Many of us think of glitz and glamour when we hear the word “entrepreneur.” Visions of Bill Gates programming away on a computer, then heading to a black tie dinner to hang with the glitterati. But examples of entrepreneurs come in a wide variety. “Mine is not a glamourous business,” says Emily McCay, local entrepreneur and owner of The Diaper Fairy. She says, “ I like to joke that we’re #1 in the #2 business.”
Emily started The Diaper Fairy, a cloth diaper laundry and delivery service, in 2010. Since that time she has also changed her definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur. “For a long time, I felt like I needed to be the one to do everything for the business – accounting, sales, deliveries, sorting, etc. It was very taxing and the business was not growing.” She realized a few months ago that she needed to either close up shop or make some changes, so she called the Small Business Development Center to get some advice. “They made me realize that just because I started the business, it didn’t mean I should continue to do everything. It was time to take another leap of faith and hire people who are skilled and proficient in the areas I’m not.”
And that decision has paid off: The Diaper Fairy is not only stable, but turning a profit and expanding. Emily has recently added Shelby County and Southern Indiana to her service area, and has also added services beyond diapers. “Busy families with a newborn baby often find it hard to even get out to the store, so we now offer delivery of other baby supplies along with cloth diapers,” says Emily.
Emily is a Louisville native who lived in St. Louis when her daughter was born. “We used a cloth diaper service in St. Louis. And we’re not talking old fashioned cloth diapering! No more pins and rubber pants. My daughter never had diaper rash and was potty trained at 2 years old. And of course there were the environmental benefits of cloth diapering as well.” Her daughter was not using diapers by the time they moved back to Louisville, but upon finding out that there were no diaper services operating here, “Ding! The light bulb went off over my head.”
Having a sales and marketing background is obviously helpful to the business. “Also, my mother was an entrepreneur. She made and sold wedding cakes, so I grew up accustomed to the idea of a woman owning her own business and making it work.” After researching similar diaper businesses in other communities, Emily got started using her own money and her own mini-van.
Her customer base is continually changing. By nature, The Diaper Fairy’s customers regularly outgrow the need for the service, so keeping the pipeline full is always important. “I go to baby fairs and meet mothers-to-be. It’s great that they want to use my service, but I also have to account for the fact that they won’t give birth for another 3 months.”
In the beginning, it was all about getting to know the community and establishing her credibility. Having just moved back from St. Louis, it was important to get to know the “mom community” in Louisville: support groups, businesses that cater to newborns, etc. Lots of networking and always “playing a clean game” (no pun intended) helped to get the business going.
While that was important to establishing the business, it wasn’t the key to making it succeed. “The Small Business Development Center taught me to look at the business as the owner and not as an employee. It was easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks, but the game changer was to see beyond that to the big picture.”
Business success has also come with recognition. Emily is pleased to be a finalist in two categories for GLI’s Small Business/IncCredible Awards. She’s also recently been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Louisville’s Business First.
Emily sees her work as more than a business. “I love that my company has an Impact on the community. Many families want to make the greener choice and use cloth diapers, but think it will be too hard. I help them make the choice they want to.”Advice for new businesses:
As soon as you are able to, begin to get help with more (wo)manpower. Free yourself up from the day-to-day details so you can focus on your goals.