How I created an online toy and educational resource business that helps parents and professionals foster a love of learning in children

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amie_growing kind founder
Amie Hankinson (founder)
Founded: Jan 2018
No of employees: 5
Location: Australia

Meet Amie, the founder and owner of Growing Kind. Growing Kind is one of the largest online retailers for children’s toys and educational resources in Australia, enabling parents and professionals to foster a love of learning in children while nurturing their holistic development.

After suffering from postnatal depression after the birth of her second daughter, Amie began to learn about the benefits of nature play and mindfulness, creating a set of Nature Play Prompts to encourage families to get outside with their children without having to conjure up new and exciting ideas each day. This is the product that kick-started the business, which now offers 3000 products dedicated to early learning. Read our interview with Amie to find out about her journey so far.

Who are you and what brand did you start?

My name is Amie, and I am an early childhood teacher and the mother of two young girls. I enjoy the beach in my downtime and am slightly addicted to coffee and chocolate. I mostly dream of sleeping through the night and enjoying a hot coffee in one sitting.

Growing Kind isn't my first business; it's just the one that I stayed focused on. I originally started a children's sensory business, offering classes in our local community. The classes were super popular and a sellout, but I struggled with time management and increasing profits. I knew I wanted to stay working with children in some capacity, but I also needed to be there for my own children.

After my second daughter was born, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND) and anxiety. I went on a deep personal growth journey, learning about the positive impacts of nature play and mindfulness. The very first product I offered was a set of "Nature Pay Prompts," which encouraged families to get outside with their children in an easy way. This product came easily to me, as it was something I was doing for my mental health. I got frustrated with having to Pinterest new ideas each day to keep the kids busy, so I made these play prompts so that I would have a handy visual each morning to incorporate into our nature play routine.

This is where Growing Kind began. I noticed the tremendous response to Nature Play Prompts and continued making and designing new products. Growing Kind kept growing, and we now offer over 3000 products dedicated to early childhood education.

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BRAND IDEA - how did you come up with the idea for Growing Kind?

When naming Growing Kind, I wanted to incorporate the idea of "growth and change" into the story. I also am a firm believer that kindness can change the world. The name Growing Kind has so many meanings; growing kinder to ourselves, kinder for our children, a kinder world, physical growth, and nature. The leaf in our logo always reminds me of where we first started (as a depressed Mumma using nature as her therapy).

BRAND LAUNCH - take us through how you launched Growing Kind.

I didn't go into my brand with any clear goals. I also didn't know it would grow so fast. The growth hasn't always felt quick.

At times, running the business feels lonely and slow. Some days are really hard, so I won't sugarcoat the experience. I have self-taught most of the way through business Facebook groups and YouTube videos, but I am now in a position where I have a business coach and marketing budget, which hasn't always been the case.

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ONLINE STORE SETUP - what are your top 2 tips for successful Ecommerce store setup.

  1. Get a professional designer! I have redesigned my website twice now and am about to embark on a third time. Learn everything you can about e-commerce stores, user experience, and conversion hacks. A professional designer can design your website right from the start.
  2. Professional photography! When I try to cut corners, I sometimes use stock images or take my own, but a product with a professional image sells so much better,

CUSTOMER RETENTION - what has worked best to attract and retain customers?

We have explored and experimented with a few methods over the years. I think good old friendly customer service is the best thing ever; I know many of my customers on a first-name basis, and we talk regularly. A good email sequence is also super handy for staying in touch with customers. We have explored handwritten cards, special treats inside packages, a loyalty program, and freebies, which all work well.

For attracting new customers, we are currently exploring google shopping, and we use social media daily!

SOCIAL - what are your top 2 tips for successful use of social media to engage with customers.

  1. Be authentic! Engage with your customers in a genuine way. Don’t fall into the trap of engagement pods and any new ‘trick’ and also don’t put on a front just for social media, as your audience will see right through it. You want to attract people that like and support you for who you really are.
  2. I batch create content, so on a Sunday night, I'll draft seven posts. Then each night, I jump on and organically post them to Instagram and Facebook. Knowing your ideal customer and what they would like to see is a good starting point. I try to cover these three areas across my week; adding value, connecting with my customers, selling.

BUSINESS GROWTH INSIGHTS - how has Growing Kind changed and evolved?

Our business has changed so many times. We started with the audience of mums at home struggling for play ideas. Most recently, our audience has widened to incorporate early childhood centres. There are constant ebbs and flows in business that make me stop and reflect about what is working and what isn't.

I'm finding that social media is changing rapidly. Previously beautiful images and a long connecting post worked well for me, but I find that attention spans are changing, and people are after quick short videos now. I am attempting to adapt to this.

MANAGING CHANGE - what are the top 2 tips you’d suggest others adopt to safeguard their business.

  1. Initially, COVID-19 had a huge and positive impact on our business. Many parents were at home and needed resources. As a result, we had a lot of growth in early 2020. However, we are starting to see the negative impacts this year as the economy crashes. Online sales have been much slower this year, but thankfully our business has other revenue streams that have picked up. I always suggest that people have more than one revenue stream.
  2. Another impact is that many people started similar businesses while at home in 2020, creating more competition in the toy field. I try not to focus too heavily on these aspects and stick to what makes us different and unique.

FUTURE BUSINESS PLANS - how is Growing Kind doing today and what does the future look like?

Although we do have some massive financial goals for 2021, I try not to fixate on them too much. The goal I focus on is our impact on children – how many lives can we positively impact through play. That's the only goal that really matters. As we speak, there has been another considerable curve-ball thrown towards me, which means ADAPT. I think if people focus on their "why" rather than "what," it makes it so much easier to adapt. There are so many beautiful ways that I can have a positive impact on children's lives.

ENTREPRENEUR INSIGHTS - what has been your biggest learning experience since starting Growing Kind?

Being an entrepreneur is the biggest growth journey (second to motherhood). My most significant piece of advice would be to find a business bestie that you can vent and bounce ideas off. If you can afford a coach, then get a business coach, but otherwise, find someone online in a different field that you can chat to for support. I have several online business besties.

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ONLINE BUSINESS TOOLS - what are the business software tools you couldn't live without?

I love Trello for communicating with my team and VA. I also think Facebook messenger is a great and informal communication tool. We use Mailchimp for our email automation and weekly newsletters – I enjoy how easy it is to use.

See what tools other founders use here.

SELF DEVELOPMENT - what are the educational resources you’d recommend?

I am a podcast junkie. I love Donald Miller, James Wedmore and Gemma Bernad.

INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE ‘shout-out’ - who have been the most influential people for you during your brand journey?

I find influence in everyone and everything. I am a huge empath, so I feel deeply for so many businesses. I particularly love watching mums in business show the world what is possible and succeed. I love a good local success story.

FINAL WORDS OF INSPO - for other aspiring entrepreneurs.

A favourite quote of mine is:

“If you believe you are right, or you believe you are wrong, you’re right. Whenever you are certain about it, you will support it. Remember that.” 

Mindset matters so much in business.

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