Andrea Little is the owner of Banz Carewear (previously Baby Banz); a Kiwi company and the official distributor of the Banz range of sun and sound protection gear for babies and children in New Zealand.
Banz Carewear was founded in Australia by two dads who found it impossible to buy practical safety gear for their own kids. They invented and patented the concept of ‘stay-put’ sunglasses with the use of a velcro fastening on a neoprene band.
After seeing the potential of this design, Andrea, who had little business experience behind her, and who was part way through her parental leave with five month old son, Jack, moved swiftly to set up a partnership that allowed her to introduce the brand in New Zealand.
This was back in 2005, and despite the steep learning curve, Andrea, a former magazine sub-editor/writer, has never looked back.
Banz soon found its way in the New Zealand market, becoming a go-to brand for parents seeking a reliable and appealing solution to their children’s safety needs. The products have also been popular with many celebrities.
Andrea, who is a mother of two, and grandmother to six-year-old Alexia, shares with us her inspirational story of opportunity, belief, and of a brand that has become an important part of her family.
CareerMum: What led you to start your own business, and how did you get started?
Andrea Little: I really didn’t want to go back to the office after my son, Jack, was born. As he came along rather unexpectedly – I was 42 when he was born – I wanted to make the most of being with him when he was small. Also, I’d been able to be at home with my daughter Amanda, who is from my first marriage and is 18 years older than Jack. I wanted Jack to have the same.
When Jack was five months old we attended a family wedding in Sydney. We wanted to protect his wee eyes from the sun, so we looked around for sunglasses to fit him. I bought a pair that were supposed to be for babies – but they were just a scaled-down version of adult sunglasses, and stood no show of staying on. Then we found Banz sunglasses in a Sydney chemist. The lenses blocked 100% of UV rays, there were no poky ‘arms’, they looked great – and best of all, the neoprene headband meant they were comfy and stayed on! We were sold. I knew there was nothing like them in New Zealand, so I contacted the manufacturers asking if they would be interested in me taking on the product in New Zealand – and they said yes!
CM: What has been key to your success?
AL: My husband Tony has really complementary skills to me – he’s an I.T guru, so he’s responsible for our lovely website that we’ve just refreshed, as well as helping with the accounting and inventory side of the business. Having a partner or people around you who can give you a hand makes all the difference, especially in the early days of business. I honestly could not have managed without him – every business needs a Tony!
I also believe in the quality of the products, and in the need they fulfil. The most recent hero in the Banz range has been the hearing protection for babies and kids. The Banz earmuffs, which come in sizes suitable for 0 – 10+ years, have proved so popular that the factory has had difficulty meeting demand. They allow the whole family to attend events such as music festivals, concerts, the movies, car and air shows, and firework displays, and even renovations around home – anywhere there’s damaging loud noise. One use for these earmuffs that I’m particularly proud of is with noise-sensitive and autistic children. My customers tell me that Banz earmuffs have made life so much easier for these kids – and it really makes me proud to help them.
CM: What support have you accessed on your journey?
AL: When I first began I really didn’t know the ‘hows’ of running a business, so I enrolled in an Enterprise Training Programme run by WHK Gosling Chapman. These courses cover many aspects of business and were really useful.
I also joined the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and have used their training courses and events to promote my business.
My supplier is also very supportive. My products are sold worldwide, yet I can chat to the founders of the brand and they help me by taking on suggestions for advertising materials and new products. It’s a win-win
CM: How do you manage the competing demands of business ownership and family life?
AL: This is the biggest hurdle I’ve faced, especially as there are no grandparents or family around to help. Sometimes you just have to walk away from your business to deal with sick children for a day. It’s so important to draw boundaries – no more texts after dinnertime, for instance, or prioritising hearing the kids’ reading over answering that text straight away. That’s one of the pitfalls of social media – there’s an expectation that contact will be immediate and sometimes it just can’t be.
CM: What challenges have you met along the way, and how have you overcome them?
AL: I’ve been in business 12 years and when I began, social media was non-existent for businesses. Now, you can’t afford not to have that presence.
Social media hasn’t been a natural fit for me and I’ve found that joining Facebook groups of other small business owners has been a godsend. The two I’ve found particularly helpful are the Network NZ business group (I’m a Foundation member), and The WE Network.
Tony and I have recently revamped our website to become mobile-responsive – our figures show that about three-quarters of our customers use their phones to visit and purchase, which is a big switch-around since we began back in 2005.
CM: What does the next 12 months hold for you and your business?
AL: The business is undergoing a major rebranding exercise, and is now known globally as Banz Carewear (formerly Baby Banz) – which reflects the nurturing aspect of our gear. We are also launching a much softer, friendly ‘story’ for the business, along with eco-friendly packaging and new products. This is the biggest change to the brand in over 12 years – so stay tuned!
CM: What is your advice for others starting, or thinking about starting, their own business?
AL: I know now that I can’t do everything. Don’t be afraid to outsource, whether it be to a V.A (virtual assistant), or an accountant or lawyer (both of these are essential).
Time is money. Using a freight forwarding agent for imports makes excellent financial sense, as doing it yourself leaves you open to error, leading to more time and frustration cleaning up the mess. Signing up with a freight aggregating service such as Go SweetSpot is also common sense, as they’ll pick up parcels from your home – no more schlepping them to NZ Post.
Join any business group you can and pick their brains! I was a member of BNI for several years, where referrals are passed between group members and each week you give a brief talk on an aspect of your business. This really helped me with public speaking and got my ‘elevator pitch’ down to a fine art!
Get your processes in place and know that you’ll do X when Y occurs.
Expect the unexpected! The best thing about being a small business is that you are nimble and can react much more quickly to take advantage of a situation than a bigger, top-heavy business with more of a command structure.
The Banz Carewear range of products are available to view and purchase online and are available in store through stockists across New Zealand. Retailers who are interested in stocking the Banz Carewear range can contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0800 69 22 69 (0800 NZ BANZ).