By Amanda Kuhnert
“It all began about 13 years ago, the first time I tried running with a jogging stroller and hated it,” said Heather Hayes, founder and CEO of StrollRunner, LLC. She quickly abandoned the idea. But over the years, when she would see other parents awkwardly trying to jog with their strollers, she thought to herself: “I’m going to make this better one day.”
That day finally came when Hayes stumbled upon the book “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero. “That sparked something in me,” she said. “I thought, ‘why wait? If you’ve got an idea, go do it.”
Hayes turned to a friend, Scott Roth, co-owner of Rothspeed in Milton, Vt., a company that designs and builds custom chassis. “He understands engineering and how things work,” she said. When Heather told him about her idea, he immediately began sketching potential designs. They worked together as her initial concept evolved into the StrollRunner design of today: a steerable running belt that attaches to the stroller, allowing for hands-free jogging.
“During the initial prototyping, we asked ourselves: how do we make this work? Then, how do we make this as lean as possible?”, she said. Along with keeping packaging to a minimum, they realized the more they could use parts that already existed, the better off they would be. Of StrollRunner’s 19 parts, only five are custom manufactured.
Getting any parts, existing or custom, is both expensive and challenging due to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Metal has increased about 150 percent,” she said. “Parts are hard to get, and lead times have extended dramatically, from four weeks to 10 to 20 weeks.” It has become increasingly difficult for Hayes to manage her inventory with these ongoing supply issues. But she is forging ahead.
A direct-to-consumer approach
Hayes launched her website in late August 2021, and for now, is happy with her direct-to-consumer sales model. Customers are more likely to leave a review when they purchase online, and these positive reviews are important for a new business. “Building trust in the running and young parent community will help us increase our brand awareness,” she said.
Looking back over the past few years, she regrets waiting so long to begin developing a relationship with her audience. “I never felt like I was at the point where I was ready to share,” she said. “I was more focused on the product than on the process or sharing my journey.”
Hayes recently had a booth at the Vermont City Marathon and looks forward to more opportunities to engage with her customers at similar events—and right on their doorstep. In lieu of free shipping, which wasn’t financially viable, she decided to offer local delivery. “If I have customers within 30-45 minutes of the Burlington area, I’ll deliver,” she said.
For more info: strollrunner.com.
When starting her business, Hayes attended a meeting at Vermont Emerging Technologies (VCET), where she heard about the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC). Since then, she has worked with her VtSBDC advisors on a variety of business start-up issues, from financials to funding to sourcing.
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