We spoke to the Stuffel sisters Suzie Douglas and Nicci Roffey
Suzie Douglas and Nicci Roffey, sisters with backgrounds in marketing and design and mums to eight kids collectively, decided to set up their own company in 2016. As busy mums, they were juggling everything that parenthood brought with it and are now busy running Stuffel too.
Nicci worked in radio in central London and started Stuffel when her youngest son was one but the arrival of her twins meant that things got even more challenging. Nicci says: “The reality of having three under three-year-olds got serious. I couldn’t imagine returning to my previous radio job. While I missed the camaraderie (and the pay-packet), I couldn’t see how I was going to find the time to wash all the Babygrows, let alone have the headspace to work through a client’s strategy.”
Suzie’s turning point came when she completed a ‘My Project Me’ course with Mama Motivator Kelly Pietrangeli (www.myprojectme.com). “Kelly’s ethos is that a happy mum equals a happy home,” says Suzie. “I realised how essential it was to carve out time for me and that all things are possible with the right approach. Suddenly setting up a business didn’t seem insurmountable.”
Both women love play but were not fans of lengthy clearing up time. Frustrated by the sound of boxes of Lego being tipped onto bedroom floors and tired of stepping on stray bricks in bare feet, they looked for a better way.
The idea of a playmat or toy bag first appeared in the 1970s but this idea was in need of a makeover. Stuffel is a large drawstring toy bag made from durable 100% cotton canvas and available in numerous stunning colours. It can be spread out flat like a playmat and then drawn back up into a bag – making tidying up quick and fuss free.
“We find that Stuffel encourages our kids to play well together, for longer,” says Nicci. “They can rummage for hours and our floors are Lego-free. We just love Stuffeland if you’re a parent of small children and we really believe it will improve your life. We’re so happy to be able to share it with you!”
All their our kids were huge Lego fans, so clearing the thousands of tiny blocks spread across their floors each day became a big annoyance. Stuffel bags spread wide so that toys can be rummaged through but have a drawstring to pull everything back up again – meaning that toys with small pieces can be scooped up and cleared away in seconds.
Speaking about how they started the business, Suzie says: “It obviously helps to start in a market that you understand. For us, we put our bags through extreme product-testing ourselves at home and when we traveled too. This way we feel that we have a good understanding of what the customers are after.”
Nicci adds: “I took the sample of the Stuffel Mini (a smaller version of the original bag that’s designed for on-the-go play) when we went on holiday so I could see it in situ in places like on plane tables, on hotels beds, on the beach and in cafes for example. It was so exciting to come home and get the product out to market because I knew first-hand how brilliant the Stuffel Mini was for on-the-go fun.”
Nicci says: “We’re quietly proud of what we have created with Stuffel, and find ourselves doing a little happy dance when a fresh batch of bags arrives from the factory, or we post an order out to a far-flung country. However, there are never enough hours in the day and it is frustrating to know that we could be achieving a great deal more with more time.
“In many ways it is easier to take the plunge to srat a business than ever before. The internet has allowed a flexibility and access that would have been inconceivable a decade ago.”
Suzie adds: “With my trusty smartphone in hand I can pay suppliers in Staffordshire or liaise with customers in Japan, all from the school gates or kitchen table.”
Juggling work and home life has been tricky. “Perhaps that biggest thing for us was to get the support of our partners,” says Nicci. “My husband has stepped up and helped with all the other life admin so that we could make a go of Stuffel, and he’s also the one who picks up the pieces when a ball is dropped.”
“In the early days everything was done whilst bouncing a toddler under each arm,” recalls Suzie. “Calls could only last the length of a Peppa Pig episode and once, a four pint bottle of milk got upturned over some fresh fabric samples!
“But thankfully we have finally learnt to compartmentalise – concentrating on the kids when it’s family time and knuckling down to work swiftly when it’s office time. The hope is that as the family grows, so can Stuffel. Life is, of course, bonkers. But that’s sort of how we like it.”
Nicci talks about what they love to do oustide of work. “We travelled far and wide as a family when we were growing up, which gave us both the travel bug. Our parents are now in their 70s but still away for several months of the year with their backpacks! If we ever have spare time and money it is spent planning the next adventure with the kids – Suzie is just back from Sri Lanka with her four, and I am planning a trip to Myanmar in the summer. It’s really lovely to explore with the kids and open their eyes to new places.”
“How do you get the best of both worlds? I suspect it is rarely the ‘right’ time to start a business (just as it is rarely the ‘right’ time to have a baby!), says Suzie. “Our advice would be to take a first little step, followed by another, and see where the next step leads. Seek out others in a similar boat. We have been amazed at the huge network of mums out there in all wearing matching life-jackets and weathering the same storms! This brilliant army of collaborative women inspire us daily. We’ve learnt so much from the resourceful women we’ve come across.”
Nicci concludes: “Overwhelmingly, the one bit of advice we all agree on is to be kind to yourself. Know that it’s ok if the house goes a little untouched, or if you serve up fish fingers again that week. We’ve all been there, setting our expectation dial too high, and sometimes we need reminding that it’s ok to dial it down a bit or lean on others when help is offered.”
Stuffel bags are available in a range of colours and priced at £34.00 for the Stuffel Large £24.00 for the Stuffel Mini.