A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To The Poorhouse

I have waited six months to write this post for many reasons.
Time has given me perspective and now, I’m ready.
I hope you enjoy hearing my story. It’s full of twists and turns and for the most part, it has a happy ending. It’s made me who I am today.
 
 
As most of you following my blog know, I entered into a licensing deal with a big baby products company after my third child, and first son, Brendan was born 2006.
 
Brendan had major health problems (severe eczema, allergies, RSV, ear infections, etc) and required my full attention. Like a “perfect storm”, this coincided with major growth for my company – my second invention, Blankeaze, was picked up by One Step Ahead and forecasted sales were BIG.
 
Motherhood trumped entrepreneurship and I had to do something with my company. And fast. As fate would have it, I read an article about Summer Infant in my local paper. They’re based in RI, too and the article talked about how they’d gone public and were looking to expand their product offerings. Ding. Lightbulb moment.
 
So, I pitched them on buying my company and they bit, but with a licensing offer instead. They said they could incorporate my products into their lineup very quickly and that my royalties would be handsome. Very handsome. So, I signed the licensing agreement with great confidence & relief–it was a “win-win”. They would manufacture and market my products, I’d receive royalties. Things couldn’t have worked out better.
 
Or so I thought.
 
Turns out that “incorporating” my products, Swaddleaze and Blankeaze, took longer than they thought. If you visited their website, you would not find my products listed on there. Why? Because unbeknown to me, they had to first revamp their entire website, which took a whole year. My retail & wholesale customers couldn’t find my products and I bet you know what happened – sales waned, interest waned and my royalties waned.
 

Over a one year period, I earned about $1,700 in royalties. No, I didn’t forget a zero. $1,700. Divide that by 12 months and it’ll make your heart stop. Mine practically did.

 
Before the licensing gig, I had been earning about $7,000 per month in sales. I used this money not only to contribute to our family (of five!) income but also to make monthly payments on the loan I’d taken to start my business. So now, I had $141.66 per month to accomplish this. And I haven’t even finished the story.
 
Being a huge Google fan, I am a big user of “Google Alerts”. Basically, you can have Google search for anything and if they find it, they’ll email you an alert. I had always done Google Alerts for Swaddleaze & Blankeaze to see if either of them were being mentioned in the news. So, I decided to set up a Google Alert for Summer Infant even before I pitched them. I wanted to learn about their company so I could make a well-informed presentation. After I signed the licensing deal, I kept the Google Alert so I could stay abreast of their earnings, news and press releases.
 
Can you guess how I found out that Summer Infant had purchased one of my biggest competitors? Yep, trusty Google Alert. Kiddopotamus, the maker of SwaddleMe, was now part of the Summer Infant “family”.
 
 
How would this affect me? I had no idea. But I figured it couldn’t be good for my already paltry royalties. So, I made it clear to Summer Infant that I was VERY open to any alternatives to the licensing deal, say, a buyout for instance.
 
About a month after they bought Kiddopotamus, they offered to buy my patents and trademarks. Their initial offer was laughable and I did manage to negotiate a better sale price. But frankly, I was at their mercy. I was struggling and desperate to pay off my debt that was accruing interest at warp speed.
 
Did I get a fair price? Only God and Summer Infant know for sure. But I can tell you what I DID get: an education that no money could buy.
 

Here’s what I learned about life and licensing deals:

 

LIFE:

1.  I have everything I need already.
 
2.  Motherhood is the most important job on earth.
 
3.  I will not die if I don’t have the latest bag, shoes or designer jeans.
 
4.  My children will not die if they don’t have 72 Webkinz each.
 
5.  God answers all prayers. Sometimes, the answer is “no”.
 
6.  My husband is a keeper.  He stuck by me even after I had caused great financial stress for our family.
 
7.  Be kinder than you have to — everyone is fighting some kind of battle.
 
8.  Being “poor” makes you “rich” in gratitude for what you DO have.
 
9.  Living “without” can become a way of life.
 
10. Even after everything that happened, I am still so blessed in so many ways.  Thank you, God.
 
 
 

LICENSING:

1.  It’s BUSINESS, not personal. Bottom lines trump boo-hoo’s.  This is hard to understand for mom entrepreneurs, because for us, our businesses ARE usually personal.  They’re like babies to us.
 
2.  Things don’t always go as planned.
 
3.  No one will care about your products the way you do.
 
4.  Expect communication breakdowns.  Or no communication at all.
 
5.  It’s not always the best option for small, mom-owned companies.
 
 
 

How have your tough lessons helped you in life and business?

 

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Heather Allard

Heather Allard is a mom of three kids + one big rescue dog. She's a wellness buff, an essential oil educator with dōTERRA, and a self-professed “entrepreneur to the core”.
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39 Comments

    • Heather Allard

      You’re welcome, Robin. 🙂

      Reply
  1. Lisa Thompson

    Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh! I’ve been searching for months for Blankeaze. I used it with my daughter and LOVED it! I want one for my son but every site says “Not available” with no information on when it will be available:( Somebody make this AGAIN! The Halo Big Kid Sacks are horrible…they hang way to low. Where can I get one in blue for my son (2T)!!!!?????

    Lisa Thompson

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Aw, I’m so sorry you haven’t been able to find Blankeaze. 🙁 I’m afraid I don’t know where you can get one, since I sold my products to Summer Infant. You might check their site.

      And try One Step Ahead – if they don’t have them, check eBay.

      Hope you find one!
      Heather

      Reply
  2. Lora

    I ended up here because I was searching for blankeaze and was confused about why they seemed to have disappeared from the market. I had some with my first daughter and they were perfect, no other product compares, and unfortunately I gave them away. Now I have a second daughter and no blankeaze! Thanks for sharing your story- it is very interesting.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Lora,
      I noticed the same thing! The *nerve* of them! LOL. (But seriously…) Have you tried looking on eBay or Amazon? You might be able to find Blankeaze there.

      Heather

      Reply
  3. Sparky Firepants

    Thank you for being so upfront in posting this, Heather. You are incredibly inspiring and helpful.

    Business owners need more honest posts like this one. I already see you as a successful entrepreneur. So hearing about this struggle from you gives me a huge boost. And I appreciate that you wrote it from the standpoint of a successful person learning a lesson and moving forward, rather than as a victim.

    I’m learning that other people’s goals aren’t mine. And their business models and markets may be vastly different. And they may not be raising a family (like we are). So my measuring stick of success needs to have my own name on it in Sharpie marker.

    I love your Life and Licensing lists. Awesome.

    Reply
  4. Alexis Neely

    Love that God answers all prayers and sometimes the answer is no. Great stuff here Heather. Thank you for pointing me to it. xoxo

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Alexis,

      Glad you liked this post…the last few years have been quite a journey in letting go (of many things and beliefs). Thanks for taking the time to read the post and to comment.

      xo,
      Heather

      Reply
  5. Charles

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and mistakes about licensing your product. Giving up control of marketing sounds like a significant risk when licensing products.

    Reply
  6. Lucretia Pruitt

    Heather – you have no idea how huge the unseen impact of your willingness to post this is going to be in the long run. So many ‘mompreneurs’ are going to find themselves struggling in this same position and this post will be so important to them. It’s stories like yours here that make me really happy that nothing goes away on the Internet.
    This has been a year of learning for our family as well. Your Life list just rings so true!

    Thank you for being so candid. The business of entrepreneurship is harsh all too often – but fortunately you’ve shared some invaluable insights for others following that path.
    Thanks for putting it out there.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Lucretia! (Love your name!)

      Thanks for stopping by – and you’re welcome for being so candid. I do my very best, however painful it might be, to share my lessons learned in the hopes that I might enlighten another or spare them some hard, expensive mistakes. 😀

      Heather

      Reply
  7. Adam Helweh

    Great article Heather. I am sorry that you had to go through all of that to be able to share this with us, but the lessons learned are important for the men out there as well.

    I love this : “God answers all prayers. Sometimes, the answer is “no”.”

    God Bless you and all that you do from here on out.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Adam – you’re right, these lessons are great for everyone! 😀

      Heather

      Reply
  8. Kelly Eckert

    Thank you for sharing your story! I really appreciate the specific lessons you shared. And the details/warnings on licensing are particularly helpful as I consider it myself in the future.

    Reply
  9. Dabney Porte

    Thanks for sharing my friend! From adversity can always come fabulous if we learn from our lessons! Love how you came out of the experience better, not bitter!

    Go! Diva! Go!
    xoxo
    Dabney

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks for stopping by, Diva Dabney! 😀

      Heather

      Reply
  10. Karen Putz

    What a roller coaster ride but I love your positive outlook and “can do” attitude– that truly shines through! Found this from Chris Brogan’s link. 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Karen – I always try to find the lesson in *everything*. 😀

      Heather

      Reply
  11. Erin of Fit Mama Training

    Great info! I can’t imagine taking a hit like that but I can imagine living in the poorhouse. It’s tough, but it sure gives you gratitude!! And as long as you love what you do, the rolling around in the money is not so important!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      You’re exactly right, Erin. I’m rich in all the ways that count.

      Heather

      Reply
  12. Whitney Trujillo

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing story (again)!! I think any Mompreneur can imagine herself in the very same situation and now they can learn from your story! I’m inspired.

    And, my favorite part: Under Life lessons, number 7: Be kinder than you have to–everyone is fighting some kind of battle.

    This is SO true and I try to remind myself of this all the time.

    Thanks Heather!!!

    Reply
  13. Sara

    I’m just seeing this for the first time. I am impressed that you had the kahonas to post the Limp Biket video. You are a kindred spirit.

    Reply
  14. Randi

    Thanks for sharing. My husband and I are both entrepreneurs -we work hard but that doesn’t always equate to $$$ at the end of this month (or heck even next) . I had to laugh ’bout your 72 Webkinz b/c our kids have learned the value of money & going without doesn’t have to be a bad thing! We are closer as a family–board game nights and home made pizza–for a cheap entertainment /family night have become a mainstay.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
  15. Rebecca

    Heather,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I love that you ended it on such a positive note with the “lessons learned”. They’re perfect! Thank you!

    Rebecca

    Reply
  16. Jenny Beth @ JenuineJen

    I just saw your link from twitter. My husband (and as a result me too) have learned some very hard life lessons when he had to close his company. It has been almost 2 years. We have pretty much been reeling financially since then. Things are finally beginning to become more stable for us and I FINALLY think I am ready to blog about it. Since moving 2 weeks ago, blogging about is has been all I have been thinking about. In the coming weeks I hope that I can get the blog posts hammered out (and our family settled into our new home). I am going to bookmark your article to refer to in my series.

    Reply
    • Heather

      Jenny,
      We are kindred spirits and my guess is that you were meant to see that link on Twitter. I hope it helps you get this stress off your chest and into a blog post. I know how wonderful that feels.
      Let me know if I can help in any way…and please let me know when you DO post about your experience. I’d love to read it.
      Wishing you the best,
      Heather

      Reply
  17. Stacey Crew

    Heather, Thanks for sharing your story. I do understand actually. Lessons like these certainly do make you realize what is truly important. If I didn’t love what I do, I think I could be miserable. Look forward to getting to know you on Twitter!

    Reply
  18. Mykidsregistry.com

    Great Post and I can relate in so many ways through your list of 10 lessons learned. Agree Agree Agree!!! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  19. Heather A.

    Laurie,
    Thank you so much–you have no idea how much it means to me to hear your comments. I have certainly tried to handle the situation with grace…and a big, ol’ sense of humor. 😉

    Thanks again.
    Heather

    Reply
  20. Laurie

    Thank you so much for sharing the honest details of your licensing story. The whole story is unbelievable! You have handled the whole situation with so much grace. I really admire that and I look forward to learning more from your stories and posts. I have really enjoyed your blog. 🙂

    Reply
  21. Renee Wood

    Heather, I really enjoyed reading about your licensing experience. It’s one of those scary and intimidating arenas that I feel completely unprepared for! It’s so true that it is business and not personal, but as a woman and a mom, I feel like I am wired to make everything personal. It’s the upside of being female, but the downside of being a business owner!

    Reply
  22. Barbara Schantz

    Thank you for being so honest with us, Heather. I do think that we will all learn a lot from your experience. BTW, I love the songs!

    Reply
  23. Heather A.

    Katherine,
    That's my aim–to help other mom entrepreneurs. Lift the veil, clear the smoke & mirrors.

    Glad it helped.
    Heather

    Reply
  24. Katherine

    Heather, THANK YOU!! Your honesty about your experience helps the rest of us learn, too. This is a tough journey and if those of us on the trail keep getting fed misconceptions that a certain strategy is the magic bullet we will be set up for failure. I know it couldn’t have been easy to write that post, but I am immeasurably grateful.

    Reply
  25. Heather A.

    I know…I was cracking up to myself at the contrast between “Break Stuff” and “Que Sera, Sera”.

    How are you doing??

    Reply
  26. Heather A.

    Hell no…then I might have to “break stuff” again. 😉

    Heather

    Reply
  27. InventorMama

    Wow! That is some rollercoaster ride… so are you working on your next big invention?

    Reply
  28. Lilypods

    Heather! Thank you for sharing your story. Such great life lessons. The songs made me laugh too. 🙂

    Reply

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