeared, Welch’s cell phone started buzzing with orders almost immediately.
Since then, Patemm has received considerable national media exposure, in part because of Welch’s professional background. Prior to starting her company, she managed the public relations, marketing and branding efforts for an architectural firm. Over the years, Welch and her Patemm pads have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch as well as in numerous print and online publications. Recognizing the marketing value of that publicity, Welch visits New York City often to cultivate and maintain key media contacts.
Dealing with Challenges
While Patemm has enjoyed the ride, it’s hasn’t always been smooth. When the company turned five years old, for example, it went in “a greener direction” that generated more costs, said Welch.
In 2010, Patemm – which had been producing its products in San Francisco – relocated from that city to be closer to its new manufacturer in Massachusetts. After considering possible areas in the East, Patemm chose Providence, Rhode Island as its new home because it’s family friendly and close to New York City. Welch says she wants to keep Patemm’s manufacturing in the U.S. to maintain her quality standards (each Patemm pad is handmade).
At times, Welch has needed outside help with “the nitty gritty of running a business,” such as negotiating patents and trademarks. “I feel like I can do it all, but I can’t,” she said. “There’s no perfect way.”
For Welch, the daughter of entrepreneurial parents who emigrated from the Philippines, the challenges and hard work come with the territory. She’s learned to “expect the unexpected” and to give herself mental breaks by running four miles each day.
Would Patemm be as successful if Welch had started it when she was ten years younger? She thinks it would be different because, for one thing, she didn’t have children yet. “Back then, I was still trying to figure out life, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. “My mindset was someplace else.”
Advice for Entrepreneurs
When aspiring business owners contact her for advice, Welch is supportive. “If it’s really in your gut, go for it,” she tells them.
Welch points out that the Internet makes it easier to find resources and conduct research than in the past. “Now’s a really good time to reinvent yourself, but you have to find the right mix,” she said.
At the same, Welch knows all too well that entrepreneurship, like life, isn’t easy – and that half-hearted attempts won’t succeed.
“If you’re going to try for it,” she said, “go 110%.”