All that this former English major from Michigan State wanted to do was to teach school and then be a stay-at-home mom. It seemed like such a simple and humble dream. However for Julie Aigner-Clark, life changed forever in 1995 with the arrival of her first child, a daughter named Aspen. Having retired from teaching English, Julie now embraced her new life as a stay-at-home mom, and dedicated her time to Aspen.
Finding nothing, her niche was born
When her daughter was around one year old, Julie began to wonder why her child, even at such a young age, could not be exposed to such things as the arts, classical music, and the sciences. So, being the dedicated mom that she was, she trekked around in search of some stimulating educational products for her daughter. Unfortunately, she found that there was really nothing out there in those areas that focused on babies.
She thought that there may be a niche there, a possible business enterprise even. Julie allowed herself to think about it for about a year and then, along with her husband, she decided to make a video for her daughter. She recalled that her first video encompassed all that she had so far experienced as a mom with her daughter. She knew what her toddler daughter enjoyed watching and figured that if her baby liked her video then maybe other babies might like it as well.
She and her husband borrowed some equipment and headed down to their basement. Armed only with a table, their cat, a few toys, and a hand puppet, Julie and her husband completed the video and edited it into a finished product on their desktop computer. They named the video Baby Einstein and in the end, it had cost them around $15,000 in savings to produce the video. For Julie and her husband, that was a whole lot of money but in their first year they managed to generate around $100,000. A legendary company had been born.
Baby Einstein begins to take off
Even though the Baby Einstein company seemed launched, Julie just could not seem to find anyone interested in developing the project. Finally, some friends told her to take the video to some manner of trade show so Julie took her Baby Einstein video to the American International Toy Fair in New York City. She recalls wandering around the show searching for buyers when she decided to corner one of them with her enthusiasm for her product. The buyer decided to purchase fifty of the videos for distribution into ten stores. In three days, Julie remembers, she completely sold out and they were on their way.
Julie credits the success of that first video being that there was no product anything like it in the marketplace at that time. The old business adage about getting there first seemed to successfully apply to Julie and Baby Einstein. By 1998, the company had made over a million in revenue and by 2000, the figure stood at twenty million with the company having produced a handful of books and ten Baby Einstein videos.
For the first five years, the company did absolutely no advertising as word of mouth and positive publicity were their major marketing strategy. Soon enough, however, Julie began to notice that competition had announced itself and, as she recalled, once there was a new and successful idea out there, others would take that idea and try to make it their own.
To remain or grow – that is ALWAYS the question
Julie knew that if she wanted to keep on successfully competing, the company would have to expand. Not only more employees but she would need to begin a serious marketing strategy and to, perhaps, hire a PR and advertising firm. For Julie and her husband, the venture just wasn’t any fun anymore. They had plenty of money by that time and all they really wanted to do then was to spend more time together as a family.
Since they had a successful partnering relationship with the Disney company to produce their books, by 2000 Julie and her husband decided that they might approach Disney about buying their Einstein company. Julie remembers that selling to Disney was a bit risky but a good bet. She knew that if they could not sell the company to a giant like Disney they were doomed. Such giants as Disney, she knew, would begin to produce their own Baby Einstein type products and would demolish any competition with their already established brand and bottomless advertising coffers.
Toward the end of 2001, Julie reached a deal with Disney for an undisclosed amount and she considers that sale to be her shining moment as a business woman. She was sad to let the business go but knew she would, now, have the time she wanted to spend with her husband and children.
Lessons learned and shared
She learned much from her experience and is never hesitant to share her knowledge and advice with other entrepreneurs. She tells women looking to begin a business that they must surround themselves only with people who support both you and your idea. She advises that they keep all of the naysayers and second guessers out of the loop.
For those who look to establish themselves at the retail level, she warns not to do it until you have established your brand. Because, she says, if you don’t, your product will be undistinguishable from any others on the shelves. Once you lose shelf space, she says, it is almost impossible to get it back.
Julie has since returned to the video production game and she currently works on projects such as The Safe Side. In conjunction with John Walsh of the America’s Most Wanted television show, she is producing videos aimed at showing children how to stay out of potentially dangerous situations. Another project, called Memory Lane, includes producing videos for people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease as well as those who suffer from dementia.
Article by Kevin Sawyer