As any parent of young children can attest, finding ways to keep an energetic toddler occupied for more than two minutes at a time is a never-ending quest for most mums and dads. So when Anna Gibson (on the right in the picture), 42, found the perfect toy to distract her son, Edward, she knew she was on to a winner.
A solicitor's daughter, Gibson had given up her career as a marine lawyer in London in 2001 to look after the children. A couple of years later, she found herself being run ragged by a boisterous Edward, who at two years old "was at that awful age when he wouldn't sit still in a pushchair. All these mums used to sit in Starbucks and have a coffee, but I couldn't take him there because he'd be up on the tables, under the chair, out the door. Even if the weather was absolutely filthy, I was out on Clapham Common exercising him."
And that's where she spotted another mother and child with a flashy-looking new scooter. Edward had a go and was hooked he "wouldn't get off it". Made from aluminium and plastic, the Swiss-made 'mini-micro' scooter weighed next to nothing.
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Better yet, its clever "lean and steer" mechanism meant that even a two-year-old could steer it safely without falling off and without lots of assistance from mum, which set it apart from its more cumbersome rivals. Gibson snapped one up and was soon besieged by other worn-out mothers asking where she'd got it.
Sensing an opportunity, Gibson contacted the existing distributor and started ordering the scooter in batches of 12, which rapidly rose to 48. Charging £39.99 each, within two weeks she had sold the lot. After that initial success, she wanted to take it further. So she teamed up with a friend, Philippa Gogarty (left in the picture). The two flew to Switzerland and won the distribution rights to the Mini Micro in the UK.
The key to its success was the marketing. "If it's just sitting in a toy shop, parents just think 'what's the point in spending £40 on one of those when I can get another for £6?'." So instead, they focused on generating good word of mouth. "The way we sold it was through mums and mums of mums. We put flyers in nursery schools, did raffle prizes and went to school fairs. Now if you speak to other mums, you'll know that there is no other scooter worth buying."
Their big break came in September 2005. Gibson landed a meeting with the toy buyer at John Lewis, which agreed to take an order of 100. ("Now it's their best-selling toy," she says.) With that deal behind them, the pair felt confident enough to scale up the business. They borrowed £40,000, got a website running and ordered a container-load of 2,800 scooters. "We didn't pay ourselves for three years to avoid having to use external equity investors," she says.
Turnover hit £1m in 2007, then £1.84m last year as the firm won the distribution rights to seven Micro Scooters products across the UK, US, Holland and South Africa. Gibson's husband also joined the business full time, giving up his job as sales director at Sandown Racecourse. Turnover is set to hit £3m this year. "We knew that if every mum knew about it, they would tell everyone. I thought the product was so great that every mother should have one it saved my life."
Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.
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