Having a baby is usually the reason most women stop working. Not Leila Wilcox. "I wanted to provide financial security for my son Troy but I also had to stay at home and look after him." Having noticed how popular ponchos were, Wilcox started importing them from America and selling them on via the internet "at a massive mark up". Next, she turned her attention to hunting down car auction bargains. "As a student I had worked part-time in a car showroom." By now Wilcox was "making a comfortable living". But her breakthrough came from the TV programme Make Me A Million. A forerunner of Dragons' Den, the show was looking for contestants who would team up with experienced entrepreneurs to create a business.
Wilcox was one of three people picked from thousands of contestants. Initially it was a mixed blessing: "I had to stake £30,000 in the new venture and I could only see my son on the weekends."
In December 2004, she was teamed up with Ivan Massow, an entrepreneur with experience in financial services. The pair began to conduct market studies and research products. But Wilcox's big idea came from much closer to home.
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Wilcox's son began to develop eczema and she found that bathing him with conventional, mass-market products exacerbated the condition. "They were full of chemicals that aren't good for children with sensitive skin", while organic creams were "way too expensive". The pair commissioned a market study in baby bathing products and found that there were no cheap, organic options.
"As a mum I was convinced that a fair-priced natural product would fly off the shelves." Having located a manufacturer with Massow's help, "it didn't take long to develop it's not a complicated product".
Within seven months of meeting Massow, 'Halo N Horns' was on supermarket shelves. "Retailers loved it. Our price gave them better margins than cheap, low-cost chemical products and more sales volume than existing organic ranges." They'd been so quick to get the product out that the TV show still hadn't aired. It gave the product exposure, but also made prospective retailers nervous: "they wanted to see how the series was received".
Within months all major retailers stocked Halo N Horns and the pair were on target to generate almost £10m of sales in their first year. "We had secured the biggest supermarket deal for an independent brand in UK retail history." Unsurprisingly, they won the show. Yet before they reached that goal, Massow and Wilcox decided to sell up. "No one could believe we were selling up so quickly." Wilcox had become disillusioned with the firm's rapid growth. "Instead of developing products I found myself managing staff and dealing with HR issues I wasn't enjoying it as much anymore." In May 2006 they sold the firm in a "multi-million-pound deal".
Feeling "on top of the world", Wilcox took a month's break, but then a serious car crash "left me crippled for almost a year". Stuck at home she began to dream up new ideas. Currently involved in an insurance venture, she vows "I will soon be back with a new children's product".
James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.
After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the Forbes.com London bureau.
James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report.
He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.
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