Doers and Dreamers... Totter + Tumble
Hi Susie tell us a bit about yourself and Totter and Tumble?
Hello! I am Susie, and I launched Totter + Tumble in 2018, which specialises in design-led playmats that are seriously practical as well as beautiful, so that families do not need to compromise their homes for their kids and vice versa.
What was your driving force to set up your business?
Need and frustration! We had just put every last penny we had into redoing our kitchen so that it could be a lovely family space. We agonised over wall paint, cabinet colour and style, practical and gorgeous flooring - even the shade of the grout. And then we had to put down a garish, low quality jigsaw puzzle playmat that was irritating to look after, had a short life span, and didn’t even do the job I needed it to do (ie cushion my children) very well.
I thought a better option would exist, but it didn’t. Annoyance led to a year of research and then launching with 4 designs across 2 reversible playmats at the end. We now have 12 reversible designs and 2 sizes available.
Totter + Tumble: The Globe Trotter Playmat
What’s your workspace like?
I work mostly from home and, though I sometimes work in our kitchen, I have a little desk in our spare room. In one direction I can see the front door and hear the radio drifting up the stairs, and the other is our little London garden, which I adore. I often have the window open to hear the birds chirping - and the occasional rumble of a London bus in the distance. I can’t work effectively without my macbook and a cup of tea or coffee nearby.
Tell us about a typical day?
I don’t think it is going to entice anyone to start their own company! Most of the time I love it, but it is not all plain sailing. I love my work, I love being at home, I love being able to pick my children up from school. But there are moments where trying to have quality time with my children whilst running a small business that I pride on quality products and top notch customer service clash - and I feel that stress acutely.
I try and do the big tasks during the window of the day the children are at preschool/school, which on some days only gives me a couple of hours to whizz home and focus on work - it makes me more productive during that window, but it is often not enough. At the end of last year I hired someone, who helps with customer communications 4 days a week as I never want that to slip. Once school and preschool is over, I try to just reply to essential emails etc until they are in bed, and then the laptop opens again. Whilst podcasts and the radio distracts me, I can work in front of the TV quite happily.
How did you launch?
With a teaching background, I had no business experience to guide me. I credit this with helping me in two ways. Firstly, I wasn’t going to do it at all unless the product, my playmats, were 100% in each feature and finding a manufacturer with the same commitment. I spent a year just working on the product as I didn’t want to sell something - I wanted it to sell itself. Secondly, I learnt. And I love learning - listening to podcasts, talking to other small brands that I admired, learning the ropes on instagram, looking at websites and seeing what I liked and didn’t.
After that year, I launched with 2 reversible playmats. I had lined up some PR in baby and interior magazines and had reached out to 5 individuals on instagram who I felt aligned with the brand I was building, who were people I enjoyed following and who seemed like they could do with a practical and stylish playmat. They all said yes and have continued to support my small business - they’ve been amazing. That was it.
Totter + Tumble: The Mariner Playmat
What’s your favourite online resource (app/tool) that is indispensable for work?
A huge proportion of my traffic comes via Instagram, but canva for graphics, mojo for stories, splice for videos all help enormously with my branding and content on that platform.
How do you manage family and work life balance?
The teacher in me tries to timetable my day and week - though both children and businesses do not always stick to that timetable! It has certainly helped me focus and move on when I need to though. I keep a weekly planner on my desk.
Totter + Tumble: The Scout Playmat
What have you found most surprising since setting up your business?
How much I have loved learning about it all - I am an avid podcast listener (How I Built This, the earlier episodes of Janet Murray and Hashtag Authentic were really helpful, Diary of a CEO are amazing).
On the tough days how do you self motivate?
With the tough moments, I just feel like I need to get through it and solve whatever issue it is. But on reflection, everything is solvable. Doing something that you know will completely take your mind off it helps. For me it is being with horses- they’ve always been my therapy. Having a group of like-minded and inspiring brand-friends really helps, whether as a sounding board or just to champion each other too has been fantastic. I remember hearing other founders say this and not ever thinking it happened - but it does!
What’s been your business highlight so far?
I’ve had a few moments where I have thought ‘this is bonkers’ - like Giovana Fletcher doing a series of stories on my playmats totally unbeknown to me, or seeing my playmats whilst I cruise Right Move, and hearing from parents who in some of their toughest moments have benefitted from using a Play Matters Totter + Tumble playmat in one of the hospitals, hospices, refuges and charities I donate to. The biggest game changer is one that I am still to reveal - let me know when this goes live and hopefully I can say more!
Totter + Tumble: The Wanderlust Playmat
What have you got planned next?
It is to do with the point above! It is against my nature, but I must keep quiet until it’s all signed and sealed but, it is to do with a brand I hold in very high esteem wanting to work with Totter + Tumble.
And finally…. What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of starting their own business?
I have two. The top tip is that the product is king - get this right and everything else will be a lot easier. Second, whilst running worst case scenarios are really important, also remember that if you get the product right, running good or best-case scenarios is just as important.
Thank you Susie. We're big fans of Totter and Tumble and Susie herself. You can shop her playmats here.
If you loved this blog check out our other blogs like this one with Mama Designs owner Keira O'Mara here.
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