Taking It to the Next Level: How Chantel Adams Is Learning to Grow and Scale a New Business
Right after Chantel Adams became pregnant with her first child, she was accepted into medical school. Having already deferred her place for a year, she decided not to pursue medicine after all, and instead she filled her life with four children. It was just as well — because it was one of her children who would give her the idea for starting her business,Forever We.
Forever We makes special dolls for children who have cancer and Chantel donates 10% of the purchase price to childhood cancer research. Here, Chantel shares with us what she's learned a year and a half into launching Forever Weand what she's hoping to tackle next so that she can take her business to the next level.
I have a degree in biology, but I’ve spent the past 20 years working at various nonprofit organizations. I’ve been a hospice volunteer and a Girls' Club leader, and I've worked as an advocate for kids in foster care. I knew I had some good people skills, but I never dreamed I’d start my own company.
The idea forForever Westarted when I was watching my daughter tell stories with her dolls. One day, she taped a picture of some doll accessories to the refrigerator, which included things like glasses, crutches and a wheelchair. I asked her why she wanted them, and she said it was because she wanted to help. That’s when I thought to myself: "Sure, we can do that. We can help."
I started by researching which illness had the biggest impact on American kids. Cancer is the leading cause of childhood death by disease, but hardly any resources are directed towards it. For example, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America only spent an average of 4.6% of its funds on direct cash aid between 2005 and 2012.
I then met with some moms whose kids are undergoing treatment for cancer. We spent time discussing what they thought the dolls should look like to make them relatable to their children. We all agreed that it was important that the dolls had removable hair, and something that symbolized a chemo port.
I recruited my friend Ginny to sew a prototype doll with that in mind. The next step was to build the right network to get my business started.
When did you know your business was going to work?
Honestly, I still don’t know if it’s going to work. We’ve been in business for a year and a half, and I feel like it's still such an uphill struggle.
Many organizations and foundations serve the population of young cancer-sufferers, but all too often they won’t work together, which makes me sad.
My biggest challenge is how to network with these larger organizations, because when I approach them, they seem to be afraid I’ll only take resources away. Not everyone understands that we all want to fund cancer research, and that if we worked together we’d go farther, faster.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
At first, I was worried that if I shared a big idea someone would steal it, but I've been surprised to find that the opposite is true. Whenever I talk about Forever We, people always open their networks to help me.
When I first told my husband about my idea, he told a friend who happened to know someone who manufactured pillows. That friend then helped me source our fabrics and introduced me to the company who made the first dolls. It’s amazing to think that it all started with a conversation between two friends.
Also, I was really surprised that everything could be made locally. I live in a small suburb north of Atlanta and everything related to our products is made within a 50-mile radius.
How do you price your products?
We conducted a focus group and asked what price participants felt was reasonable. The price point that emerged was $39.99, and that’s what we charge.
Everything is made in the USA, which is expensive, so I barely make a profit. Unfortunately, our products are too pricey for hospital gift shops, but we’re working to make small changes to lower costs, while maintaining our quality and manufacturing ethics. The doll, which comes with a book, needs to retail at $10 total to sell in a gift shop.
What is your most effective means of getting new customers?
In the past, I’ve tried ads on Facebook and Pinterest, but haven’t had much luck with either.
People only really get on board when we connect them to kids with cancer in a personal and tangible way. If I put a picture of a child with cancer on our Facebook page, with a little bit about his or her story, someone inevitably buys the kid a doll. People give to faces, not causes.
Last year, we also created the concept of hospital ambassadors. This is an opportunity for a child receiving cancer treatment to give dolls to other kids by gathering support from their friends and family. This has been our most effective means of selling dolls — one child in a local hospital sold 125 dolls!
How do you juggle other responsibilities and interests outside of your business?
With a husband and four children, I can’t let my business take over my life. I figured out what times are best for me to work and I've established a daily rhythm.
Meetings are scheduled when the kids are at school. Even though I'm a busy mom, I still go to the gym, make time for my husband every Friday night and I manage to meet my favorite girlfriends for dinner once a month.
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
My dream is thatForever Wewill grow. I really want to address other issues affecting children today, like family homelessness and foster care.
I’d like to learn more from the folks here about how to promote my business to new customers and how to scale successfully when I add new products or offerings.
Let's help Chantel out! Do *you* have ideas or tips you can share for how she can reach more people and scale her business?
Share your best strategies below with Chantel — and let's see if together we can help her take her business to the next level.