Safe Home Products is a growing e-commerce reseller of consumer products that improve safety, security, health and quality of life.
Established in 1999 as a woman-owned business, today Safe Home Products services over 100,000 clients worldwide from its customer service and fulfillment headquarters in Iowa City, Iowa – shipping to all 50 states and U.S. territories, as well as to most countries.
I contacted Barbara, the owner and a safety wizard behind the company, and she shared with me some very interesting stories about her business and her family.
Here are 6 questions with Barbara.
#1 BebePURE: When & how was your business born? Why safety?
I started this business with a few safety products for the home. That was back in January 1999. We received our Iowa Tax certificate in April 1999 along with the launch of our website. I chose safety because my previous career was in social work with much of my work with families, many of whom had special needs children. Safety was more important with those families because the children often were impulsive or had limited intellectual ability. Our family consisted of two boys, about 3 years apart, so I was safety conscious from the beginning as I did not want my children to be injured, poisoned, etc. Since I was responsible for maintaining and/or supervising maintenance of my home and our “fleet” of cars, this seemed a natural path to take. As time went on, I realized that safety was not just a child or home issue like installing sliding door outlet covers and window guards to keep children from falling out open windows but also covered health, home security, pest control and more.
#2 BebePURE: What was the funniest “problem” you were called about?
A customer phoned whose parrot had fleas. She wanted to know if she installed an ultrasonic pest control device near the cage whether that would get rid of the fleas. Unfortunately, I did not nor now sell nor know of any product that could help her. It was an unusual question but not one that someone should laugh about.
#3 BebePURE: Tell me about your current online contest.
We at Safe Home Products know that many people have questions about safety, health, pest control, etc. These persons do not have access to experts knowledgeable about these perhaps unusual but legitimate questions. We decided to offer an on-line contest to let current and potential customers know that we do care about their concerns. An additional incentive is that a question is also an entry into our drawing for a useful safety product for homes, businesses or RV’s. Answering some of these questions can require some research on our part.
For example, we were encouraged by a manufacturer to sell their remote temperature and power monitors. I have a Masters Degree in Social Work, not in engineering. I was grateful that this manufacturer was willing to educate me over several very long phone conversations, probably several hours total. Once I understood the unit’s operation, I could then write a description that could be easily understood by other “laymen.”
We believe that no question is “stupid,” all questions are legitimate. Certainly, the woman concerned about fleas on her parrot had a legitimate question. It was not a funny problem to her.
#4 BebePURE: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs starting their online business?
Be aware that you may face some lean years with 100 hour weeks. The lean is because of the current economy, start-up expenses that you never considered and competition if your online business products are not unique and in demand. For example, incorporation fees, accounting fees, attorney fees, trade mark protection costs, etc. can quickly drain your bank account. Even getting a line of credit at a bank or credit cards in your firm’s name is not easy today.
You may find a niche or niche product where you can actually turn a profit in the first year or two. Unless you are well-financed or wealthy, consider your internet business as supplemental income or an investment that may or may not pay off. If you have a new, unusual product that consumers need, you may be more successful having a company like Safe Home sell the product for you.
An on-line business, say back in 2000 or 2001, required unique products with a reasonable profit, good credit for credit card payments or Net terms, a programmer, a shipping company (postal or courier), someone to design and set up the website and a lot of manual labor. What I mean by manual labor is someone to pack and ship, unpack and put away products and someone to take phone orders and answer questions.
Today’s world is much more complicated. For example, many products that were best sellers for Safe Home in the early years are no longer best sellers. “Big box” stores and Amazon are now on-line, buy in huge quantities and sometimes price products below our cost!
#5 BebePURE: What are the two things about your business that keep you up at night?
1. Playing “Fortune Teller in the Box” about inventory ordering and 2. how to price products competitively without cutting profits too low to handle the overhead (rent, utilities, salaries, etc.) that comes with a business. No business wants unsold inventory sitting around for months. Even though we have systems to predict sales and help us know when to buy products, sometimes you guess right and sometimes you don’t.
#6 BebePURE: What are the three life memories you recall most frequently and why?
1. The love and support I’ve experienced from my family particularly my parents, my children and my brothers and sister over the years from childhood through to the present. For example, my parents believed in me from childhood, that I was capable to take on any challenge that life gave me. When I doubted that, they reminded me that didn’t mean that I couldn’t use my brain and find competent people to help me. My children cheered me on with Safe Home Products plus gave me their support in practice as advisors, doers, and more.
2. Moving Safe Home Products from my home to a warehouse office space. Why? Because the move meant that my overhead skyrocketed but I was no longer tempted to work 15 and 16 hour days. Now 10 hour days are more the norm.
3. Safe Home Products becoming a family business. Initially, my younger son would come from Minneapolis to “babysit” the business so I could take time to visit my parents. Then, my older son and his wife moved back to Iowa with their family and deciding to make it a true family business. My older son took over the website development, product additions and lots more while my daughter-in-law took on many of the accounting and behind the scenes tasks.