An interview with Susie Stubbs - Totter + Tumble
There is no hiding my love of Totter & Tumble, I have their spotty Scout playmat in the shop. Looks great, comfy for little ones to sit on and wipe clean - it's by far the hardest working thing in the store (other than yours truely).
The lovely Susie has becoming somewhat of an insta-pal of mine and I really wanted to get her on the blog, especially as she's just launched her new collection AND secured John Lewis as a stockist of her gorgeous mats!
So here you go, the lovely Susie from Totter + Tumble...
Tell us how and when Totter + Tumble started?
Absolutely not a long running dream, but interestingly my immediate family (as in, my parents and two brothers) are all entrepreneurs in the truest sense of the word, but I was very very happy teaching and saw a future in that career. It was only out of sheer frustration that Totter + Tumble started.
It all was stemmed from building work we did when our second child was born as poured all our hard-earned money into making a big, family friendly kitchen on our little London terrace. We spent hours visiting tile shops, choosing grouting colour, painting samples, envisioning our little family dream home.
And then I went to put down our jigsaw playmat, and felt like crying.
The headache inducing primary colours, the low quality disintegration of the foam that highlighted its short shelf life, memories of constantly reapplying the pieces and trying to clean in between left me feeling like there had to be something of better quality, that would last, look after my little ones tumbles, and look neutral-ish. There wasn't.
Looking back at the process though it was my family, those rascal entrepreneurs, that sneakily guided me down the path of starting a company without me even realising it until I was boarding a plane to meet manufacturers!
How many people work with you?
Loads of people and no one all at the same time! I now have 2, soon to be 3, wonderful employees who are absolute Totter + Tumblers and I really appreciate them, but for the first year and a half I was on my own - and a part time teacher for the very first year! I also have a host of freelancers who do things I can't - like graphic design, ads, incredible photography, pinterest, press. All the people I work with are kind, intelligent, can-do women and I am so fortunate to have found them.
The flip side is that as a business owner there is a solitary side to the business. You hold the cards, the strategy, the vision, and that can feel overwhelming at times. Having the support network of other small brand owners has been invaluable as its a safe space to share, to bounce ideas, and to vent and worry!
What has been your favourite part of owning your own business?
I really love our Totter + Tumble playmats, and I think they are the best, so hearing other people say the same is an incredible feeling. Having John Lewis approach me to stock us because they also thought it, left me on cloud 9 for months.
And on the flipside, what has been the most challenging part?
I've touched on this above - and used the same phrase! - but it is never-ending. I naively thought I'd start this and a few people would buy playmats each week and that I'd earn enough to afford not to teach and I'd be with my kids all the time living 'the perfect life.' In reality, Totter + Tumble is on my mind all the time and I am having to work really hard to at least press pause.
If you could go back to the ideation days of Totter + Tumble, before everything got underway, what advice would you give yourself?
Get childcare. Especially Corona-virus proof childcare by March 2020.
How do you market your products most effectively?
This is probably two fold for me. The foundation of Totter + Tumble, and I wouldn't have started it without this, is that product is king. As a mother, a happy teacher, a human, I had no interest in the hard sell - not even the sell. For me, my playmats had to exceed expectations. As a result my Totter + Tumblers market my playmats for me just by telling their friends and family about them.
The second major change as been social media ads. We only started them a year ago and they have driven Totter + Tumble in front of new audiences who haven't just stumbled across us on instagram or have friends who have one.
How has COVID19 affected your business?
Because suddenly everyone was at home, people were realising how important having a good quality and practical playmat was, so our sales rocketed. However, we were just really concerned about our family, our neighbours, our community, and would have stopped it all if it weren't for our warehouse and couriers. Our warehouse is family run (they furloughed their mum!) and house 65+ small brands, so they wanted to keep going and so did the couriers, so we kept going. The issue we faced was running out of stock - which we did.
What did you do before Totter + Tumble?
I was a primary school teacher for a decade and I absolutely loved it, but can never imagine going back to it oddly.
How to try and limit your environmental impact?
This is something that is always a challenge as a product based business, but I always think back to the lessons and assemblies we did at school: reduce, reuse, recycle. Our playmat - like any foam- is a plastic, but it has that in its purpose. Ensuring it was a high quality to make it sustainable purchase and recyclable at the end of its life, made responsibly within a country that upholds the same manufacturing standards as we'd expect in Europe, and held to the highest toy safety standards are paramount to me. I am also constantly looking schemes for reducing carbon footprints, but haven't found the right one yet.
Your designs are beautiful, we love them all! What factors do you consider when designing your mats?
The main one is that I have to love it! A bit like I mentioned before, I have no intention of a sales pitch or hard sell, and whilst I love the playmat product, I have to love the design too, so I wait for that moment where I know I am in love before we proceed with production. That takes forever as the bolder patterns catch my eye first, but we are all about gentle and subtly stylish designs to achieve that sustainability goal.
What is your favourite mat design? Promise we won’t tell the others!
The Scout is definitely our most Iconic, yet the Wanderlust has long been my favourite. However, it is now The Captain - it is part of the new collection and I just simple adore the colour and pattern together.