Tammy Greig knows her way around power tools. In 2015, she met up with Carla Peck and what started out as a playdate for their young daughters turned into the beginning of My Little Giggles. Carla noticed the ‘Learning Tower’ Tammy had made in her garage and saw the potential to build a brand around the problem-solving product.
“I grew up in Crystalbrook near South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. I moved to Adelaide for uni where I met my partner. We moved to Melbourne for his job and I was working in the finance sector for Grocon until I was made redundant. That spurred me on to think about what I really wanted to do so I studied Graphic Design and worked a few jobs as a designer. I was made redundant twice more and after I returned to the finance sector, I became pregnant with my daughter Grace. I met Carla, my partner in My Little Giggles, in Gymbaroo – a kids group where they run around doing gymnastics and singing and generally running amok.”
The problem, the country can-do attitude, and the business solution
Alongside her expertise in bookkeeping and accounting, graphic design, and being a mother of two, Tammy has always felt comfortable taking on backyard DIY projects – a skill she attributes to growing up in the country. So when her daughter Grace was determined to help out with the cooking, Tammy designed and built what she dubbed the ‘Learning Tower’ in her shed using a drop saw and drill press. She painted it white and it was kind of perfect. Grace could potter about on the bench without worry of slipping off a stool and injuring herself. The biggest change Tammy made to the tower was painting it green to better hide the avocado Grace was so fond of spreading over it most mornings.
“Around the time I met Carla, I made the Learning Tower. Carla came over, saw it and really believed we could sell it. So we decided to make more towers and sell them – I taught myself how to use a drop saw and power drill and we started making and selling the learning towers – and just like that, My Little Giggles was trading.”
A slow, hands-on start
Carla’s background in sales meant she was turbocharged to spruik My Little Giggles. Tammy says she was brilliant at selling the Learning Tower to anyone who’d listen. So the pair used a combination of Mums’ Groups, Facebook pages and local Facebook groups, Etsy and local markets to grow their business.
“We started out with a My Little Giggles Facebook page. We posted products on various local ‘Buy & Sell’ Facebook groups to get some sales and grow our customer base. We started an Etsy page a while later and that’s still quite a strong revenue stream for us. We also sold to our Mum’s groups and word of mouth was a huge factor in our growth early on too. Carla was much better at selling to her friends, but friends from Mum’s groups would be over, see the tower and that genuine interest and the product offering a practical solution for a common problem really drove sales.
We did a heap of markets and they felt little, but they were a brilliant marketing tool to get our brand out there. We used Instagram too, but it’s all a slow process of building up brand awareness.”
Covering all bases to get the job done
Tammy and Carla had no experience running a business before they began My Little Giggles. They used their professional experience, and that of their partners on occasion, to cover the basics.
“Carla’s background is sales and I’m from a bookkeeping, payroll background, so we’ve just been winging it. Carla manages the marketing and I do the finance side of things and we cover everything else between us. Carla’s partner works in IT so he made our website, and my partner’s done an MBA so he’s helped too. I often ignore his advice, which drives him crazy.”
Small wins fanning their faith
As they navigated their way through running a business, there were tough times that cultivated self-doubt and stress. Fortunately, they had some wins that kept them motivated and warmed their hearts.
“The early wins that kept us going were the little things – like the notifications when you make a sale on Etsy. Seeing people leave reviews and tell us how useful the towers are was amazing. And then people recognising the brand when I told them what I did – that was special. And our Instagram following growing – it all helps to keep you motivated. The recognition that I was running a business was great, when it shifted from being perceived as a hobby to people recognising the brand – that was a really rewarding moment. The ATO certainly doesn’t see us as a hobby anymore.”
Busy beginnings and creeping doubt
In the beginning, Carla would go to Tammy’s house so their daughters could play, and they could get on the tools and build products. Despite the stress of whether they’d get any sales that day and how they could help the business grow, it was fun while the novelty remained.
“Carla would bring her daughter Harper over and Carla and I would drill the holes on the frames and the girls would squeeze the glue into the holes and hand us the screws and build the towers together. So we were making the products in our house with the girls and we’d stress about sales and how we could grow the business. There were times when the uncertainty and doubt became too much and we wanted to walk away.”
The sweet relief of outsourcing
“We kept each other motivated and on track and that’s when we realised we needed to outsource some of the work. I remember being 40 weeks pregnant with my second child Angus, and I was still standing at the drop saw and drill press building frames for the Learning Towers. Angus can sleep through anything now and we reckon it’s because he’s used to the drop saw.
I remember sitting at our dinner table a few months later, bouncing Angus to sleep as I painted wooden beads, and thinking there had to be a better way. We outsourced the bead painting, but the painters got sick of it so we looked at ways to remove this headache from our business. That’s when we shifted to using silicone beads – they’re safer, BPA-free teething beads and they don’t need painting. This pushed us to take a step back and analyse how we could work smarter in other areas of the business.”
They realised they had to outsource the manufacturing too. They quickly saw the value in paying contractors to build the Learning Tower and Play Gym frames – it freed up their time to concentrate on other aspects of the business, and spend more time with their families.
“We looked at local freelance groups on Facebook like Western Melbourne job groups and posted what we needed and tried a few applicants. It was hit and miss, but ultimately we found some amazingly reliable, brilliant people – they’re grandparents now, so they understand the importance of quality and safety for these kids products.”
The trials and tribulations of improving efficiency
By outsourcing the production, Tammy and Carla had more time to think about their business. They saw there was potential to improve the business’ efficiency and set about improving their products design to make the products better and easier to build. But there were some detours and dead-ends along the way to finding a better path forward.
“The couple we had making the Play Gym frames for us quit because they couldn’t keep up with demand – they were making 30 frames a week. When they quit, Carla called me in tears because the people we trialled to replace them were so terrible, the frames they made were unusable.
So we took another step back and decided to bring forward the project to redesign the frames. We used another Facebook group to find a designer who helped us with the redesign. And once the redesign was finished, the frames were so much easier to construct and the couple who quit came back onboard. They eventually told us they quit because they couldn’t keep up, but it’s amazing to have them back on board again.”
Lessons and ongoing challenges
As with all small businesses, My Little Giggles has had its challenges. Being a new business, it can be difficult ensuring larger companies pay their invoices on time, which knocks on and negatively affects cash flow. They face the ever challenging question of how to expand their customer base and of course they’ve taken some chances that didn’t pay dividends.
“Obviously cash flow is a big problem, otherwise we wouldn’t be chatting right now. That challenge was made worse by larger companies not taking us seriously enough to pay our invoices on time. They think they can push you aside but that creates a serious problem for our cash flow. There are ongoing challenges in how to market to new groups and expand our audience too. Last year we spent a couple of grand on a magazine ad and saw no measurable return from it. We’re still a really young business and we’re still learning – in ten years time I’ll probably say we’re still learning.”
Putting the balance back into work life
Tammy works part-time “in the real world”, is a stay at home Mum looking after her two kids, and runs My Little Giggles. It’s no wonder people thought My Little Giggles was a hobby – how on earth could she possibly have time for everything? If our chat was anything to go by, she’s obviously a wily multi-tasker, a very understanding mum and is passionate about the brand she has built.
“Working and having kids has taught me to be flexible and get work done when I can, which can start to feel like you’re working all the time. I think phones make it much harder to achieve a good work-life balance too. Being able to check emails and work stuff anywhere you go is a terrible habit. Thankfully my husband and I are both homebodies, so we enjoy just spending time together at home so it makes that work-life balance easier to achieve. We’re deep into Homeland now, we have another couple of seasons to catch up with that.”
How expanding the business led to more cash flow problems
As My Little Giggles grew, Tammy and Carla expanded the product offering on their website. They now stock a carefully curated selection of quality products from European brands. Their business consists of making and selling their own products, and importing these European products. While the expanded offering has increased revenue, the time it takes to ship products from Europe to Australia creates a cash flow bottleneck as their cash is tied up at sea for weeks and sometimes months. Fortunately, this is cleverly eased by the sales of the products they manufacture in Melbourne, and the reliable volume of sales through their Etsy store.
“The biggest challenge we face is cash flow. We’re importing some products from Europe and calculating the time it takes from paying for it to the time it arrives and we can fulfill orders is variable. It feels like we’re ordering the next shipment as soon as the previous one has arrived, but that timing of invoices doesn’t allow for sales, so it’s an ongoing challenge.”
The many shapes and forms of growth
“Instagram has been a really useful tool for growing My Little Giggles. We’ve had a lot of success with influencers helping grow our customer base. It takes a lot of work finding the right people, but when you do, it can be fantastic. The other big boost we’ve enjoyed is offering Zippay and Afterpay. We have a set of table and chairs that retails for $1,200. If you use Afterpay, that’s four payments of $300, which is much easier to justify, and easier to hide from your partner, or so we’re told.”
Tammy and Carla now work from Brisbane and Melbourne respectively. They make the distance work by communicating regularly. Their focus now is on further growth and expansion of their product offering. And potentially opening up their own bricks and mortar store, but we may need to wait a while for that.
“There are a lot of growth paths ahead of us, and we’re looking at which one to take. We’re continuing to grow and expand our network of stockists. We’re looking at expanding our offering of brands, including some lower price-point products, as well as creating some new handmade products of our own. Carla would really love to have a shop, but that may need to wait until our kids are a bit older.”
Because we’re passionate about transparency, we asked Tammy to share the biggest catastrophic muck-up she’s experienced. If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably enjoy seeing how Tammy turned most brand’s worst nightmare into a positive learning experience.