Sick of searching for her keys, Susan Seddon was inspired to create a product to help her find them more easily. She shares the story of how Kease Keyrings were created, and how winning a retail competition gave her business a boost.
What’s your career background?
As a young woman I started my career in computing and administration before marrying and becoming a full time stay-at-home mum to raise my family.
What first inspired you to come up with Kease Keyrings?
I could never find my keys! One Christmas shopping trip I was caught in the rain with handfuls of bags on a car park. I ended up dumping all the bags on the ground to search for my keys in my bag, so I decided to make something pretty and practical to help me and other people find their keys.
How did you turn your idea into a product?
It was a long process. I had no previous experience in design or manufacturing or any kind of retail background, so I approached it methodically, one step at a time.
I set myself goals and as the product progressed from design to manufacturing and then the prototype, I remained focused and moved on to the next section. This also allowed me to finance the costs as I went along.
How do you come up with the designs?
There are two major areas to the design process. First the actual design of the product where you go from concept to an actual idea. For this part I had a good idea how I wanted the keyring to look and function so I approached a concept designer to put those ideas into reality.
From this you take into consideration the suitable materials, the costs of production and things like the functionality and durability of the product.
The second and more fun stage is the consideration of pattern designs. I briefed different designers to come up with ideas and eventually settled on the first set from a Manchester-based designer called Alex Russell.
Who’s your ideal customer?
Any person who wants to find their keys easily!
Although the first designs are feminine, the keyring is not gender specific and because of the versatility of its design can be used on diaries, files, waistbands and pockets.
My ideal customer is your friend, auntie, mum, sister, boyfriend, or even a jogging pal or avid dog walker who doesn’t want to carry a bag and can sit their keys on their waistband.
How have you financed your business?
From the onset I have self-financed. I have planned each step and worked several jobs to pay for the process as I went along, ensuring that I had a healthy cash flow.
Now that I have reached the stage of entering the retail market I have to think about new ways to continue to forward plan. I am looking into crowd funding to fund my next batch of keyrings.
What’s been your marketing plan?
Initially I looked at an appropriate logo and slogan and then produced a clear positioning statement to give me clarity on my brand. I then developed a strategy which involved using all aspects of social media that I thought my customers would use.
From this I have also developed the use of online selling through a website and other channels. I included in this plan how to continue to grow and keep customer communication open.
My first selling outlets were friends and family, then gift fairs and ladies’ events. Following on from this I have sold to small independent gift and handbag retailers and rented space in shopping outlets.
I continue to review and expand my marketing strategies and to learn new skills to develop and continue to grow my business.
What have been your hardest challenges, and how have you overcome them?
Every different stage of the process brings new challenges. One example is the manufacturing process – I initially had the prototype produced in China and then tried for over 12 months to have the product made in the UK.
It can be very disheartening researching, travelling and then speaking to a firm before going through the whole design process all over again when you’re told that it is not financially viable. Eventually I sourced a new manufacturer in China and negotiated the best deal with them.
I overcame these challenges by being focused, determined and never giving up. There is always an answer to a problem you just have to find it.
And your biggest successes?
Holding my first prototype and seeing something that had started off as an idea in my head was fantastic. As was receiving the first batch in the country with their beautiful designs on.
Another highlight was being chosen as a finalist in the Retail Factor after just one year in business. The competition is run by The Mall Corporation to help support new businesses, and I was rewarded with the opportunity to go to The Oxford Summer School for Business. It was an inspirational experience that challenges and develops you to be current and relevant in today’s retail market.
While that has been the highlight of my year so far, I have also been chosen as one of the top 100 businesses to take part in The Pitch, an annual competition for businesses that have been trading for under three years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to win a prize package of business support worth thousands of pounds – and more importantly mentoring from a successful entrepreneur.
If you could start your business again, what one thing would you change?
I would have had the product made abroad straight away, as this would have saved time and allowed me to have been more tenacious with my marketing strategy. I really wanted to manufacture in the UK, but it was just too difficult and expensive.
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by people in everyday life who have to overcome challenges, both physically and mentally, and still achieve whatever goals they set.
On a personal level I am inspired by a personal friend who is successful in business but still retains his family values, and who gives back something to the community and less fortunate around him.
How do you balance your business with your family?
I always make sure that I take time each week to speak and spend quality time with my sons. I go away individually with them every so often, even just for a weekend, to enjoy and catch up with their lives and hear how they are.
It is as you say ‘balancing’. I think you have to make the time and keep a perspective about the most important things in your life. I would use the old maxim work hard and play hard and don’t forget your friends and family.
What advice do you have for a mum who’s come up with a brilliant product?
Research, research and do more research. Then, when you think you definitely have an idea that is worth investing in, do some more research!
Look for a concept designer that you will be able to communicate your idea with, and ask about the process and costs involved to take it to the concept stage. Make sure you really understand the implications of going ahead.
Think about securing your idea with patents and design registrations or copyright, depending on your idea. It’s a good idea to seek out some legal advice regarding this.
After the initial stage, make sure you plan your finances and investment before you go ahead, and consider the names and trademarks that you will require for your product.
If you would like to ask Susan anything, she is more than willing to offer advice from what she has learned so far. You can contact Susan by email (email@example.com), through her website, on Pinterest, on Facebook and on Twitter.