Buckle Me Baby Coats

Nationwide and BlueVine’s Pitch to Win Contest Second Prize Winner

Dahlia Rizk, Founder, Buckle Me Baby Coats

Dahlia Rizk, founder of Buckle Me Baby Coats

Nationwide and BlueVine partnered on a contest for small business owners called Pitch to Win. The goal is to help owners with compelling concepts take their businesses to the next level. In June, owners entered the contest before submitting a video pitch in August. In October, finalists pitched live at Nationwide's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

Much like a good winter jacket, Nationwide and BlueVine’s Pitch to Win contest left Buckle Me Baby Coats feeling warm and fuzzy, as they came away with $20,000 and a second-place finish. This small business engineers coats for children with an innovative design, enabling safer and easier car seat use all winter long.

The Londonderry, New Hampshire-based company says it strives to adhere to expert recommendations "while avoiding parking lot meltdowns," which is a goal that any parent can admire. In fact, this was the exact situation founder Dahlia Rizk found herself in when she came up with the idea.

"As a parent, I wanted to keep my little ones safe in the car seat, but I also wanted them to stay warm," she explained when asked why she decided to start the business. Initially, Rizk went to various coat manufacturers with her concerns and asked them to make a car seat-safe coat, but they all refused. However, this rejection only fueled her resolve to tackle the issue head-on.

“I knew what the experts recommended but they weren’t around for epic parking lot meltdowns – so I invented another way. People call it genius – I call it desperate – either way it works!&rdquo

Rizk touted her product’s unique construction, saying, “Experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend parents take puffy coats off in the car seat due to its danger. Buckle Me Baby Coats are designed to ingeniously, and adorably, stay on and stay safe at the same time!”

The coats adhere to the guidelines of the NHTSA and American Academy of Pediatrics by placing the zipper on the side and allowing seat belt harnesses to safely pass over the shoulder and chest. However, safety was not the only parental concern that Rizk considered when designing her coats.

coats

Buckle Me Baby Coats' unique design

“We make the sleeves longer so that the kids can wear the jackets while they’re growing,&rdquo she noted, acknowledging the rapid growth spurts that often render traditional coats useless after a season of wear. As her real children have grown, so has her business. Rizk started Buckle Me Baby Coats in her garage, stockpiling inventory in her mudroom, but is thankful to now be in a warehouse.

Social media has been instrumental throughout the development of Buckle Me Baby Coats, beginning with Rizk’s product launch. Sales exploded after the coats appeared on Facebook, which Rizk has used to educate parents who may not understand or know about the dangers that call for such a product in the first place.

Social media also led Rizk to the Pitch to Win contest and helped her prepare for the big day. Her daughter read about the contest on Twitter, prompting Buckle Me Baby Coats to enter – and ultimately be selected as a finalist. After she heard the news, Rizk posted on Facebook to rally her community. She called on friends and neighbors to meet her at the local library, where she would be constructing and practicing her pitch.

So for those who know ((((and especially those who don't since I'm about to ask for a favor)))) I started a company a few years ago selling coats for the car seats. Recently I entered a Pitch to Win Contest with Nationwide Insurance and BlueVine Financial and was chosen as one of the finalists and have been practicing as much as possible. I've already practiced with a few SCORE NH members and the CEO of Girls Inc NH but would love to do it a few more times.

Sooo I was wondering if anyone is interested in listening to my 5 minutes spiel to give me more chances to practice at the library in one of the meeting rooms before d-day October 2nd?

pray

Rizk ended up meeting with people at the library on three different days and once at her house.

“I think about a total of 15 people from town heard my pitch,” she said. “The pitch sessions went really well – everyone had fabulous feedback and gave me the 'Shark Tank' style treatment so it was perfect. By the time the Nationwide pitch day came along I wasn't nervous at all and had a great time.”

Dahlia Presenting

Rizk demonstrates Buckle Me Baby Coats during Pitch to Win

During her presentation for the Pitch to Win contest, Rizk shared a news story about a little girl who was thrown from her car and killed, even though she had been buckled in. “The heavy coat [she] was wearing likely contributed to her being ejected from the seat during the accident,” WNEP News Press Herald reported. “Though she had been buckled into her car seat, she did not have the bruising from the straps that is usually present.”

While heartbreaking, this illustrates the need for a product such as Buckle Me Baby Coats, and parents have responded accordingly. Sales were up by 592% from year one to year two and 579% from year two Q3 to year three Q3. The coats are currently sold through popular retailers like buybuy BABY and Amazon.

As a single mother herself, Rizk has taken care to come up with ways to make it easier for parents to afford the jackets, such as multiple payments without interest or $10 credit when trading up. Repeat sales are 50 percent to 60 percent.

Even though Buckle Me Baby Coats is a big success, Rizk also works as a mental health counselor to support her business. Facing issues of scaling, funding, inventory, and marketing, the $20,000 from Pitch to Win will go a long way towards helping this small business keep up. For example, customers want more colors, and the company needs a larger inventory to meet that demand. There is currently a two to three month lead time, affecting Rizk’s ability to complete timely sales.

Receiving Check

Rizk receives her check for $20,000 from Nationwide Property & Casualty President and COO Mark Berven and BlueVine Founder and CEO Eyal Lifshitz

“Buckle Me Baby Coats has been growing fast but as a one mama, self-funded gig, I need help keeping up with growth and scaling,” Rizk said. “Every penny would go into scaling ads and buying inventory.”

Despite the challenges of running a small business, Rizk clearly has a winning product on her hands with Buckle Me Baby Coats. With the competitive advantage of being the first complete solution of its kind to market, backing from Nationwide and BlueVine, and the determination to keep children safe and warm, nothing can stand in this mother’s way.