Passion for cloth diapers creates tidy business opportunity for Cambridge couple
Modern cloth diapers, usually of cotton, appeared in the 19th century. In time, wool pants, rubber pants and plastic pants evolved to deal with leaks and in 1948 Johnson and Johnson introduced the first mass-marketed disposable diapers. Although disposable diapers freed some mothers from huge piles of laundry every week they were too expensive for most budgets and they didn’t really hit their stride until 1961, when P&G introduced Pampers.
Even though disposable diapers became an astonishing marketing success story, they aren’t for everybody, and it’s that fact that led to the creation of Country Drawers in Cambridge and online around the world.
It begins with a baby
It begins, as these stories do, with a baby. Tara Gross, Country Drawers creative director and manager tells the story: “At nine months old, my son was breaking out in rashes from the disposable diapers we were using. I bought more expensive, chlorine free disposable diapers, but at this time I was a stay-at-home mom and to save money and still heal our baby’s skin rash, I turned to cloth diapers. I liked them so well that I became a cloth diaper blogger. My blog attracted other bloggers, and soon I was reviewing diaper companies and helping other businesses promote cloth diapers on my blog site.”
Tara and her husband Kevin farm near Holbrook, Neb., and in their attempts to locate and buy cloth diapers and natural, eco-friendly baby products, they saw a business opportunity.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Tara said, noting that her favorite childhood pretend game was “Tara Owns a Pet Store.” Country Drawers was started in 2010 as an Internet-only, e-commerce site, but, Tara said, “even though we were an online store, people began driving to the farm to see and touch the products.”
Incubating the business
When the Grosses realized a steady flow of customers, they rented a small office in the Holbrook business incubator and used the meeting room to hold informational meetings and sharing sessions.
When they quickly outgrew the one-room store in the Holbrook incubator they moved their business to Cambridge in 2011 and expanded the product line to include toys for babies; locally-made Ogallala Bay Rum products for men; organic bath and body products made in Nebraska; and eco-friendly washing and cleaning products. Country Drawers is attracting more customers to their place of business in Cambridge.
Tara said, “At first 90 percent of our business was online but today 30-40% is local. Customers may find us online and then travel to Cambridge to see and touch the products.” Country Drawers continues to amaze the cloth diaper retail group to which they belong — in a county of 10,000 population, they have a customer base of over 12,000.
Although a cloth diaper kit may cost $300-$500, Tara believes all who want to use cloth diapers need a way to acquire them. The Country Drawers business offers a cloth diaper lending program for families that are eligible for WIC, and interested parents may acquire gently used yet sanitary cloth diapers or rent to buy diapers. Tara offers a layaway program as well.
Kevin and Tara see a boundless future for Country Drawers. The business continues to grow online and is limited only by warehouse space and time to pack and ship the products. Currently, they hire two part-time employees to assist with mailing and merchandising. Tara also sees potential in the education arm of Country Drawers business.
She says, “I learn from YouTube videos, and I am learning how to produce videos to educate our readers about the availability and use of natural products. I want to produce cloth diaper classes locally and via webinars so our customers can see the advantages.”
Planning for the future
In addition to her blog Tara has an active Facebook page with more than 3,000 likes where Country Drawers’ customers are invited to share their experiences as parents and offer ideas for new products, join other like-minded parents in informational sessions, and to acquire new and helpful information about caring for infants and the environment. Tara adds, “We’re not always selling; we want our customers to feel comfortable in our business. We ask, ‘what would you like us to bring into the store?’”
She said customers like that they are a family-run small business and friendly for kids. The store has a play area and they recently held a kid’s craft day, which she’d like to expand to a family craft day.
To further involve customers and their friends and relatives in Country Drawers, they participate in the Great Cloth Diaper Change Contest, a Guinness World Book of Records event. Country Drawers sponsors the event in Cambridge and last year had 25 adults changing 25 babies into cloth diapers at the same time.
“We see Country Drawers in a larger space on one of the main streets in Cambridge,” Tara said. ”We want to offer eco-friendly gardening products, crafts, more maternity products and additional items for growing families.”
“It is our mission to provide parents with high quality and affordable products while keeping the health of our children and the environment a priority.”