Tuesday, October 24, 2006

For Parents By Parents

Sharon Mullen Story


In 1997, Sharon Mullen made the decision to leave the "real" world of employed and began to work on several projects. One of these projects was the development of her Cozy Line, attachable blankets for car seats, joggers, bike seats, wheelchairs, etc. Says Sharon, "This cozy was made because we were made crazy by our son's blanket-- blankie, actually-- slipping off the stroller, falling off the car seat, coming untucked, blowing in the breezes, etc. No one else made what we wanted, so I made one myself!"

As she was doing research to protect her intellectual property, she came across a number of other parents who had developed products and built businesses around their products. At this time, Sharon was only selling her own product on her website and thought that if she could sell other parents' innovative products, she could bring more traffic to her website and she could help other parents develop their businesses. Thus, http://www.inventiveparent.com was born in June 2000. She started with 4 product lines and today she has over 100 parent-invented products for sale on her her site.

The vast majority of the products that Sharon carries were discovered at the Juvenile Products Manufacturer's Association (JPMA). She holds most of her products in inventory to ensure the best customer service and fastest delivery. She recently started adding some drop-ship items, items that are too heavy to reasonably ship from the manufacturer to her, and then out again. However, the drop shipping arrangement must meet her regular policies (shipping out within a day, tracking number, etc).

Sharon's site is unique in that it doesn't simply sell the products. Her products provide solutions to problems in parents' everyday lives and her site helps parents find the right products. She has a "Problem Solved" section where she lists problems like, "I finally found sunglasses for my kids, 4 mo & 3 yrs, but they always fall off. What can I do?" and the answer to this problem is a product invented by a parent.

Perhaps the most popular service on her website is a listing of car seat regulations across the country. Her November newsletter includes an article on why babies need to be rear-facing. Sharon is most often asked why a baby needs to be rear-facing, then why an older child still needs to be in a car seat (NHTSA now recommends that kids stay in seats through 8yrs/80lbs, or to 4'9"). Her next newsletter challenge is to offer tips for getting a kid back into a "baby seat!"

Sharon has helpful advice on her website for aspiring inventors and a number of useful links. She offers the following advice to our readers who may have an invention on the horizon, "Essentially, you need to protect your intellectual property and be ruthless in your evaluation of its ability to make it in the marketplace...Be prepared to do your own research, if only so you can communicate with your attorney. Do not use one of those invention submission companies. Inventors are headed down a road of hard work and expense. Often the road leads nowhere, sometimes it leads to great rewards and riches, many times it just keeps going."

Sharon runs most of her business online, but she does attend various consumer events, such as Baby Fairs. Sharon says the key to online success is to be found and to be trusted before you can sell anything. You do this the same way you do with any brick and mortar business, she explains: "You join the Better Business Bureau and other such services, connect with other complimentary businesses, employ programs to create repeat customers and provide excellent customer service."
Sharon rises every morning with her husband and son and they always have breakfast together. After her son goes to school, Sharon and her husband "go off to work".

They are both home based business people and they have their own home offices. Sharon says she makes every effort not to mix work and parenting. Her office is a converted garage space and is very separate from her home. So, when she is at work, she is not also at home and vice versa.

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