Most parents will know the overwhelming fear that accompanies their child starting school or daycare. Bags to pack, lunches to organise, spare clothes to label...
Carrie Felton knew this feeling all too well back in 1995 when she was a young mum raising the first of three boisterous boys. Looking ahead to the future, Carrie saw a house overflowing with sports gear, toys, socks, towels, books and lunchboxes. How on earth would she tell which items belonged to which child? Before her next bundle of joy arrived, Carrie knew she had to make a choice: become more organised or go crazy. Thus, off she went to her local printer to request a set of name labels for Charlie, which was the inception of the Stuck on You story. Today, they are one of the leaders in customised gear for children, offering a range of bags, lunchboxes, nametags, and so much more. We spoke to Carrie about her journey through business, but perhaps more importantly, her (well-versed) tips on creating a more organised, less chaotic home. We’re listening, Carrie!
Starting a new school or preschool year can be a time of real anxiety for children (not to mention their parents). What are some of the ways you suggest we organise ourselves to minimise the stress?
My biggest piece of advice is to start early – your future self will thank you! For example, I actually was one of those annoying mums who prepared everything for the next school or preschool year when school finished. My children were so used to routine during school times that when the school year ended, they would ask me all day, “What are we doing today?” or “What are we doing tomorrow?” So I would make a little adventure out of buying school supplies for the following year while we were still in that mode. I couldn’t bear thinking about that kind of stuff by the end of January when we were deep in holiday mode! I would also recommend getting all those routine medical and dental appointments out of the way as soon as possible, and organising before and after school care if you’ll be needing those. Get those uniforms and supplies early, and make use of clothing pools to access inexpensive spare uniforms. And seriously, label EVERYTHING – it’s cheaper than losing even a ruler! More about that later…
Let’s talk lunchboxes. They’re a minefield. How do your Bento Boxes help the lunch packing process?
My kids are young adults now, but I really wish Bento Boxes were a thing back when they were little. It would have saved a lot of stress, especially with one of my boys who was a fussy eater and did not like bread! Our Bento Box comes with six handy compartments and a leak-proof silicone seal, which keep food separate and fresh. This is perfect for fussy eaters who don’t like food to ‘touch’. Kids find this presentation of food appealing, both aesthetically and for the illusion of choice! You can also purchase a tray with four compartments (including one compartment that is large enough to fit a sandwich). Lots of mums and dads purchase these as they offer even more variety. Our Bentos support green initiatives such as the ‘Nude Food’ movement. You can put food in the compartments without the need for zip lock bags or other extra packaging. At the end of the day, simply pull the sections of the Bento apart and place them on the top rack of the dishwasher along with all your other dishes. Easy! One thing that parents tell me time and time again about our Bentos is that they inspire them to want to pack a healthier lunch for their kids. Our tray compartments are labelled by type of food, e.g. vegetable, dairy, protein, etc. While these are intended as a guide only, many end up sticking to these suggestions. Most parents also say that they get so much enjoyment out of preparing Bentos to the point that it can be a zen-like experience. Some are even compelled to get their very own Bento Box. Luckily we have plenty of Bento designs that are perfect for adults!
What are your favourite items to pack in a lunchbox?
My kids used to love leftovers, so if we had meatballs or chicken schnitzels the night before, they’d make a welcome appearance in the next day’s lunchbox. Fruit is perennially popular as well as healthy but delicious homemade goodies like zucchini chips, chicken and salad wraps, and pasta muffins. My talented friend, George from School Lunch Box, has some fantastic ideas that are perfect for our Bento Boxes. Visit his website here. As well, we have some terrific e-books that outline some healthy and easy lunchbox ideas. We have a fab blog that covers a variety of lifestyle and parenting issues – including food. Lots and lots of food…
Do you have any tips on easing the morning madness? How can we create harmonious starts to the day?
One of my favourite personal mottos is “The day hasn’t finished until tomorrow’s ready.” So it’s a good idea to build preparations for the next day into your afternoon/evening routine. Get the kids into the habit of organising their uniforms, socks, shoes, snacks and anything else they might need for the next day. What the kids definitely need to do as soon as they get home from school is hang up what can be worn again the next day (e.g. blazers, hats) and clean out their school bags so that you don’t miss those important school notes or the fact that there’s a decaying, half-eaten banana squashed up against that expensive school jumper. To help foster healthy organisation habits, Stuck On You has a huge range of family stationery such as calendars, planners, chore charts and list pads. Kids actually thrive on routine and they’ll put up less of a fight if their duties are up there in black and white (or whichever of our cool designs you choose!).
What about organisation hacks? Do you have any tips on setting up our homes to make life easier when it comes to collecting and putting away belongings?
Assign an area that is just for school stuff – it could be to the side of the hallway for all your kids, or a dedicated space in each child’s bedroom. This school ‘nook’ provides a centralised place they can store or hang their school gear, so they’re not running around the place in the morning looking for everything.
Lost property is what we all fear. How can we avoid expensive blazers and countless water bottles ending up there?
At Stuck On You, it’s our mission to help families avoid the pain and expense of lost property! We have the perfect labels for any prized possession. For clothing, we have our super-strong permanent Iron On Labels which are washing machine and dryer safe. For drink bottles, books and sports equipment, we have our waterproof, scratch-resistant Name Labels that are microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe. Then we have our multi-talented Multi Use labels which can be used on a range of things including clothing. They are perfect for those mornings when you have to quickly label a jumper for an excursion – stick a label on it in the morning, then iron it down later if you want it to last longer on the piece of clothing. The new kid on the block is our amazing Clothing Stamp. A simple flick of the wrist is all that is required to brand your lighter-coloured clothing. The ink is fast-drying, long-lasting and washing machine/dryer safe.
If we’re brand new to packing school or day care bags, where should we start with labelling?
The short answer is – label as much as possible! You would not believe how easily and quickly little ones lose their stuff. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment (which, btw, we have special labels for too!) Imagine that your brain is overflowing with new experiences, a new environment, new friends and new things to learn. Add to that the fact that many of your classmates have similar-looking belongings and this is a sure fire recipe for mix-ups and lost things. Labelling will help your child – and you! – keep track of their belongings so that you don’t have to waste time and money constantly shopping for replacements. You should definitely label hats, jumpers, shoes and drink bottles – in other words, things they regularly put on and take off, or take out of their bags (oh, and label the bag too while you’re at it!) Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to personalise anything and everything that isn’t permanently attached to them or superglued on. Label their shoes, socks, shirts and pants, especially if they may be taking these off for sports or swimming – and yes, you can even label swimmers and footy jumpers with our Iron On Labels. You’d seriously be surprised by what shows up in the school’s lost property… Apart from labels, we also have a huge range of personalised products including bags, lunchboxes, gifts and stationery.
What’s the most popular Stuck on You product pack?
All of our school value packs are immensely popular because they allow parents to get the majority of their school needs in one handy hit. We have label packs specifically for pre-schoolers, primary school students, and tweens/teens. We also have a pack that includes our popular Bento Box. If you want to avoid back-to-school shopping crowds, our School Kit covers your stationery basics – large pencil case, scissors, sharpener, ruler, coloured pencils and markers, HB pencils, and eraser – all of which are perfectly personalised with your child’s name. We’ve essentially done the labelling for you!
Stuck on You also has a great range of personalised gifts. What are some good go-to’s for teacher gifts, particularly as we approach Christmas season?
We have a gorgeous range of super-sweet teacher’s gifts that won’t rot their teeth or melt like chocolate can. From the adorably heartfelt (hand-drawn wooden decorations) to the adorably useful (personalised mugs to avoid staff room mix-ups, personalised key rings to help them spot their bag in a crowd), we have something that is guaranteed to please any teacher.
Carrie, you started Stuck on You with three young boys. What are your tips for creating – and maintaining – a business with a busy family life, having now seen it thrive it for 23 years?
Everyone talks about the work/life balance – however, if you ask me, the word ‘balance’ just adds to the pressure. I have never found balance as such, more just a way to have it all – family and a career! I get that for some people, what works best for them is to separate work life and home life as much as possible. But I found that what works best for me is to merge these two priorities. I regularly joke to my three sons that Stuck On You is another sibling, and they fully embrace that idea. I believe in involving family as much as they’re happy within the business. In fact, all three of my sons work or have worked, with me alongside my husband Jon and my sister Mel. We’ve also had an assortment of nieces and other relatives working here, so it truly is a family business! Regardless of how you make these priorities work for you, my best piece of advice is to do your best to make it all work but don’t cave into the pressure to be perfect. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help!