In the Beginning
In 2005, I began my search for the perfect Stroller for my baby to-be. My husband, Vahe, and I spent almost a year deciding what stroller to choose for our little family, and in that time we went to countless baby stores all over the Tri-State area. We were daunted by the choices and features, and had a very difficult time deciding what would be best for us. Yes, we were in a five-floor walk-up apartment, but we also took jaunts all over the city and had a pretty active life-style, so I knew that we needed something that would provide a comfortable push and be ultra cozy for our little one. In the end, we chose a great stroller, but still couldn’t figure out how to best operate it. I still remember the day when I was trying to fold my stroller and get it upstairs while my baby was crying and the snow was falling on her little flushed, tear-stained cheeks. Right then and there I vowed that I would not only learn everything about my own stroller, but that I would also help other owners learn more about theirs as well.
After that experience I became a stroller fanatic! I dove in and took apart my own gear and put it back together. I talked to parents in the parks, on the streets, in the markets and my own playgroup. It turned out that many parents and caregivers still had questions about their own gear, and yearned to know more about features and maintenance. I began learning about other kinds of gear and set out to help as many parents as possible. It was in the Winter of 2006 that I moved back to my beloved home of Francisco. Vahe and I were a car-less family and I found myself walking all over the city and meeting new folks and strollers. I joined a fabulous new playgroup through Golden Gate Mother’s Group (GGMG) and breathed a sigh of relief that I had made new and dear friends with children the same age. Not long after joining the playgroup through GGMG did another mother ask me to clean her stroller. She had seen my newly spruced-up ride and asked if I would spruce hers up as well; only thing was, it was covered in mold! I took two full weeks cleaning her gear, and in the end it was like new! I soaked her fabric for days, scrubbed it with gentle organic soap, removed her wheels and picked them clean, scrubbed the foam, lubricated the entire chassis and wheels and pieced everything back together before shining it all up. When asked if I had used bleach to remove the stains, I replied no as I had used my own bathtub to soak the fabric and didn’t believe in harsh chemicals with a little baby in the house. My friend was amazed, and when asked by a neighbor if she has purchased a new stroller, decided to post my cell phone number on the GGMG web forums that went out to five thousand moms in San Francisco! Buggy Bubbles Detail Shop was born and I have been busy ever since!
In 2007 I started getting press for my original stroller cleaning concept. Some of it was in praise, and some of it was printed to make fun. One newspaper across the Bay touted that “In difficult financial times, rich parents were paying big money to have their spilled lattes cleaned off of their expensive strollers.” Yes, the concept did seem nutty to some, but many saw the value in not only keeping their gear in good shape, but also in purchasing second-hand and restoring what would, otherwise, go into landfill. Having no business experience myself, I found it difficult to charge parents for the work that I was doing as every day was a learning experience. I knew that I loved cleaning and building a business from scratch, but I had a tough time putting a monetary value on my new and uncharted services.
Rentals and Repairs and Rough Patches
In 2008, My second child was born and I began the process of searching for a double stroller. I went into baby stores and did tons of research, but couldn’t really get a feel for what handled best in the small retail shops. I ended up purchasing a handful of strollers and before I knew it, had my first inventory of rentals! I shared my knowledge with parents to be all around the world through the web, and let other parents use my own gear to help them make their own purchasing decisions. Shortly thereafter, my brake snapped on my single stroller from over use on the hills of San Francisco. I called the manufacturer but alas I was out of warranty and would have to purchase a new chassis which was one third the cost of my stroller. Vahe and I were barely making ends meet (I had been using any funds made through stroller cleaning to purchase the rental inventory) and couldn’t afford the new part. I began taking on more work and in the end got what was needed, but I couldn’t help but think that there could be a better way. I spoke with Vahe, a former engineer, and together we sought out a design to make a brake cable that would fit our stroller and help other parents in the same situation. We were successful and did a few repairs for friends (I became known as The Stroller Doctor) but ultimately I wanted to do right by the manufacturer and work together. I contacted all of the brands that I knew, including the ones that I had been working on for almost three years, but with little understanding of how big business worked, I was unsuccessful. One stroller company even asked in jest if I knew how to operate a drill. The comment stung but gave me the drive to work harder and prove them wrong!
In 2009, I also was hit with some competition from someone who claimed that the stroller cleaning concept was theirs. They were a student at a prominent, well respected business school and they called me to interview me for a “class project”. They had heard about my business from a friend in the Bay Area and liked my original idea. We spoke and I awaited the news from their professor about my concept. I was excited to hear what they would have to say about my funny little niche business. Instead of a report on what their professor thought, I was hit with a Google update of an article of them and their team holding a check for winning an entrepreneurial competition for their original stroller cleaning concept. I was, at first, happy for them but then, as I scanned the article, realized that I was not mentioned anywhere. Not even a “Business student takes original concept from San Francisco mom and improves it!”. I tried calling them but there was no answer. Instead I began calling the business school, but by the time a dean took my call, they had graduated and launched their own business. In the year that followed there was much press about my new competition and their original stroller cleaning concept. I was pregnant with our third child at the time and spent my days crestfallen that I had been deceived and not given credit for what I had created out of thin air. I mention these stories about my competition and about the manufacturer’s doubt in me not to gain sympathy or to “get back” at them, but to inspire other small businesses and entrepreneurs to continue their work compassionately, even in the face at adversity.
Weaving a beautiful tapestry of a family-centered business
After the birth of my third child, I sought advice from a local mom and business guru, met through GGMG, and she suggested that I license the business and train others to do what I did. I began telling friends and family, and before I knew it, had a slew of emails from other moms wanting to start the business from home. Within a month I had spoken with a wonderful woman in Brooklyn New York, trained her, and had our first New York location! She was killing it, and before we knew it, we were getting press inquires and phone calls from manufacturers who wanted to partner! I began talking to other parents who wanted to open their own Buggy Bubbles, and before we knew it, we had a team of 23 locations in the US and Canada! I continued to run my home-based business and train new owners by creating a comprehensive in-person training program and a library of video clips of cleaning methods, repairs and business tips. A forum was created for owners to ask and answer questions, modeling the concept of my highly regarded GGMG. The forum was popping, and soon owners were helping other owners and trading tips, resources and inventory. We were a lovely, well-informed, supportive family and I couldn’t have been happier!
It was two years later that I was reported by an anonymous source for illegally operating a franchise business. I received a cease and desist, but was cleared once I showed that I was not collecting royalty fees. I stopped adding new owners but continued to work, at no charge, to assist other owners like me succeed. We are a wonderful, well-trained team of men and women that take pride on the work that we do and the relationships that we build. These men and women have made the business what it is today and I am immensely proud and honored to have them in my life!
Growing in to Stroller Spa
In synching up with a business professional, I was advised to change the name of my cherished business Buggy Bubbles. Vahe came up with the name years before, and I adored our logo of two BBs made of wheels next to a baby taking a bath in a super sudsy heritage pram. I loved the name, but alas it did not inform customers who we were or what we did. Dozens of new names floated through my mind, but one stuck that everyone else loved. The problem was that it wasn’t my idea! Another mom in New York had wanted to open a Manhattan location years before but alas, the spot was taken. She had told me that she might go ahead and open the business and, if she did, she would call it Stroller Spa. I thought of her, and years later, didn’t find any trace of her business, but still felt conflicted about using her brilliant name without her blessing. I tried finding the contact information of the woman, but it had been too long since we had spoken and we never connected. To this day, I think of her and want to thank her for her idea for our name. If you know of her, please contact me as I wish to thank her personally!
In 2013, after working out of my own home for several years, and serving thousands of customers, I moved to my first retail store-front. It was a dream that I had had for years, and I couldn’t have been blessed with a better location! Hailed by San Francisco Magazine as The Bay Area’s ‘Most Expectant Street’, the stretch of 10 blocks in Presidio Heights is regarded as THE place to go for parents-to-be. Within months, a woman’s clothing boutique was transformed into the world’s first stroller repair and cleaning business and I cried tears of joy and gratitude every time I walked through the door and locked up at night. Complete with a custom built shower for scrubbing even the most bodacious double jogger, a tool bench for repairing broken brakes and popped inner tubes, and a play space complete with artificial grass and playhouse for wee ones, Stroller Spa San Francisco was a dream come true.
In the years since its inception, Stroller Spa has become a hub for parents, caregivers, manufacturers and neighbors. Parents-to-be pop in to discuss what gear is best for them, nannies come by to inquire about how to fold a newly used stroller, grandparents book appointments to have car seats installed for their new grand babies, tourists have gear delivered to their hotels for use during their visits, and owners, partners and manufacturers visit to swap ideas and learn from one another. The flagship store is bustling and so are the home-based businesses of the owners that we have supported. We are a company that has grown from blood, sweat, tears of joy and birth-stories, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I am not a business woman, just a creator and gatherer of amazing souls. With these souls we have grown a business out of nothing and continue to grow through hard work, dedication, trust and compassion. I am most grateful for every moment leading up to this point, and look forward to a future of continued growth and learning from one another.
In love and gratitude,
Jamie currently manages the flagship retail store in San Francisco where she can be found repairing brakes, installing car seats and recommending baby gear of all types.
Jamie has three young children ages 9, 11 and 13 and loves being their mom and going in to work each day!