Cassidy Butler's bedroom is a revelation. An ironing board takes up the center of the room. A cooled iron rests next to a stack of colorful fabric squares, waiting to be pressed. A sewing machine sits on top of a desk, where a hand-drawn grid is used to measure the squares of fabric. Taking up a full wall of space are tote bags and boxes filled to the brim with sewing supplies and completed projects. The bed is neatly made and the collection of Harry Potter books is neatly lined up on shelves. Cassidy herself is a revelation, too. How many 13-year-old kids can boast the startup of a successful business, after all?
Cassidy is the owner of Totally Toothless Tooth Fairy Pillows. When her mother, Becca, was a child, her mother made her a small pillow with a pocket, in which was placed the very important lost tooth, meant for the Tooth Fairy. Many years later, when Becca was all grown and had children of her own, she was looking through some of her baby things when she rediscovered the tooth fairy pillow. Her eldest daughter Courtney, Cassidy's big sister, fell in love with the Strawberry Shortcake pillow and kept it for her own. Before Courtney lost the pillow, Cassidy had seen it, and when she began sewing, she remembered the pillow and decided to try her hand at making her own tooth fairy pillow. "It was cute, and my mom told me I should make it into a business. So now I have a business," Cassidy said, very matter-of-factly.
Sometimes in the craft world, first attempts don't turn out that well, especially when the crafter is new to the craft. At just 10 years old, Cassidy had just received her first sewing machine. But in spite of learning a new craft on a new machine, that first pillow turned out beautifully, so well in fact that in her excitement, she made dozens and dozens of the same print. "I was excited," she explained, grinning.
The pillows are adorable. They are about six inches square, made out of soft flannel or cotton in happy, bright, kid-friendly prints. Each pillow has a small pocket on one side, in which a child places her lost tooth. The Tooth Fairy then leaves the child's bounty in the pocket. "It's a fun pattern, and it's pretty easy, and it's super cute," Cassidy said.
It wasn't until she was at a craft fair with her mom and her aunt, who both are crafters as well and who had a vendor table at the event, that she decided to go into business for herself. She said she didn't see any products similar to her pillows at any of the craft fairs she attended with her mom, "so I decided it would probably be good income, too," she said.
The next time her mom and aunt were vendors at a craft fair, Cassidy tagged along, this time as a vendor herself, and her sales went pretty well, she said. "I sold a lot, but it was my first craft fair, so I spent a lot of money too," she says sheepishly. "I always spend a little bit of my money at the craft fairs visiting the other vendors."
After that craft fair, Becca posted a photo of Cassidy and her pillows on Facebook, and sales exploded. "It just went crazy," Becca said. That was right around the holidays, and that Christmas season Cassidy sold about $700 worth of pillows. "People like to buy them as gifts for Christmas. Grandmas especially," Cassidy said. And so the business was born.
Like any small business owner, she's more than simply the owner: she handles purchasing, budgeting, product creation, marketing, promotion, sales, customer service, hiring and other tasks that inevitably pop up in a small business. Cassidy has taken the role of a small business owner seriously, and has learned lots of lessons along the way. For instance, she learned she can make business cards at home on her computer, instead of ordering pricier glossy cards online. She's learned how to make her tables more visually appealing to draw in more customers.
She's learned how to keep her prices low. Becca says her daughter is very budget conscious, so she likes to shop the sales when it comes time to replenish her stock of sewing supplies. "This girl loves the clearance section!" Becca said. On the other hand, she knows she needs to create pillows in prints her customers are going to want to buy. For a while, Cassidy was making her pillows using fabrics that most appealed to her, and also leftover swatches from Mom and Grandma's own sewing projects. But after her first craft fair, Cassidy learned to find fabrics that her customers most wanted, including patterns with Star Wars, superheroes and Disney characters. She's also learned to evaluate a piece of fabric to make sure a lot isn't wasted trying to get characters on the pillows.
She can also take special requests, but she now requires payment up front -- another business lesson learned the hard way. Her first year making the pillows, she made over $300 worth of pillows customers special ordered and then never picked up.
She's learned how to navigate the craft fair circuit. While it's more of a pain to bring her own table, it's more cost effective than renting a table from the craft fair organizer. She's also learned that she had to make the pockets on her pillows larger after complaints that the Tooth Fairy had difficulty getting the teeth out.
"She's also learned to be discerning about which fairs she entered," Becca said. "If she pays $60 for a table, she has to sell a lot of pillows just to make back her money. And since she won't raise her prices, she has to choose which craft fairs she enters." Many people, from customers to other business owners to friends and family, have tried convincing her to raise her price. Her pillows sell for just $5, but "she refuses to raise the price," Becca said.
"Yep," Cassidy replied, unwavering. "I like $5. If I was at a craft fair and I saw a five dollar tooth fairy pillow, I would definitely buy it. It's cheap and it's adorable!"
She's also learned the value of marketing. Her mom helps out by managing her Facebook page. "It's like a full time job for me to manage her Facebook sales," Becca said, to which Cassidy quickly retorted, "That's why I pay you!" For each $5 pillow she sells, Cassidy pays her mom $1 to helping manage her online sales. Becca also helps her daughter out by sewing the tops of the pillows closed, and she attends many a craft fair with her daughter. "Plus, she needs to understand that when you have a business you have to pay the people who help you," Becca said.
In addition to that cost of doing business, Cassidy, of her own volition, donates 20 percent of all sales to a charity called Project Night Night, through which homeless children are given a blanket, stuffed animal, a book and a tote bag. She sends them money on a regular basis. "I feel like I should help. And I'm Christian and I count this as my tithing. But I feel like that if I have so much money I should be giving back to the world," Cassidy explained.
The remaining funds from sales go back into the business, through which she purchases supplies, table fees at craft shows, and marketing materials. The rest of her profit goes into savings -- she's saving for a new computer.
Business expansion is up next for Cassidy. She's heading to various towns around the Western Slope to see if any stores want to carry her pillows -- which means she's likely going to have to learn about wholesale versus retail, and how she can still make her money. A Colorado Springs company offered to carry the pillows if the owner could buy them for $2.50 -- an offer which Cassidy did not accept. There is a store in Manitou Springs that carries her pillows, and she's looking for local merchants who might want to carry the pillows, too.
Last year Cassidy participated in the Young Entrepreneurs program from the Young Americans Bank in Denver. Youth entrepreneurs submit their business idea or product in the juried competition. She did not place at the event, but she was able to meet other youth entrepreneurs, as well as receive feedback from the judges about her business model. One big thing that kept her from placing was that she does not have a business plan. "I don't have any idea how to do that or even help her with that," Becca said. Currently, Becca is looking for a local business person who has time to mentor Cassidy with more of the business end of Totally Toothless Tooth Fairy Pillows. There is a similar program in Grand Junction, too, Becca said, "but she is, after all, still a kid." Participating would limit her other after school activities; she enjoys basketball and is a Girl Scout. "While pushing the business is cool, we have to remind her and balance her being a kid with her wanting to make money," Becca said. "We ask her often to make sure she still wants to do this. We don't want her to feel like she has to do this."
Cassidy, who just started eighth grade at Delta Middle School, recently moved to the area with her family from Colorado Springs. The family includes dad Arthur, sisters Cady, Claire and Courtney and a brother, Jacob. You can find and purchase the pillows on Cassidy's Facebook page, "Totally Toothless" or online at OurVillage.com. She'll also be at AppleFest in Cedaredge on Oct. 7-8.