Bubbling Authenticity – My Journey Building a Baby/Kids Brand

The following Blog Post comes from answers we provided to our PR partners. We thought it might give you (especially those that are new to our brand) some insight into who we are, what we started Dabble & Dollop, and what we see as challenges and opportunities for the brand.

Enjoy!

Q: Provide your business name and what it does

A: Dabble & Dollop was launched late in 2019 as the first premium, mixable-scents bath line for children.  Our 3-1 mixables move bath products to the forefront of the bathing experience – enabling children to blend scents and textures to make bath time fun and entertaining.  Through mixing, each bathing opportunity becomes entirely fresh and different. Children can express their creativity and mix a “little of this and a little of that,” tapping into their “inner chef,” “mini mixologist,” or “junior scientist.” Our products provide a chance for parents to move on from baby & infant products that weren’t designed for toddlers and children while still maintaining a focus on quality ingredients, mildness, and tear-free safety. Dabble & Dollop challenges the existing mass-market children’s bathing paradigm by innovating elegant colors, subtle, single-note scents, and variable textures. The result is a line of products that clean effectively yet leave children’s hair and skin feeling incredibly soft (not to mention smelling fresh and sweet).

For infants, and for children with eczema-prone and/or skin hypersensitivity, we created Dabble Ducky. Dabble Ducky is a fragrance-free, essential oil-free line that initially includes a foaming wash, a moisturizing balm, surfactant-free face & neck wipes and a USA-made, custom bath ducky. Dabble Ducky features our Beta Baby™ beta-glucan ingredient, which helps nourish the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin) and promotes hydration.

Q: Please share your Founder/Owners Story

After spending over twenty years in the natural ingredient space, including running one of the largest suppliers in the Western US, I had one of those storied “Eureka!” moments.  During my company’s Annual “Kids Science Day,” we turned the office into an interactive laboratory where kids made their shampoos, bubble baths, bath bombs, and more.  I was awe-struck at how “into it” they all were. Donning lab coats and goggles, they mixed and giggled the entire afternoon away. On my drive home, I dreamed up Dabble & Dollop as a way to bottle that sense of magic, experimentation, and imagination in a way that kids across the country could also enjoy. 

I tried an experiment at home that night as I struggled to get my three kids into the tub. I gave them several small bottles of the base gels we used that day, some of my bath whip, and each a little cup. The scrambling and screaming turned into quiet focus as I watched my children mix the bubble bath with the shampoos, with each of them “announcing” their own “brand new recipes.” It was confirmation that I was on to something, and I knew we could create a better bath experience compared to what was on the market at the time. 

My company serviced over 500 cosmetic brands, including some leading infant and children’s brands and leading manufacturers who bought a wide range of products from us.  When we sold the company in 2017, I realized I wasn’t ready to be “done” with my career and returned to the inspiration I felt from Kids Science Day. My ingredient industry experience, coupled with my contacts in the cosmetic, personal care, and formulation and testing industries, provided me the perfect runway to create the simple, safe, and exceptionally clean formulations behind Dabble & Dollop.

I love that my inspiration ultimately came from a moment with my children. I knew that they, and most children, love to “make stuff.” Look at Minecraft, Roblox, and the great slime craze sweeping the country. They are all evidence that kids love to mix, make, and create. I feel that tapping into their imaginations would make bath time so much more fun for kids and, in turn, more manageable for parents. I think it is so important that kids engage with, and feel connected to, their products and experience them in a more meaningful way. 

When I launched the brand, my husband, Tyler Leshney, was running the mobile telephone brand Mint Mobile, now partly owned by Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds.

Since we both ran companies, we had always been sounding boards for one another. From the beginning of Dabble & Dollop, I ran all the big ideas and developments.  He was a tremendous asset to me and helped bring my vision to life. One night, he sat me down in our living room and said, “Why am I doing this [Mint] when I could be helping you? I believe in you, I believe in your vision, and I believe in our family; it’s where my heart is”.  It was honestly when I knew Dabble & Dollop would be successful.  With Tyler joining me as a co-founder, I had all the confidence in the world that this little brand would go big places!  Unlike many of our contemporaries and other entrepreneurs, we’ve come across, our decision to start Dabble & Dollop was not just about “making money.” It was a mission to create something fun, sustainable, and driven by purpose, love, family, and authenticity as our guiding principles.

Q: Discuss the challenges the business/market is facing

Like any business, and especially for those businesses that launched during the pandemic, we’ve experienced our share of challenges.

First, the baby/child personal care space had become increasingly crowded from 2017 when this idea first hatched.  In our first six months in business, I noted four new baby/child brands launching; and that pace hasn’t diminished.  It is interesting to note, none of these founders come from ingredients or cosmetic science backgrounds.  Mostly, I see marketing “shell” companies, many featuring a celebrity at the helm, using “off the shelf” contracted formulations to launch quickly. Or they use components, bottles, and ingredients sourced or produced in China. Some are entrepreneurial types jumping on a specific “fad” ingredient or relying on fear-based marketing tactics highlighting that their products are “free from this or that,” often based on what they read in blogs or hear on talk shows.

Another challenge relates to a different kind of crowd – crowding of the D2C channel. Not only did the pandemic spur the launch of many indie brands, but the closure of retail stores meant large multi-national/big box brands were forced to migrate online. So now, when we are trying to advertise online for “safe bubble baths for kids,” we see the likes of Unilever, P&G, Walmart, and Target brand vying for customers’ attention. Simultaneously, buying ads on the Facebook platforms has become increasingly expensive and less effective as many consumers have opted out of targeted advertising in conjunction with Apple’s iOS upgrades.

Q: Talk about some of the opportunities the business/market is facing

Despite the challenges, the opportunities are plenty, and, ultimately, it’s those opportunities that keep me moving forward with confidence. 

First, we are truly honored and proud that our customers consistently tell us we have a great product. We’ve had hundreds of reviews that point to our quality, the gentleness of the products, and the fun kids are having with them.  We take pride that these are all 100% authentic reviews as we have never used “bots” or paid for reviews of any kind. Of course, we will never make all customers happy, and we’re equally appreciative of the honest feedback and negative reviews that we receive from time to time.  We look at this feedback as a gift, and it directly helps us get better.  That said, I’m incredibly proud of the overwhelming 5-star reviews we receive.

Second, our choosing to source only US-made ingredients, produce only in the US, use only US-made packaging and bottles, etc., was a personal and ethical decision.  We just felt this was the right thing to do. We could not have foreseen how being US-made during the pandemic created a strategic advantage for us! Companies sourcing from overseas famously struggled to get components and ingredients off ships (stuck offshore here in our hometown of Long Beach, CA). Many of those companies could not meet the demands of some key partners. This created chances for us to work with those larger companies, as we maintained stock of necessary items and met targets (especially around the Holidays). I’m pleasantly surprised to see that our USA decision paid off and even more thrilled to see that many customers do care about US-made products and ingredients.

Third, we have been very selective about the partners we work with, which has served us well. We are proudly sold on Maisonette.com, a leading marketplace for high-end baby/child products, as well as on UncommonGoods.com and in the online market of national retail chain Anthropologie.  All these retailers are growing for us - which is an obvious sign that we (and they) are doing something right.  We are also seeing an increase in interest from smaller “mom and pop” children’s boutiques that are finding us on platforms like Faire.com and Shopify’s Handshake Portal. The phone is starting to ring, and we are beginning conversations with national retailers…which is exciting!  As I mentioned above, we are not in business to grow just for growth’s sake – every decision we make is intentional, and brand building and the long view remain top of mind. 

We would be remiss if we did not mention that the pandemic, while an overwhelming tragedy, has had some silver linings for our business. The prolonged stay-at-home order left parents desperate to try new activities with their kids, and our products seemed to be a great solution. Not only are they fun, but of course, with a focus on cleanliness, Dabble & Dollop was the perfect activity to allow parents a much-needed break from the kids at home. Believe me, we know!

Finally, for the first few years of this business, it has been my husband and me doing quite literally everything. However, we feel good enough about where we are going that we’ve just hired our first three employees and know that means we’ll be freed up to become much more focused on strategy and sales. Based on our previous experience running companies, this will be a very pivotal point in our long-term growth.

Building a business that is indeed the culmination of my life’s work, with my children as inspiration and my husband as co-founder, is exactly where I want to be now. The authenticity is bubbling over, and I must say, it feels terrific!