Hamilton woman solves young Houdini problem

NARELLE HENSON
Last updated 11:29 16/06/2014
Bianca Richardson
Kelly Hodel/ Fairfax NZ
NO WAY OUT: Bianca Richardson’s Houdini Solutions products are keeping young children safe and secure all over the world, with more distributors keen to sell her various products.

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Bianca Richardson has a firm grip on her business and you would expect her to. After all, the fulltime mum, part-time businesswoman invented a range of products aimed at stopping escape-artist children from getting themselves into trouble.

Five years into the InKIDable Solutions journey, and the self proclaimed chief inventor and bottle washer has just signed off a distribution deal in the UK and Ireland, is hoping for one in Europe, and last week sent off her first shipment of products to the United Arab Emirates.

The child-safety products, which stop little escape artists from getting into or out of places they shouldn't be, include the Houdini Stop, Houdini Door, Houdini Cosy and many more.

It all started when Richardson's youngest daughter, Jessica, was born. From the moment she entered the world she was on the go, says Richardson.

By the time she was 18 months old, Jessica would frequently perform escape tricks from her car seat, ending up standing on the back seat of the car.

"There was nothing I could do to stop her. I couldn't tighten straps hard enough. I smacked her; she wouldn't listen. I threatened her with a police officer; she just wouldn't understand the danger of getting out of her car seat," says Richardson.

Having found one product on the market that Jessica outwitted "within five seconds," Richardson decided to head to home and craft store Spotlight and come up with a solution herself.

"It worked really well, and one of my friends who was having the same problem asked me to make her one, and then there was another person that asked, and then I realised that there was a bit of a gap in the market."

After a bit of market validation on the internet, Richardson began producing the Houdini Stop, a small strap which prevents children from escaping their car seats.

"Originally I thought I could make a couple of hundred dollars a year or something so I thought it would be like a hobby," says Richardson.

"But it got busier and busier and now I'm working 30-odd hours a week in the business and I sold 40,000 Houdini stops last year."

While she's quiet on the turnover and profit, Richardson is more than happy to share revenue growth over the five years since she started out in business.

"The first year was probably about $500, then it went to about $5000, and then there was $128,000 and this year $320,000 in revenue."

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Around 90 per cent of her sales are overseas, says Richardson.

"At this stage my largest distribution country is Australia but once I get my certifications which I'm going for my UK and my Irish distributors will be bigger," she says.

Richardson entered the Australian market in 2010, and now sends between 3500 and 4000 products there each month.

She hopes to be sending at least 5000 units to Ireland and the UK once her certification comes through. Her UK distributor has just signed up London store Houseware Merchants which will stock 500 of her products.

She's also recently signed up a distributor in the United Arab Emirates who took 400 products in the first shipment, and says it all happened by word of mouth.

"He approached me and asked me if I had a distribution centre there and I didn't so we negotiated and he's taken his first shipment.

"It's really taken off in the last year, and I'm just talking about Houdini stops."

There are now five products in the range, with three more being developed. She now prevents children from escaping their bedrooms, bedsheets, strollers, highchairs and even their own nappies with the practical products.

Richardson says she had a goal to add one new product to her range every year.

Most of the handwork is sub-contracted out to stay-at-home mothers and friends. They are also the hub for product development, with Richardson saying their feedback on products has been invaluable.

The plastics side of the product is done at Richardson's old workplace, ES Plastics Ltd.

"Everything is done here in Hamilton," says Richardson.

It might sound like she's had an easy ride, but Richardson has worked hard to grow the business to its current size, and has had a bit of help along the way. She signed up to New Zealand business mentors, and asked a local businessman from Holdfast for advice too.

"He gave me a lot of advice and just a whole raft of honest, abrupt, pointed, to the point, save me time opinions."

While the company is growing, Richardson says she will keep the contractors model, and will maintain the administration herself.

"I used to be administration manager for a plastics company so I know all the bookwork and I have enough money now to get the accountant to do the end of year financial checks."

No doubt she will keep the accountant busy for some time yet. The local Waikato woman says she sees the business getting to $3 million eventually, and will sell it at some stage in the future. But for now, she's enjoying the journey far too much.

narelle.henson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato

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