Absolutely Mama catches up with Michelle Jefferys, founder of personalised kids’ gifts emporium Meenymineymo
Interview by Helen Baron
How did you get into producing personalised kids’ gifts?
My son was two and at nursery and I was always on the lookout for good learning tools for the alphabet and numbers etc. There were heaps of books and charts around but I couldn’t find anything really unique, so I set about designing some personalised kids’ gifts! There was Learn About Colours, Numbers and Shapes and then the Learn Alphabet followed, incorporating phonics, which was something completely new to me. I made them personalised with Lucas’ name on, which he loved. I’ve since discovered that their own names are the first words that children learn how to write and spell. I started making these personalised learning charts for some friends, then soon was selling them at a local market with popular names on. I had recently been made redundant from a design job in a fashion company in London and had moved to the coast, so I was so happy to find something to get stuck into. I then researched different printing methods and soon my personalised learning range was growing and available as wooden jigsaw puzzles and placemats. I designed a Learn About Food one when Lucas started getting fussy with food, and I found it really helpful engaging him at the dinner table. I gradually added new products and set up my website… and that was how Meenymineymo was born.
What is the best thing about working in children’s retail?
The feedback! Our customers absolutely love being part of the gift creation process. Being able to not just add names but choose specific designs or request special design elements that are super personal to their giftee. It’s such a nice feeling to give a gift that you have had more involvement in than buying off the shelf. We have loads of grandparents buying for the grandkids and it’s so great chatting or emailing with them. We get so excited at Christmas when we are making and wrapping up all the gifts to send out, knowing all these children will be opening their presents and imagining the look on their faces when the pirate-mad boy opens his pirate T-shirt and sees his name under the skull and crossbones, or the Dinosaur-mad girl opens her Learn About Dinosaurs puzzle and sees it has been made especially for her. Incidentally we are now selling our dinosaur range at the Natural History Museum, which we are really chuffed about as it happens to be my favourite museum ever!
How do you find juggling motherhood with running your own business; what has been the biggest struggle?
It is a big juggle, I won’t pretend it’s not, especially as I am a lone parent and have always been my son’s sole carer. I try my hardest to have a good work/life balance but as Meenymineymo has grown and become busier, there have been several times at the weekends that I’ve needed to work. Luckily my son actually loves getting involved and wants to help out with anything where he can, like taping up boxes and printing out dispatch notes! It’s a fun way for him to earn some pocket money and at least we are still spending time together. I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt if I’m not taking him for an adventure-packed weekend, but I also feel that I’m setting a good example about work ethic and will hopefully instil the belief in him that you can achieve anything you want if you put in some hard work. Running my own business has given me greater flexibility to take time off for school plays, to help out with school trips and to do the school runs which was my always my main priority when he was younger. He will always come first, before my career, but I believe with the right approach and determination, you can manage both in your life.
How do you go about sourcing such unique products?
Most of the time I will have something specific in mind and if I can’t find it, I will look to get it made. Made in Britain is invaluable for tracking down British made items. Since really widening our range to encompass personalised gifts and items for all ages, not just children, we look for all kinds of products with an emphasis on the educational, fun and useful.
What new pieces have you got in store at the moment?
New for 2015 was our wooden toy range. They make amazing unique gifts and keepsakes. We personalise them with engraving; they’re hugely popular for christenings and birthdays.
What are your bestsellers?
Meenymineymo’s hero product has consistently been our Personalised Learn Alphabet wooden jigsaw puzzle. I think it just ticks a lot of boxes as it’s educational, fun to do and personalised so makes a great gift. Every child needs to learn the alphabet, and we even do Spanish and French versions too. Our signature range of bright, stripy personalised organic t-shirts and baby rompers continue to be really popular, and our retro style apron which we make in adult and child sizes are also top sellers.
What advice would you give to new mums looking to start a similar business?
I would advise them to spend as much quality time as they can possibly afford with their new baby before starting any business. I know it’s a cliché but the time really does go so quickly. Then it’s really about doing something they are really passionate about – those late nights and lack of sleep due to work and baby mean you draw on that determination to keep you going. Don’t expect to earn much at the start. Stick with it, stay positive and don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help sometimes. I’ve been so lucky with the support from my loved ones; there’s no way Meenymineymo would have kept going without them.