For many parents, buying and binning disposable nappies can be a real drag. Wendy Richards was one such parent.  She was also sick of the damage the disposables were doing to the environment. So sick, in fact, that she decided to do something about it. The Nappy Lady was born, and Mumpreneur UK crowned it their Best Green Business of the Year. We asked Wendy about what the award means to her, and how she got into selling cloth nappies.

1. Can you explain to me what your business does? What sector does it fit into? What makes it stand out from your competitors?

The Nappy Lady offers advice to parents on how to use cloth nappies and supports parents throughout the time their children are in nappies. The advice service is free without obligation. We also have an extensive online shop selling all the relevant product. Tthe sales support our free advice service.

We are in the Nursery Industry and our key customers are first time parents and first-time cloth users.

Advice is at the forefront of what we do rather than sales. Every parent who asks for help will be advised personally by The Nappy Lady who has had three children in cloth nappies full time. We do not have agents so you are guaranteed to be advised by The Nappy Lady. We do not own or distribute any brands so we don’t have a vested interest in recommending one brand over another.

2. How did you go about setting up The Nappy Lady? What was it that kicked off your desire to create your own business? When did you decide to take that leap and just go for it?

The Nappy Lady was set up in response to the confusion parents had when choosing the right cloth nappies for the, with many people being put off by making the wrong choice. It’s not like disposable nappies when a nappy that doesn’t fit will have run out in a few days. Cloth nappies are going to last many years so you need to get the right nappy for your circumstances. Cloth is very simple to use but if you choose the wrong nappy, it will be an expensive mistake. All the brands will tell you theirs is best when really there isn’t a “best”, just the right one for your circumstances.

3. Was there anything you struggled with when you started? What do you consider to have been the major hurdles in those initial 12 months?

Cash flow was very hard as we need to stock a vast range of nappies so we have a nappy for every circumstances and niche. The nappies all come in large array of colours which need to be stocked too. Balancing the needs of my young family and the hours the business needed has also been very hard.

4. How did you manage to deal with those hurdles?

I didn’t take a salary for six months and I borrowed heavily from our savings.

I just had to work whenever I could so early mornings, evenings and weekends are normal office hours for me. The youngest goes to preschool in September so more daytime work hours will be available soon.

5. What do you think was your best decision? And what do you think your worst decision was?

My best decision was keeping the advice service very personal and parents appreciate “knowing” who the advice is coming from and that it is independent.

I changed our website a couple of years ago and while it worked, it didn’t do everything I wanted. We changed it again this year to a different system and it works much better. I wish I’d thought through the process more in the first place, but I didn’t know what I needed then.

6. Do you have any advice would you might offer someone who is looking at setting up their own business?

Check out your competition, what are they doing, and what you could improve on. Have a business plan and work out if you’re going to make any money. Be prepared to work long hours for little or no pay so you can keep reinvesting profits in your business while you get established.

7. You won the Mumpreneur award for Best Green Business in 2012, what did that mean to you as a mother and business owner?

I was overjoyed to have been shortlisted so to win my category was amazing. I was really shocked as there were so many great companies. It was great to receive the recognition for all my hard work and belief in what I do. Working takes time away from my children and they were so proud that I won. I hope it helps inspire other mums to start their own businesses in the future.

8. Did winning the award have any noticeable effect on your business?

I feel it’s given more credibility to my brand. New parents needing advice want to feel they are being helped by experts and my Mumpreneur Green award does just this.

9. Almost a year on from the awards now, how are things going with The Nappy Lady?

It’s been a really mad year. Following on from the Mumpreneur award I won a second award at the Nursery Industry awards and I’m in the Top 10 for this year’s Green Directory award too but waiting to see if I can win that one too! We’ve been having extraordinary growth over the last few years but since the awards, we’ve grown another 30 percent and I put this down to the extra publicity. Also, they awards reassure my customers we’re a reputable company that is here to stay.

10. Is keeping green one of the most important issues for you?

The products I sell are environmentally friendly, but there are many other benefits of cloth nappies as well. We are going to run out of landfill space in my lifetime which is a very scary problem to face. I hope I can help many more parents to limit the impact their own children are having on the planet, as I doubt our children will thank us for filling up all landfill space instead of washing a few nappies!

11. What are the next steps for the Nappy Lady?

We have an exciting and busy year ahead. I am helping create a Cloth Nappy Association for the whole industry and I am currently the Chair. We had a fantastic industry-wide awareness campaign in April and we’re building on taking this further. We’re also continuing to add to our range and expand into products and services we haven’t done before. We’ve just launched a trial hire service so parents unsure what products to use can try them all without outlaying vast amounts of money.

The Formations Company was a proud sponsor of The Inspirational Business Mum Award at the MumpreneurUK 5 Annual Conference and Awards.