photo: Ellen Liebner
I am often asked - why I started Slumbersac, and when I tell my story, I am always asked to write it down.
On our 10th anniversary in Germany, I finally gave it a go:
I was born in a small village in East Germany in 1974 and grew up in the former GDR for 15 years. My mother was a kindergarten teacher and I always helped out in the kindergarten during the school holidays. I always enjoyed working with kids and it was clear that I would also become a kindergarten teacher. However, with the unification of Germany in 1989, the job prospects changed, and with it my future plans.
Instead, I began an apprenticeship as a wholesale and foreign trade clerk in Bavaria in 1991. After completing my degree, I started my career in the corporate world and worked for brands like Starbucks, Nike and BHS. Since I was traveling abroad a lot, the topic of having children was off the table for a long time. It wasn't until my early 30s that the irrepressible urge to finally become a mother hit me. After 2 years of fruitless attempts, my daughter Katie was born in London in May 2008. My world seemed perfect, but my happiness wouldn’t last long. 9 months later I was a single mother without the support of my ex-partner. My family was far away in Germany and I was on the brink of desperation. I had to go on somehow so I decided to return to my old job as an e-commerce manager at the British department store chain BHS so that I could make ends meet in expensive London. Without further ado, I found a German au pair through an agency who moved in with us a little later and took care of my daughter Katie whilst I went back to work full-time. It was infinitely difficult for me because I only saw my little one on weekends. Due to the long commute from West London to downtown London, I was traveling 12 hours and more every day. But I had to make some money, so I had no choice.
The turning point came when my daughter started calling my au pair MAMA. I knew that if I wanted to be part of my daughter's life, I had to change something. This is when I got the idea with the baby sleeping bags. Baby sleeping bags saved my life in the first two years of my daughter’s life, because without good sleep I would not have been able to cope with the stress at work. I didn't even know that baby sleeping bags existed before I became a mother, so I started researching the German market to see if I could sell them in Germany. I found out that there was already a fairly large market for baby sleeping bags in Germany, but at that time the average cost of a sleeping bag was 60-80 Euros. I couldn't afford it as a single mother and immediately saw a gap in the market for a cheaper, but high-quality brand. I went to visit my parents in Germany during the 2009 Christmas season to recharge my batteries and to figure out how to go on. I couldn't get the baby sleeping bags idea out of my head and whilst doing further research, I came across a post by Workingmums.com from a British brand called The Dream Bag. They were looking for a German retailer for their baby sleeping bags. I didn't think long and reached out to the company that I would like to take over the distribution of their Dream Bag sleeping bags in Germany. That was the beginning of my independence and the laying of the foundation stone for SlumberCompany. In spring 2010 I spent my savings of 5,000 Euros and ordered 500 sleeping bags from The Dream and had them delivered to my parents in Germany.
My parents run a packaging wholesale business in East Germany and helped me storing and shipping the sleeping bags whilst I was living in London and continued to work for BHS. I sold the baby sleeping bags on my own website and on Amazon in Germany. Because of the low price (the sleeping bags were made in China at the time) and the good quality, they were an instant success, and I sold 3,000 sleeping bags in the first year and quit my job at BHS. I moved to the south coast of England. I was finally able to spend more time with my daughter and the first two years after starting my business remind me very much of how I spent time with my daughter on Eastbourne Beach.
My main problem at that time was that The Dream Bag could not meet my demand. So, I turned to the former owner of Slumbersac to ask if I could become its distributor in Germany. Slumbersac was the brand I bought for my daughter when she was little. He was more than happy to provide me with baby sleeping bags, and I was able to grow my business considerably, selling 20,000 sleeping bags in the second year. Shortly after the launch of Slumbersac in Germany, I had to rename it to SCHLUMMERSACK as no one could remember the spelling and pronunciation of Slumbersac.
At the end of 2011, the owner of Slumbersac asked me if I wanted to buy his business. He wanted to retire and his children were not interested in the business. After a few sleepless nights creating a business plan, I accepted his offer and bought the business and trademark rights for Slumbersac and Schlummersack in March 2012.
I took over the UK business and started to expand the business to Italy and France. However, I was still a one-woman business that I ran from my kitchen table and where I stocked sleeping bags in my garage. In June 2012, I rented my first office and a small storage area and hired two students who helped me in the warehouse and with customer service. We continued to do business in Germany in my parents' warehouse until 2017, even though we hired 2-3 people to handle the shipping of the sleeping bags and customer service for Germany. Slumbersac has grown steadily, we have opened up new markets such as Ireland, Spain, the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan, and have developed new products including our award winning Slumbersac with feet The production has been moved to Turkey and the main warehouse in England has grown every year. With the introduction of our Slumbersac with feet in 2014, we responded to the many suggestions from our customers and our trademark product was born.
With the Brexit vote in 2016, I made the decision that we would move our headquarters to Germany to ensure business continuity and job safety for my team. In March 2017, we moved to our current location in Plauen/East Germany, and after living in England for 10 years, I also moved privately with my family back to Germany. My daughter now finally speaks German and has developed a loving relationship with her grandparents. Our team in customer service, finance, product development and web design remain to this day in our UK office.
The Slumbersac team, now includes 42 employees, mainly consisting of women and mothers. We work on new product ideas and technical improvements while facing the challenges of home schooling, social distance, border closings etc. every day.
Even though we are facing uncertainty in our futures Slumbersac is not at its peak yet, we are steadily growing and evolving and are planning to bring more work into East Germany empowering women to take charge of their financial future and their families as well as make a bigger impact on the world through our involvement with B1G1.
All the best