We were so happy to see this wonderful piece in last Friday's Post-Dispatch. See the article here:
Makaboo owner hopes to blanket baby market
Stephanie S. Cordle September 29, 2010--Cindy Teasdale McGowan, founder and owner of Makaboo Personalized Gifts located in downtown St. Louis. Stephanie S. Cordle firstname.lastname@example.org
Cindy Teasdale McGowan didn't set out to be an entrepreneur.
"If you would have told me five years ago that I would own my own business or that I would be cutting the backing off of lovies, I would have laughed," she said. "I graduated from college wanting to be a writer."
But life has a strange way of taking us down different paths.
She got swept up into technology and Web development, and left St. Louis in 2004 to move to San Francisco. She took a job there with Snapfish, where she was a project manager and worked on applications for photo books and photo calendars.
An avid online shopper, especially for one-of-a-kind wedding gifts for her friends, she had an "aha" moment one night while trying to buy a personalized lovie, or baby blanket, for a friend. The only online choices seemed to be between impersonal mass retailers like Pottery Barn and mom-and-pop sites that were cute, but not as reputable or trustworthy, she said. She found one site she liked but was frustrated she could not see a picture of what the end product would look like.
So she kicked around the idea of starting a personalized baby goods website for a couple of years. In 2006, she moved back to St. Louis to marry Bill McGowan, a downtown developer. She hopped around between a couple of jobs, then decided to go for it.
In December 2009, she launched Makaboo.com, where customers can select colors and text to make personalized baby blankets, pillows, bibs and so on. The company also has a small storefront space in downtown St. Louis. McGowan employs a full-time embroiderer as well as another part-time worker, and contracts out the rest of the work.
While the business is based in St. Louis, it has developed a following among moms in New York after receiving buzz on some baby blogs there. She also has been trying to get more business by sending products to celebrity moms.
About 95 percent of your business comes through your website. So why did you decide to open a bricks-and-mortar store?
I totally didn't decide to have the retail store. My husband's company had this space available. It's only 400 square feet. They didn't know what else to do with it. And I was looking for a space for my office and production.
They were like, "Well, would you like to have this one for the time being?" I was like, "Sure!" And then I realized it was a storefront, and so we had to make it look cute. So we went to Ikea and bought a bunch of stuff really cheap and painted it. And put in a cute chandelier. And then people started yanking on the door. So I literally was like, "Oops! We created a retail store by accident."
Besides street traffic, how do people usually find out about your business?
We have been really lucky to get some positive press from blogs like strollertraffic.com, which is a New York-based mommy blog. They've been really wonderful. We were just in their newsletter. And we've also gotten some great press from People.com. We were on their baby blog in July. So it's been about 30 percent of press and marketing. About 30 percent comes from Google organic searches. Our biggest customer — who, I mean, she's been a really big customer, found us from Google. (That customer, who turned out to be a woman married into a royal family in Europe, bought $2,000 worth of goods in one day.) And then 30 percent is word of mouth — friends and friends of friends. And Facebook I would say falls into that category, too.
Has it been surprising to you that you have been receiving more orders from people in New York than from folks in Missouri?
Yes. And also, you don't really think of Manhattan as the bastion of "Mommydom." But I think in New York, moms are likely to be a bit more tech-savvy. And this is a huge generalization, but I would imagine living in a city like New York — I used to live in San Francisco — your time is a little more valuable and a little more limited because it's harder to get around. It's harder to get your everyday errands done.
So it may just be that they are paying attention to places like strollertraffic.com more so than your average Midwestern mom.
I don't really know, but it's been a good thing for us. … The orders from New York have higher average order values, and they seem to be growing in a more viral way.
So you have celebrity clients such as Bree Turner (an actress in the movie "The Ugly Truth") and Kevin Frazier (weekend anchor of "Entertainment Tonight"). How have they found you?
There is a company called Jewels and Pinstripes that is sanctioned in Hollywood to send baby and children's gift baskets to celebrities either when they have kids or the baby turns 1. So I pay them to be included in the baby gift bags.
We send personalized baby gear to anywhere between eight and 16 celebrity babies a month. …
The long-term goal is that Will Arnett and Amy Poehler will be at the beach someday with Abel and Archie in their little Makaboo matching sun hats and swim trunks. And a paparazzi will snag a photo, and it will appear in US Weekly or wherever, and we can say, "Oh, my gosh, look at the Arnett-Poehler kids wearing Makaboo!"
But it takes time. We've only been doing it since July.
So what is the story behind the name "Makaboo"?
Some kids call their blankets "boos." So that is where the name came from. It is one of my regrets because people often pronounce it wrong. "Branding 101" is name your company something that everyone will pronounce and won't intimidate anyone. But I got stuck to it. Sometimes you make emotional decisions.