Going Her Own Way with Whimsical Designs
Toronto’s Snug As A Bug 30-Year Success Story
When Snug As A Bug owner Liz Heyland graduated from the Creative Fashion Design program at George Brown, she didn’t want to take the conventional path. She’d always liked fun, bright colours and whimsical designs and felt drawn to kids’ fashion. Inspired by other entrepreneurial friends, she decided to take a different path and create her own kids’ apparel designs to sell at craft shows. Her perseverance has paid off and, in 2022, Snug As A Bug celebrated 30 years in business. Today, they sell fun and colourful clothing and matching pajama onesies for the whole family that are designed and made in Canada. They also sell gifts, toys, kids’ accessories, and personalized holiday decor. We connected with her to hear about what she’s learned along the way and what her vision for the future of the business looks like.
Rogers Business: Where did the idea for your business begin? How has it evolved over the years?
Liz: When I graduated from George Brown, the main path back then was to work in women’s fashion at higher-end stores and to work for somebody. But I didn’t like that at all. I’ve always just liked bold colours and a more playful style. The kids’ world seemed like a really good fit for me. In 1992, I started making kids’ clothing products and selling at craft shows. It was a lower barrier of entry. I didn’t need to have my own location or sales reps. I just went from place to place on the weekends, and I had very good reception. I got to feel the pulse of what the customers wanted because I was talking to them face-to-face. Then I went into the catalogue business. I would hand these out at craft shows and I compiled a mailing list to send them out to as well. I did that for a long time. People would order things and mail a cheque. In 2005, I got online and that was a time when small businesses really ruled the internet. Then I opened the store in 2007 and I started bringing in a lot of other people’s products as well, like toys, outdoor gear for kids, and gifts.
Rogers Business: Tell us a little bit about how your business operates today. What’s the process? How many employees do you have?
Liz: Today, I have about 5 people who work in shipping and the retail store. We’re also a manufacturer so I have people who work in that realm like sewers, cutters. I order the fabric and do the designing and paper patterns myself. One of the prints on my site is called ‘Sock Monkey’ and it’s a fabric I designed based on what we’d sold before. It’s a pretty crazy print because I like bright, fun prints. I do the design, create some of the prints, select trims and pulls, and make the pattern. Then it goes to our factory in Toronto and goes from cutting to sewing to finishing. And then they go for sale online and in-store.
Rogers Business: Is there someone or something that inspired you to start this business?
Liz: When I finished school, I had a group of friends and we all lived in a student co-op. We were involved in the co-op and on the board. And these friends had their own business. I didn’t know that was a path. To me, the plan was to finish school and get a job. So, I had a regular job and then in the evening, I was making things. They really opened my eyes. I had no idea what this small business thing was or what it meant to work for yourself. And I thought, I want that; I want a business. So, I started with these few products. Kids' products made sense to me because they were smaller, easier to transport, and I could use the colours I love. Then I did my first craft show, The Cabbagetown Show, and I sold $1,200. And then that was it, I was in business.
Rogers Business: What is your best-selling product or service? Tell us a little bit about it.
Liz: In 2005, when I went online, I started offering matching footed pajamas for the whole family. The idea came because I was at craft show after craft show with the kids’ version of the footed pajamas and a lot of women would say ‘I’d love to get one of these for my husband!’ Back then, this product wasn’t out there at all. That product was too big to bring and display at craft shows, so I started offering it when I launched the e-commerce site. I hired someone to get me on Google search, and he got me #1 in Canada and in the US for ‘adult footed pajamas’. That’s what they were called back then, now they’re called onesies. Today, it’s our best-selling product. We sell all different configurations. I even make them for your pets. In business, you always need to be out there. You gotta get out and put yourself in a situation and see where the opportunity is. It’s everywhere if you’re trained to see it.
Rogers Business: What made you choose your current location?
Liz: I was in a warehouse before. I was a mail-order company doing craft shows and e-commerce, so I was shipping from a warehouse. Then our lease was up and we had to move. Back in 2007, in The Junction in Toronto, there weren’t a lot of retail spaces. I didn’t know what this area would become. The buildings were really large structures. When I sold only kids’ clothes, they were small so I didn’t need a lot of space. But when you go to adult sizes, you have to have a lot of inventory and you need a lot of space. At first, I was thinking I’d move into a warehouse because that’s what I knew. But then I found a space that was the right size and price, so I started the store. Loyal customers started coming in and saying they’d already bought a lot of my own products, so that’s when I started offering complimentary products and toys.
Rogers Business: Who or what was your biggest support when you started?
Liz: For me, it’s always just been the customers. If I didn’t have customers who were supportive, I wouldn’t have had a business. I’m very customer-focused whether it’s answering questions over chat or offering full refunds. Really listening to them and interpreting what they really mean. That’s how I always looked at what I was doing, from the support of the customers.
Rogers Business: What is your vision for the future of your business?
Liz: The vision is to go full e-commerce and to expand the product line but keeping with the same theme of fun, cute, silly, matching products. I started in kids, but it’s really evolved. We actually sell more adult onesies now than kids. My vision is to expand the matching pajama offering and also the Christmas line. We have an industrial embroidery machine and we can put names on products like stockings, Santa sacks, tree skirts. We’ve just expanded this offering because when something is popular, I like to build more selection around that.
Rogers Business: Do you have any favourite marketing or advertising that you use?
Liz: I’m starting to get really into Pinterest. They’re really expanding in a good way. People are using Pinterest more as search. They’re on there looking for ideas and those are my people. I don’t sell a plain product. They’re people who are looking for something unique.
Rogers Business: What advice would you give to someone else looking to get started?
Liz: The first thing is to figure out if the person actually wants to be an entrepreneur. They need to really understand what that means versus being an employee versus being self-employed. Entrepreneur means that you hire people to delegate to and then you are able to learn more skills. It takes a certain mindset. And once you decide, I would say 100% just jump in. So many people have a great idea, map it all out, and it never happens. Put something out there, and if it doesn’t work, then at least you know what does work and then you can build around that. That’s part of the entrepreneur mindset. Jumping in is a big part of it.
Rogers Business: What’s the greatest reward you’ve gotten as a small business owner?
Liz: When you’re a small business owner, you’re not really relying on other people. You have to have courage, confidence, self-awareness, work ethic, values. Those things get challenged every day. They’ve really been practiced and developed in me. They have to be your guide or you can lose your way.
Rogers Business: What’s one thing everyone should know about your business?
Liz: Our own products are actually designed and made in Canada. When you purchase our products, you’re supporting that whole idea. Not just for me but providing jobs in Canada. When you purchase the product, you also get to participate in the business. So, with the exception of our stockings and toys, everything we carry is made in Canada.
Rogers Business: Where can we find your business online?
Facebook: Snug As A Bug