From Concept To Product

Traverse City-based Silikids – a few short years ago just an idea among friends – has become a viable manufacturer of children’s accessories, and Co-Founder Stacey Feeley has the scars to prove it.

In 2007, after growing discouraged by the toxic chemicals prevalent in baby products, Feeley founded Silikids (silikids.com) with friend and fellow mom Giuliana Schwab. Both living in Los Angeles at the time, the idea was to launch a line of children’s accessories made from silicone and glass.

The rubber-like plastic is comprised primarily of silicon, a natural element found in sand, quartz and rock that is transformed into silicone when mixed with oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. It is non-toxic, hypoallergenic, does not react with food or beverages, is easy to sterilize and its non-porous nature prohibits bacteria growth.

Their first product – silicone sleeves, or Siliskins for glass bottles – was a first in the massive world of baby products. Soon came the Siliskin glass line (drinking glasses encased in Siliskins.). Then more products, including a Siliskin Sippy Cup, a Siliskin Top and a Silibib. New products coming in November include a straw top (fits over most standard size cups), spoon, and storage bag.

From idea to product

Nothing about taking their idea and turning it into a three-dimensional product was simple, Feeley said.

“Neither one of us knew anything about manufacturing,” she added. “We had a product that we wanted to test out to find out if it made sense to manufacture.”

The founders started talking with some companies in California about tooling and prototypes of their silicone products, and eventually a small manufacturing run for market testing and customer response. They also reached out to some international companies for cost comparisons.

“It cost ten times more to manufacture in the United States compared to overseas,” said Feeley.“So we did our first manufacturing run with a company overseas.”

After testing several products in more than 500 boutiques and online stores nationwide and finding success, the company focused its efforts in 2012 on growth and large-scale distribution.

Michigan or bust

Now seven years later, domestic manufacturing is the goal.

Feeley said bringing manufacturing to the states is a priority for the company, which moved to Michigan when Feeley and her family relocated to Traverse City in 2012.

Michigan has certainly been good for the business so far, she noted. Shortly after arriving Feeley was encouraged by a business advisor to check out Start Garden – a $15 million startup fund and investment incubator – while investigating how best to scale the company.

Silikids received an initial $5,000 investment to do some test marketing and subsequent investments brought the total Start Garden investment to $255,000.

“What’s awesome about Start Garden is that it’s very innovative, both in the way they think and their approach to entrepreneurship in general,” said Feeley. “California is very stale, very techie. No investors wanted to touch consumer [products]. I had no idea it would be so supportive here.”

The overseas manufacturing journey has not come without its share of frustrations, however.

“One issue we have is the amount of time for items to ship,” she said. “Time is money. From a capital standpoint, for a small business to have product sitting on a boat for 6-8 weeks … and on top of that, net 60-90 terms to collect revenue. That has been a great hurdle.”

Additional challenges include the time difference and also the language barrier, said Feeley.

While the silicone is made overseas, the glass is manufactured in Ohio. The products are freighted to Midland, Mich., where the company has a warehouse for assembly, packaging and shipping and a partnership with The Arnold Center – which works to develop vocational skills for individuals with differing needs.

“We now have a chunk of inventory in the warehouse and are doing what we can with sales and marketing,” Feeley added.

“Our goal – in the next year or two – is to get very serious about U.S. manufacturing for the whole line,” she said. She added that there have been conversations with a few companies that are “competitive pricewise,” but they are not in Michigan. “We want to figure out how to manufacture here, specifically in Michigan. It would do wonders for the business.”

Feeley said the size of the company’s manufacturing runs has resulted in a lot of closed doors up to this point. “We get a lot of ‘No, thanks. Go overseas’.”

She understands the manufacturers side – that every minute the equipment isn’t cranking out products they are losing money.

“It’s our job to keep the machines running,” she said.

And she and the company will keep on looking.

“What’s great about Michigan is it’s a state that at its core understands manufacturing,” she said. “For us, it just needs to make sense and we just have to find the right person.”

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