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
by Jackie Rybeck Special to the Advertiser Democrat