Thursday, January 8, 2009

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Saving the Planet, one baby at a time....

WATERFORD - Selling cloth diapers was the last thing on Kelly Wels' mind, but that's where she has found prosperity.

"I owned an internet business selling boutique baby clothing and it wasn't a success. One of the clothing brands carried a cloth diaper line. A few potential customers e-mailed me to see if I could carry the cloth diapers. My initial reaction was that no one used cloth diapers anymore - this is a joke!"exclaims Wels. "However at that point, I had nothing to lose and purchased a small shipment." Within four days the diapers were sold out and the start of a new internet business was born.

You may be thinking "this is a joke," too, but these aren't your mother's cloth diapers. "When most people think of cloth diapers, they think of pins, prefolds and plastic pants," says Wels. "Today's modern cloth diapers look and work just like a disposable, if not better."

The most popular diaper has three components. It has a soft, fleece layer next to the babies skin that wicks the moisture away, keeping baby's skin dry. The outer layer, which can be made of many fabrics, is infused with a waterproof barrier.

These two layers act as a pocket for the absorbent insert which holds the moisture. There are no pins; fastening is made with Velcro or snaps. All three layers are machine washable. Most brands are adjustable, allowing customers to use them from birth through to potty training.

Moms can choose from many, outer-layer fabrics such as cotton, bamboo, hemp, fleece or a polyester blend depending on their personal preference. "Most customers tend to go with the quicker-drying and easy-to-care-for man made fibers, but we offer natural fibers for the customer who wants a more-green alternative," Wels say.
She explains that she has two types of customers. "The first customer is eco-conscious and lives a more-earthy lifestyle using natural products in their household. These customers will usually choose the natural fiber products such as hemp or bamboo," says Wels. "The second, is now looking at cloth diapering as a means to trim their family budget and typically purchases a one-size system."

Wels' seven-year-old business is run out of her home, which is nestled in the woods overlooking Keoka Lake. When walking into her cabin-like dwelling, there is a wrap around porch and many windows with beautiful views of the lake.

Wels, an energetic young mom holds her baby and plays with her daughter; there are no signs of a business on the main floor. Entering her basement is a different story. It is lined with floor-to-ceiling shelving units which hold 30,000 diapers, soaps and other baby supplies from 30 different vendors.

She finds her work challenging, yet flexible. "With three children, I don't work typical hours," says Wels. "I work a lot while the children are sleeping or at school. It especially works well because I can attend most of the kids school functions and keep my baby out of daycare, while still being able to contribute to the household income."

Although Wels is not tied down to a typical retail store, an internet business still demands a great deal of time to make it successful. Orders just don't roll in. "It takes aggressive marketing and unique knowledge of how the internet works to be successful. Without this knowledge it is very easy to have no orders at all," explains Wels.

"In 2004-2005, the competition on the internet was fierce and we had to re-invent the wheel, so to speak." In 2006, Wels changed the focus of her business and started adding multiple websites that specialized in specific product lines.

She has one employee who only works on search engine optimization, so that when the wording, cloth diapers is "googled" her site is on the first page, bringing her more internet hits. Wels also has someone who only works on the website, updating products, while keeping it inviting and user-friendly.

She has three additional employees who help with inventory, orders and bookkeeping. "Since 2006 our sales have increased greatly. So far in 2008 our gross sales have already exceeded 2007 sales. By the end of 2009 we project that sales will at least increase by another 25 percent," she adds.

Her four websites, FuzziBunzOnline.com, OneSizeDiaperStore.com, BulkClothDiaper.com and KellysCloset.com have served over 24,000 customers.

She believes that hard work and perseverance have been the key ingredient to her business and is well on her way to becoming the most trusted website for cloth diapers.. "I honestly credit this to the hard work of myself, my employees, my husband and the group of people I have taking care of the sites," she says. "I have seen similar internet businesses who sell the same product lines open and close within a year. It certainly isn't easy and I have been through a lot of bumps in the road to get where I am today."

Wels grew up in Bethel and attended Bethel Schools. She graduated from Telstar High in 1991 and received a horticulture degree from Southern Maine Technical College in 1995. She and her husband Scott have three children; Olivia, age 10; Hanz, age 8; and Riley, who is 12 weeks old. (now 7 months!)

Wels was recently given a Congressional Award by Senator Olympia Snowe. She was recognized as a woman in business, providing her customers a environmentally-friendly alternative to disposable diapers.


by Jackie Rybeck Special to the Advertiser Democrat

23 comments:

Senior Family said...

AWESOME article .. thanks for sharing a behind the scenes look !! what fun :)

Sara in Seattle said...

What an awesome article! It's fun to have a peek inside the basement, too :) It's cloth diaper heaven!

Umm said...

I just read this on Kelly's Closet today as I was doing my daily perusing the site (yes, I'm clearly addicted to shopping at KC).

Anyhow - although I was planning on writing a post about this for my own blog - I wanted to say what initially attracted me to purchase from Kelly's Closet was the 30 day money back guarantee on your BG and FB. There is NO other website that offers this amazing guarantee. This is a perfect solution for those who are interested in cloth but "just not quite sure" and would like to test it out.

What has kept me coming back is the truly excellent customer service, prices/sales, and the rewards for being a customer! I'm glad my business goes to such a down-to-earth and friendly mama!

holly christine said...

your success is inspiring:) last year, i started selling on etsy (an online craft website) and i have been amazed that people actually like what i have to offer. i even have a licensing deal in the works! i've definitely learned to not be afraid to follow my dreams. a little aside: you are SO organized!

one day in the life of me said...

Wow, it was great to read this and see how all this was started. Your story is very inspiring. Thanks for all the hard work you do to give families better opitions for diapering.

Erika said...

great article!! congrats on the award from Ms. Snowe! very cool.

Tanya said...

So great to read about this awesome companies ins and outs. Thanks!

Katrina said...

What a fun look into how your stores came to be. Where would we all be without you!? I know I've purchased at least 90% of my cloth diapers and supplies from your stores. The stocked inventory, wonderful user friendly website, quick shipping and great customer service keep me coming back.

the momma said...

Thanks so much for sharing the wonderful article and the sneak peak into cloth diapering utopia (your basement)! I'm afraid if I ran your business, no one would actually get their diapers bc I'd want to use them on my own babes!

Katie said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have an idea for an internet business, but like you mentioned in the article, so many come and go, so I am hesitant to start it. But, your story is inspirational. You have worked hard to get this business to thrive.

I bought my first cloth diaper from Kelly's Closet a couple of years ago. I saw an ad in Mothering Magazine of yours and came to your site.

I am sure your business will grow even more this year and I know the log must be helping. I know I have purchased more because of what I read on your blog!! (I cannot wait to get the diaper sprayer!)

Dani said...

What a nice article. I'm so glad you "fell" into the CD business - I love Kelly's Closet b/c you have such a wide selection of products and fast shipping - I had no idea it was in your basement. You must be a very organized person!

brietta said...

The picture of your basement was AWESOME! How cool.

I, like many others I'm sure, initially came to Kelly's Closet because of the 30-day money back guarantee. It didn't take long, though, for me to realize that you have top-notch customer service, great selection and prices, and that it's just plain awesome to support a WAHM like you.

Denise said...

What a GREAT article!!!

Kelly said...

Thanks for the insight into your business! It was neat to see the photos of how the products are organized. I had no idea how large/small your business was - I hope it continues to expand and go well! Love your products and customer service! (Your sales/coupons are nifty too!) :)

Kelly said...

Great story line. And I love the fact that you received an honor for doing somehog good for the envirnoment while also being an indepedent women owned business.

Very cool. Keep up the great work.

Chic Mama said...

Wow- how fun to hear where Kelly has come from! She has developed a wonderful business!

Amanda said...

Ooooooo....your supply room looks like heaven. So many CD's and baby products. You have an awesome job. :) Thank you for sharing.

Matt, Sara and Kinsley :) said...

Thanks for the article. It is nice to know the background of the company. I am currently in the process of researching starting up an internet company. (Remember the card on my website. I cannot take credit for creating it, but I hope to offer cards, announcements, invites soon!)

Momto3LittleFlowers said...

Thanks girls for all your nice comments... ALso, wanted to say to:

Matt, Sara and Kinsley: Have in mind that I was the one that posted on your blog, so Kelly wont remember about the card, as I was the one who commented on it... LOL

Kelly Wels said...

Hi Everyone!
Thanks so much for your great compliments. I hope to have more pictures of the shop to post in the next few weeks. There are 2 more stock rooms full of inventory too!
I LOVE what I do and having you as customers and friends makes it so much fun. Riley and I love going to "diaper world" everyday.
The "shop" is actually in the basement (and is now going upstairs too) of our first home and we live in our farmhouse about a mile away.

Angela Sundara... etc said...

Awwwe, we at the Sundaramurthy house love you! Your big selling point for me in the beginning of my CD life was free shipping on any size orders. I understood when you had to start charging for shipping when the postage kept going up. But being able to buy one diaper, try it out, and then buy a different diaper to try made my decision making easier. And was a big "selling point" when I referred people to your site!

Kelly said...

I have to agree with Angela's comment about the "free shippng". That is definitely what attracted me to Kelly's Closet long ago. But I have feel in love with all the different things the site offers that I don't go anywhere else now, even if I have to pay for shipping. But I usually end up spending more than $100 anyway so my shipping is still free. I guess I am just a cloth diaper junkie!

God Displayed in my Family said...

This is so cool, its amazing how much work it takes to run your business, we pray that you will be blessed so you can keep giving. Your wisdom is a blessing to us newbies!