When our Inaugural Hippo Hug Talks wellness newsletter went out last month, it was my first time sharing some of the behind the scenes parts of being a business owner.
That first founder’s message was a way to update the outdated “About” section but also start to build on that connection I feel to my customers and the greater business community. This blog is an extension of that. I hope to regularly write about my experiences as a business owner in the unique space of manufacturing a product with many competitors but few that are keeping jobs in Canada and even fewer that are 100% women-owned and operated.
That is a good segway to begin talking about a topic that is at the core of my values as a small business owner but ultimately as an employer. Manufacturing overseas vs within the borders of Canada. I am by no means an expert in this area but over the course of the last seven and a half years, I have explored the option of overseas manufacturing several times. Motivated mostly by the allure of offering a product at a much lower price.
Let’s start first by talking about pricing. You might be surprised to hear that when I first started Hippo Hug I had my prices set so low that I was set to make $2.00 an hour, in my naivete as a stay at home mom I thought “Well it is $2.00 more an hour than I make now so that sounds good”. But a wage like that doesn’t allow for growth, hiring staff and long-term motivation to keep making unique and high-quality products. My wise husband made no bones about telling me such a wage was inappropriate and short-sighted. And so a better formula for pricing was developed. This put my weighted blankets on par with others on the market at the time.
In 2013, I started to think about overseas manufacturing after a conversation with another local business owner who was having success with it. Things had started to get much busier than I could manage on my own so the question was “Do I expand manufacturing in Canada or pursue overseas?” I was connected with a procurement company who specialized in helping companies secure overseas manufacturers. The company representative spoke highly of all the successes they had especially with unique products such as mine. They made big promises about making my blankets for as little as $10. They saw all the dollar signs, imagine making something for $10 and selling it for $200! It seemed promising and a good time to start down the path to a change from the labour intensive process of making each blanket at home growing demand. Six months later things were less rosy and optimistic, the investment needed was astronomical, the quality was sub-par, the wages to factory workers were grossly low, and I was already producing in Canada for only marginally more cost. The promise of a $10 weighted blanket was long gone and their costs were not enough below my current costs to take the investment leap into a product that I just couldn’t stand behind. It was a costly learning experience for an entrepreneur but I was thankful for not losing more money backing something that just didn’t fit my values. I didn’t want to make more money at the expense of my ethics and morals.
So I carried on, found a way to hire some part-time help and develop a system to continue to work out of my home while making more and more weighted blankets. Fast forward another year or so and I was still finding running the business and doing the bulk of the manufacturing myself to be a lot. I had a mentor at the time through
Futurpreneur that suggested I look at overseas manufacturing again, and that together we could see if it was the right step. The cost of weighted blankets has always been something that weighed on me, knowing how much difference a weighted blanket can make in a person’s life yet often the cost was prohibitive. I really wanted to offer a high-quality item for an easier purchasing price but costs of manufacturing in Canada are high. At the time I was still purchasing all my supplies at retail pricing, never feeling comfortable to invest more than a few thousand dollars into weights, fabric, etc. I had only just taken the risk of purchasing a costly sewing machine for myself, rather than continue to borrow the 1980s Janome.
Even my accountant called my business a “hobby”, so I found a new sourcing company and started the process again, a little wiser and with some knowledgeable help. Again the promises of low, low costs even though I was only willing to commit to an initial run of 1000 weighted blankets. And again the disappoint as quality was low, corners were cut and sacrifices were made to the overall product that I just wasn’t willing to allow. Especially when yet again the cost was not enough below my current costs to warrant the financial risk. Then my mentor said “You know what, I think you should keep manufacturing here in Canada, find a way to expand and grow the process and be Made in Canada”
He was right and so I did, I found wholesalers in Canada and through a lot of research found a manufacturer for our weighted disks. I am proud to say that we are still manufacturing weighted blankets locally in Calgary and shipping across Canada. Yes, our weights are manufactured overseas, because I have yet to find somewhere to do it in Canada and its convenient to simply reorder rather than having to go through the sourcing process again. I still do my best to keep our pricing profitable by competitive. I want to pay fair wages, I want to have health benefits and Christmas parties. I am happy with less money in my pocket and more in the pockets of my employees. I like being able to create a corporate culture that values compassion, empathy and caring over profit and trends.
Does this mean I don’t notice the devaluing of weighted blankets by my competitors? No, it means we all work harder to show that when you invest in Hippo Hug you are supporting local, caring people. People who want to know you slept better or made it through that hard day; people who want to see you with a product you love. At least once a week I get an email from an overseas manufacturer offering the same grey weighted blanket that everyone is capitalizing on. I wish I was the type of person to put that $10 weighted blanket on the shelf for $250 and jetting off on my next luxury vacation but I am not. I love creating jobs, reducing waste, keeping manufacturing here in Canada, connecting with customers and being a truly made in Canada company that embraces the values of fellow Canadians and giving people something to comfort that is as unique as their needs are. In a busy world, we create Canadian-made weighted products to settle the body, comfort the soul and provide calm because we believe that everyone should come home to a hug.