ulia Minchin founded Hippychick in 1999 following the birth of her first child, Tom. Now, tucked away down an alleyway in the heart of Bridgwater, the company is one of the most buoyant nursery businesses in the UK with a multi-million pound turnover. Not a bad achievement for a business which started with a simple "lightbulb moment" at Julia’s kitchen table in Somerset.
Julia: "Before moving to Somerset, I had been a successful career woman in London and, despite wanting to be a mum to Tom, I didn’t want my business-life to stop altogether. One of the things that really struck me as a new parent, with precious little knowledge about the role I was suddenly plunged into, was the real dearth of baby products on the market designed to help ease the physical strain of parenting. It was this revelation that precipitated my 'light bulb' moment, and the concept for Hippychick."
Julia’s aim for Hippychick was to be a place for parents to find the most practical and inventive solutions to make family life easier. She firmly believes that when life is easier, it’s more fun. An ethos that is apparent with the company’s first product – Hippychick Hipseats – which has since achieved numerous design awards.
Julia: "Our first product was the Hippychick Hipseat – now a parenting must-have. Every mum carries their toddler around on their hip. The problem is that the action of jutting your hip out to support your baby means your back is thrown out of alignment. Whilst you may not feel the effects to begin with, you almost certainly will as your toddler gets heavier, and also in later life, There are many parents who are around to tell this painful tale. The Hipseat is back-supporting belt which takes the weight of the child, enabling your spine to remain straight. The Hipseat is still very close to my heart as Hippychick’s launch product. It still gives me a real buzz when we receive an unsolicited testimonial from a customer, saying what a difference it has made to their life."
Julia admits that being a working family is a juggling act, but she and her husband, who is now joint-managing director of Hippychick, made an "absolute commitment" right from the start that their children and family life would always be a priority.
Julia: "This is very much a family business and families are at the heart of everything we do. The kids are older now but I always try to take time off at half-terms and holidays when they are around. I try to avoid working too much at weekends when the kids are at home and, thankfully now they are older, if I do need to be at a show, they will often come along and get stuck in too. We also have a smallholding and when not at Hippychick. We are lambing in the spring and haymaking in the summer so life can become quite a juggle!"
Julia has a background in marketing, and 'creating brands' was her speciality before moving to Somerset and having children. It’s that wealth of experience that she has brought to her own business, with obvious success.
Julia: "Hippychick is a premium brand and I am passionate about maintaining its integrity. The quality cues need to be communicated in every aspect of the marketing mix, from packaging to the catalogues through to advertising and show stands. It’s an area where we should never allow ourselves to compromise."
In addition to the Hipseat, Hippychick’s portfolio includes waterproof all-in-ones, bed protectors, and Dream Tubes inflatable bed guards. The toy line up includes the best-selling Wheelybugs, Nattou soft toys and furnishings, and Moover wooden toys.
Julia: “This year we have taken on some really exciting new products: the revolutionary SpaceCot, a full-size travel cost that folds up and down in under three-seconds, as well as Omnio, the multi-terrain stroller that you can also wear as a back pack. Another product we have taken on, which is a brilliant invention, is Tron – a disposable, folding, biodegradable, portable cardboard potty that lets you take your toilet-training toddler anywhere.”
So why does Julia love Somerset?
Julia: "I love Somerset because it has something for everyone – from the beautiful coastline, to the wonderful hills, from the wildness of Exmoor, to the birds on the Somerset Levels. You have the excitements of Glastonbury and the delights of Bath. There are lots of hidden gems too. It is a county of huge variety, ancient history, and total simplicity. It is highly accessible – less than two hours from London on the train – and yet you could be in another world."