It might seem like buying satisfactory baby booties is an easy task, but Grace Menocal of De Pere found it to be anything but. There were lots of booties available, but they didn’t stay on the feet of her son, James.
“I wanted my son to have cute booties to wear around the house, out and about, and on special occasions that would actually stay on,” Menocal said. “During one of my mom’s visits, she helped me make a pair of booties for him. They were great, but I wanted to change a few things.”
She was living in Texas at the time (her husband, Andrew, is in the Navy and they have moved a lot). After spending seven years teaching at the elementary level while living in Tennessee, she had decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Crafting was a longtime passion, and she embraced the challenge of making a bootie that would be superior to anything she had found on the market.
“After about 30-plus failed attempts at making the perfect pair of baby booties for my son, working during his nap times and some very early mornings, I finally created a pair that I loved,” she said.
It turned out that other people loved them, too. Friends and random people would stop her to ask about the little shoes, and Menocal decided it was time to see if there was a demand for the product. She started by making booties for the children that attended story time with James. She came up with different sizes and gathered input from parents.
Her brother-in-law, a skilled marketer, and her husband, helped her come up with a catchy name and “jamBam! booties” was in business.
She said, “Most booties look more like slippers with elastic, and mine look more like a shoe. I came up with three choices for the sole — a nonwalkers cotton sole, suede for crawlers (available with a toe guard) and a tough sole for walkers.”
In looking for a high-quality sole, she found a slip-resistant material called Tough Tek. During that search, she also discovered that going into business wasn’t as simple of a matter as she envisioned. She found out that the Consumer Products Safety Commission requires that she have a written Children's Product Certificate to prove compliance with children’s product safety rules.
As she researched that, she also discovered that she needed to comply with federal and state tax requirements, and other rules.
“I am a teacher and knew nothing about business, so I had a lot to learn,” Menocal said. “I had to look up everything. My husband and I had heard about SCORE, so I scheduled a meeting with them so I could throw out my ideas and get input. I wanted to make sure I was doing what I needed to do.”
Her first SCORE meeting was with mentors in Fort Worth, Texas. The most recent meeting was with the Green Bay SCORE chapter. Although she has most of the regulations figured out, she had questions about insurance and was referred to a SCORE mentor with experience in that area.
“Basically, I want to make sure my family’s assets are safe so we’d be OK if someone said their child fell and got hurt and they wanted to blame my shoe,” she said.
With that issue resolved, Menocal sees the potential of a target market area that is as large as the globe. Her shop on Etsy, where she said her price point is “in the middle,” has been growing in popularity. As satisfied customers pass the word, and likes on Facebook increase, the next challenge will be finding time to do the necessary work. She plans on that happening in the next few months when James starts preschool
When jamBam celebrates its first year in February, Menocal will evaluate her progress and plan for the future. She is ready with a business plan template and will consider the options. Customers have posted rave reviews, and she already has more than 30 patterns in a variety of sizes. Where will she go from here?
“It would be neat if I could grow to where I can hire people,” she said. “The business could get big, or it may just be a hobby business. Either way, right now I’m having fun with it, and it keeps me really busy. My favorite part is that the customers love the booties and I love making them.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.