CHICAGO (Reuters) — Cleaning out the snot-filled noses of children has become an entrepreneurial success story for Julie Pickens. She just wished her kids were more impressed.
“It’s kind of gross,” confessed Pickens, 44, who launched Boogie Wipes (http://www.boogiewipes.com) with fellow mother and co-founder Mindee Doney, 35, in the spring of 2008. “It’s kind of a funny business to be in, not your norm. We built a business around boogers.”
Pickens, whose daughter was initially “embarrassed” by the business, readily laughs about snot and all its permutations - even the irony of her own last name. But she doesn’t joke around about revenues, noting Boogie Wipes’ sales are projected to reach $10 million in 2011, compared to less than $1 million the first year.
The Beaverton, Oregon venture has carved out a niche in the massive personal care industry by infusing hygienic wipes with saline to gently clean up the crusty noses of children beset with colds and flu.
“I track flu season now and I wait for it to hit,” said Pickens, whose product is awaiting patent approval. “I hate to say that, but it really does help our sales.”
The product was born out of personal need. When Doney’s fussy young daughter refused to let her apply saline drops to her runny nose, Doney instead put the saline on a wet wipe and inadvertently created the Boogie Wipes prototype.
Doney then ran her business idea by Pickens, whom she had originally met while working as a marketing consultant. Pickens, a former sales representative for Miller Brewing and former owner of several Cold Stone Creamery ice cream franchises, agreed to buy in.
Using about $40,000 of their own money, the pair concocted their special boogie solution that combined ingredients such as vitamin E, aloe and chamomile with the saline.
Neil Stern, a senior partner with the Chicago-based retail-consulting firm McMillan Doolittle, said Boogie Wipes is building on a pattern of innovation that has positioned various forms of disposable wipes as methods of delivery for liquid products, ranging from furniture polish to eyeglass cleaner.
“There’s been a lot of category extension,” Stern said. “What else can it do? This is one of the areas.”
It didn’t hurt that Boogie Wipes managed to launch at a time when retailers were looking to fill vacant shelf space after the Food and Drug Administration restricted the use of some over-the-counter cold medications for young children.
“They say timing is everything,” Pickens said. “Buyers were looking for things to accommodate nervous moms and dads.”
Boogie Wipes quickly caught on, expanding distribution to major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Rite Aid and Costco. The wipes, which sell for about $4 for a 30-tissue pack, have also carved out sales in international markets such as Canada, Australia and Singapore.
“It’s been a phenomenal product,” said Miriam Gassel, a buyer for Quidsi Inc., operator of the Diapers.com website, which carries a full line of products for young children and has offered Boogie Wipes since early 2009. “Our biggest challenge has been keeping it in stock.”
The duo is capitalizing on the momentum. Their company, Little Busy Bodies Inc., recently introduced a line of the alcohol-free saline wipes for adults called Achooz. This month they are releasing a book, “The Business Behind the Boogie”, which documents how lessons learned from mothering - they each have three kids - were applied to their emerging venture.
“We treat our business like a baby,” said Pickens, noting that patience with her children, including a daughter with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), helped her overcome challenges in the business.
The toughest were financial and logistical hurdles when Boogie Wipes moved beyond regional distribution to national accounts that demanded bigger, timelier shipments. The founders scrambled to raise outside capital, eventually securing $1.8 million in equity and debt from a private investor.
“You don’t short ship Wal-Mart,” said Pickens, who now employs a full-time staff of 15. “It’s really important to manage that.”
As far as the day-to-day duties, Doney tackles their grassroots marketing efforts, which includes pitching to mommy bloggers and targeting print ads in parenting magazines. Pickens oversees sales and securing the company’s intellectual property against potential rivals such as Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark.
To that end the business has spent a considerable sum to trademark numerous boogie-related taglines such as “Snot your average wipe” and “Boogie Moms”.
This makes it tough for Pickens to brag at cocktail parties: “I always feel like I’m talking about a nose.”