Isanti County News
“It’s one of those things that just came about from a need,” explained Alicia Overby about her growing home-based company, Baby Elephant Ears.
After a doctor diagnosed her second child with colic, she persistently sought solutions that could comfort her infant. Talking with a chiropractor taught the family about neck support and yielded the suggestion to help support the baby’s neck with a rolled up towel or a clinical-looking pad that didn’t fit well.
Frustrated, the young mother borrowed a sewing machine from her neighbor and stitched together a pillow to support her baby’s neck. It looked a bit like elephant ears, flat behind the neck with puffy side flaps that rest just between the baby’s ears and shoulders.
Overby had never sewn before that day, but she said the pillow made a big difference for her child. Soon it was also making a difference for the babies of friends and relatives and other people who saw and wanted one. In September 2009, Overby and husband Scott incorporated Baby Elephant Ears.
The Cambridge-based entrepreneur laughs about that time: “I had four kids under the age of 4 and decided it would be a good time to start a business.”
Sewing for need, style
Overby sewed in the basement and said things got fairly “crazy” the first year as she worked as a mom all day and at sewing all night. She returned from her first trade show with 500 orders in hand, feeling a mixture of thrill and fear.
“I was still hand packing and hand sewing each one,” she said.
That order drove the Overbys to seek options and led to a consultation with the Small Business Administration. Now a manufacturer nearby in Wisconsin produces the pillows.
She describes the Baby Elephant Ears pillow as a one-piece multi-use support cushion for children from birth to 2 years old. Since it is flat in back, it does not interfere with neck-muscle development. Overby said she’s heard of many kids keeping it past age 2 as a snuggly comfort item.
The pillow sits easily with a baby in a car seat, stroller or chair. Overby said the pillow travels well plus is durable and machine washable.
Baby Elephant Ears trumpets the slogan, “Support your baby in style.” The business recognizes that moms enjoy a combination of the functional, cute and stylish.
Retail prices of the pillows range between $21.95 and $29.95, and they come in an array of prints and kids designs. Overby said they have expanded the line several times by adding new styles, including seasonal and other themes.
Expansion, growth spurt abroad
The business marks its fifth year with three new items that coordinate with the original pillow and its designs. Overby said Baby Elephant Ears recently introduced the products at the ABC Kids Expo, which she attends each spring and fall.
“We’re expanding into a travel accessory brand,” she said.
The first is a strap cover to protect infants from the rough material securing them into strollers or other travel items; it’s equipped with a special loop to hold toys.
The second new product is a universal stroller liner with an integrated Baby Elephant Ears pillow.
The third is what she calls “an innovative stroller bag” in the shape of elephant ears with pockets for a phone and water, as well as a zipper pouch. Overby said the bags’ exteriors feature cute designs and are easy to wipe clean.
Word of mouth and trade-show contacts have helped grow the business, Overby said. Since 2009, Baby Elephant Ears has sold 350,000 units. The company also passed a milestone this fall of having its product available through 500 retailers.
Those include local places such as Willow Bridge Center and the Cambridge Medical Center Gift Shop and retailers in the Twin Cities such as Baby Grand, Pacifier, Teeny Bee Boutique, Pea Pods and others.
Overby said vendors in 13 other countries also sell the product, with distribution among them ranging from mass levels to one individual. She is excited about an early October trip to Germany for the company’s first international trade show.
“That seemed to open a lot of doors for us,” she said.
The event brought Baby Elephant Ears into personal contact with vendors in 40 major countries. Overby said the business has already closed a few deals as a result of meeting the new associates overseas.
Family, finances, feedback fall into place
Overby and her husband, both natives of the Cambridge area, remodeled a historical barn on their property to serve as the Baby Elephant Ears business office. The setup enables her to tend business but easily leave the office to be an active mom with their four children ages 5, 7, 8 and 9.
The 32-year-old mother said the kids enjoy having a family business and often help pack boxes and do other work. The parents think the involvement creates good learning opportunities.
Overby said, as she rode a train in Amsterdam last month, she answered a call that informed her Baby Elephant Ears received an award of $15,000 through the Huggie’s Mom-Inspired Grant program.
She said the grant provides not only flexible funds but also public-relations opportunities, access to resources and chances to confidentially exchange ideas with other industry professionals.
Asked what people say about the product, Overby said they often exclaim: “How simple! I can’t believe this hasn’t been done before.” She’s always believed that the simplest thing can sometimes be the biggest help.
She said it’s nice to see many return customers ordering Baby Elephant Ears to give to others. Overby agrees it’s a compliment when the pillow fills a need for someone and then they want to do the same for another and give it as a gift.
She said, “That’s how we know it’s a product that people use.”
To learn more about Baby Elephant Ears, visit its Facebook page or www.babyelephantears.com.