Inside Track: Niamh O’Shea, cofounder of Cool Baby
Family-run business offers range of personalised, high-quality baby wear
Niamh and Conor O’Shea of Cool Baby, with daughter Siobhán
Cool Baby is a small, family-run business owned by Niamh O’Shea and her husband Conor. They provide a range of personalised, high-quality baby wear. Products include design your own club colours, novelty babygrows, personalised babygrows and T-shirts for up to 16-year-olds.
What’s unique about your business?
I’m from Kilkenny and my husband Conor is from Tipperary, so big hurling rivalry! When I was pregnant with my daughter Siobhán, my brother wanted to get us a present for the baby that reflected some of the sporting rivalry. I couldn’t believe there was nothing out there for babies that you could personalise.
It was something that just niggled away at me, and when I was on maternity leave I started to research it more and ask people about it. For about six months I was doing this investigating. I never actually sat down with Conor and said: “Let’s start a business.” But six months on I had a website built and stock bought. I just really believed in the idea and I felt I couldn’t pass it up or I’d have always wondered about it.
The fact that people can personalise their babygrows, hats or bibs is unique. I have come up with some slogans and I get requests for others. Customers can choose their font, colour, everything.
We started off by getting a lot of sporting requests like “Future Dublin Hurler”, but recently I had a request for “Mammy, will you marry Daddy?” to be put on a babygrow. We also get a lot of farming requests. A popular one is: “My other car seat is in Daddy’s tractor” or “Fear the Deere”.
What’s been your biggest challenge in business?
Neither myself or Conor are from a business background. We were saving for a house at the time and I thought let’s put some of our savings into this. I felt if we lose out, we won’t have put ourselves in debt. But the challenge is that we have a young family and we are trying to grow a business. That means it’s 24/ 7.
In the beginning, I was driving to a printer 10 miles out the road to get two bibs printed; I was losing money. So, we invested in the equipment we needed. I know there’s huge potential in the business and I’m sure there’s a lot more we could be doing more efficiently.
What’s been your biggest business success?
Success is when I get an email from someone who has just received our product and they are writing to say they’re delighted. I love that. But I also think the business has the potential for a lot more success. The first day our website was up we had two orders and we have had consistent orders ever since. We were nominated for the Bank of Ireland Start-Up Awards and we were on TV3’s Boost My Business, and they are great validations, but we would love to employ people; that would be a great success for us.
Who do you most admire in business?
For me, the real business heroes are the people who have an idea and go for it. You have to make a lot of sacrifices starting your own business and I just think people who believe in their idea and make it happen are amazing. Bobby Kerr is an example. He’s a Kilkenny man and I admire his business.
What advice would you give the Government to help SMEs?
The Job-Bridge scheme would be great for us to allow us to expand the business, but we can’t take someone full-time. If we were allowed to take a part-time person that would be great, and as the business grew, that person would be creating a job for themselves. I think that’s the type of help small businesses need.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
We met the enterprise board in Kilkenny and we got great advice from them about how to do our costings and cash flow and about marketing. I’d say we’d be out of business by now without that advice.
What’s the short-term future for your business?
I’d love to see us expanding and employing a couple of people. We get orders from Ireland, Britain, the US, Australia, New Zealand, everywhere. We always have orders coming in, so I know we can develop.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
Our business is a labour of love. We have invested so much of ourselves into it, it would be hard to let it go . . . but then again if the price was right, you never know!