Wednesday, 10 July 2013

2Inspire Profile: Gaby Lixton and Caroline Sparks - Founders of Turtle Tots


Gaby Lixton and Caroline Sparks converted their love for swimming into a successful baby swimming programme -Turtle Tots. Their business story illustrates the importance of working in an area you are passionate about.

Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?

I don’t think Gaby and I have typical days! Every day is different. For example last week we had our monthly meeting with our finance manager, we attended a High Growth workshop on managing teams, we attended the Accelerate 2013 conference in Liverpool on Thursday and then on Friday we had a meeting about a new CRM system and visited our new office that we are leasing from September. We love the fact that our days and weeks are so varied.

What made you start the business and how did you get started?
Gaby and I founded Turtle Tots Ltd in 2011.

Having run and sold a very successful baby swimming business before launching Turtle Tots, Gaby had seen numerous new mums struggle when they came swimming with their newborn the first time, because they lacked confidence in and around the pool with their precious new baby.

We both have young children ourselves and therefore knew the importance of a healthy lifestyle and pre and postnatal exercise, but also how it can be a struggle to find the time to exercise when you have a baby or toddler.

Using her knowledge and experience Gaby wrote the innovative Turtle Tots programme, which starts with Turtle Tums - aqua-natal yoga for mums-to-be. The Turtle Tums course is an aqua yoga course that provides a relaxing and supportive method of exercise during pregnancy, and also teaches the mums-to-be safe holds and methods to use in the pool with their baby once he or she is born.

The programme continues with Turtle Tots baby and toddler swimming classes. First and foremost the classes are to introduce babies and toddlers to swimming in a fun and safe way, but every movement mum makes in the water, also contributes to her post-natal fitness. A personal trainer has endorsed these lesson plans and mums (and dads!) can burn up to 250 calories in a 30-minute class.

Having launched Turtle Tots as a sole trader in Bristol, Gaby’s classes quickly grew and after a year she was teaching 100 babies. At this point she realised what a lucrative and flexible business model Turtle Tots was. Gaby knew that she wanted to offer others the opportunity to run a Turtle Tots business, but without using a restrictive and expensive franchise model. At this point Gaby approached Caroline about launching Turtle Tots as a licencing business. Caroline could see the huge potential and together they formed Turtle Tots Ltd.


What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the
business world to date?

In May we had were invited to join the Accelerate 250. The Accelerate 250 is the UK’s so-called “vital six per cent’, the businesses that create more than half of the nation’s new jobs by disrupting industries and creating new markets.

Turtle Tots was one of the first members to be announced of the 250-strong group, hand-picked by former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy and the prime minister’s enterprise adviser Lord Young. And we were thrilled and delighted to have been recognised and included.



The inaugural meeting of the Accelerate 250 took place in Liverpool on the 27th June and Gaby and I travelled up to Liverpool, looking forward to an interesting and informative day. In fact, it was far more than we’d ever expected!

Throughout the day we listened to an inspiring selection of speeches, panel discussions and debates from (amongst others) Jimmy Wales, - the founder of Wikipedia, Martha Lane Fox CBE – the co-founder of lastminute.com, Lord Bilimoria – Chairman of Cobra Beer and a very amusing Doug Richard – the founder of School for Startups. Dr. Pippa Malmgren, former special assistant to the president, was insightful and made macro economics sound refreshingly simply and interesting!

We came away from the day completely inspired, motivated and excited, not just about Turtle Tots as it is today, but about the future growth of Turtle Tots.


What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
Time management is a constant challenge. Both Gaby and I have young families and busy husbands! It can be a juggling act, especially when we need to be away overnight to attend a conference or exhibition. Luckily our husbands and families are very supportive, and modern technology such as smart phones and Skype helps enormously.

What are your future plans for the business?
We want to continue to build the Turtle Tots brand in the UK, and help our existing and new licencees continue to grow successful businesses. This will involve continuing to develop our Turtle Tots merchandise so that licencees will have additional revenue streams, and investing in products such as woggles, towels, water toys etc.

We have just trademarked in Australia and will be launching there in 2014, and we are also trade marking in several other countries too, so we see internationalisation as a key part of our strategy.



If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I don’t think we’d do anything differently. Every positive AND negative experience over the last two years has helped us to grow our business to where it is today.


Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?Life is short, and before we know it we can all be on a treadmill, doing a job we’ve just fallen in to doing. Even in 2013 there are still many stereotypes and many young women leave school or college with limited aspirations and self esteem. It’s important for young women to follow their dream and realise nothing is impossible, to ensure they live fulfilled and happy lives, and also contribute to society as a whole.


What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?

Don’t be afraid to ask advice from people that already run successful businesses and do as much research as possible, and more, before writing a really thorough business plan. Investigate what resources are available in your area to help people start businesses – in Bristol, where we are based, there’s an organisation called Business West, which are hugely helpful, and they also run lots of free and low cost training courses and networking events.


What or who inspires you in business and why?
The Co-founders of Innocent – Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright inspire us. We love the Innocent brand, and have just read their book about how they got started. They have a refreshing, personable and non-corporate approach to their business, and have overcome huge obstacles. They also had no prior knowledge of their industry. We also love the fact that they have set up the Innocent Foundation – a grant giving foundation. This is something we would like to emulate in the future.
They are also great believers in the saying “Just Do It” – which we are too!

What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius
Contact Details  
Turtle Tots Ltd
Railway House
Station Close
Backwell
Bristol BS48 1TJ
Tel. 01275 857805
Email info@turtletots.com
Web www.turtletots.com
Twitter @turtle_tots
Facebook www.facebook.com/TurtleTotsUK

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