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Global Mamas: Polly Marsh and Helen Wooldridge of Cuddledry

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After a stint on Dragon’s Den and successfully starting their adorable Cuddledry towel line, we chatted with Polly Marsh and Helen Wooldridge about how they manage it all on top of being mamas.

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Tell us about your brand and how you got started?

Cuddledry is one of the leading nursery brands in the UK, specializing in bath, swim and beach towels and accessories, for babies and young children up to age 6.

In 2007, Helen and her family were staying at Polly’s after a party and all the children were in the bath. They were watching their husbands struggling to safely lift and wrap the babies, just as everyone else did. They found themselves discussing how useless all baby towels seemed to be, and how there HAD to be a better way than struggling to hold slippery baby and towel at the same time, with just one pair of hands! So once they realized there appeared to be nothing available on the market to solve this issue, they created a design themselves.

The Cuddledry was only officially launched in October 2006 and immediately taken on by Mothercare and the National Childbirth Trust.

Since then the Cuddledry apron bath towel has won over forty awards including winning a mumsnet BEST gift for newborn every year for the last 8 years. Cuddledry has also worked with several respected children’s charities and is used by midwives and to train nannies.   Cuddledry has launched over 30 new products for babies and children, and the Cuddledry range is now being sold all over the world.

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Can you share more insight on your experience on the TV show Dragons Den?

The researchers at Dragons Den found out about them and called up asking them to apply for the new series. Following a rigorous selection process, Polly and Helen beat thousands of hopefuls to a slot in front of ‘those’ dragons.

By the time the summons for filming came, Polly was over 8 months pregnant with her second child and they filmed the show just 10 days before Polly’s due date (with doctor’s note and nurse on hand!).

We knew our stuff, but when you’re faced with The Dragons, it’s hard not to let your mind go into panic-mode and even forget your name! However the pitch went perfectly and gave us a great confidence boost. What you see on TV is 10 minutes of edited highlights from a 3 hour grilling in the Den. They just keep digging until they find something you can’t answer.

Peter Jones said, “I can’t believe you’ve got five dragons interested in a towel” which was great. Not having the financials in front of us let us down, because Theo came up with different numbers to what we knew we had in our projections, and under the spotlight we couldn’t work out why. It was very frustrating. It wasn’t until the journey home we realised his figures hadn’t accounted for direct sales, so the number he had was significantly less than the reality. We don’t know what would have happened if we had realized that in the Den!

They were thrilled to receive three offers for the full £100,000. It was VERY tempting to take up the offers on the table, but we had discussed it and agreed on it beforehand, and knew in our hearts that we did not want to give 40% equity away. We drove home after the show with adrenalin pumping, and very happy that we still owned the company.

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Which dragon would have been a perfect match for the Cuddledry brand?

Theo – he is a retail expert, and also has a personality we could work very well alongside.

Is your business global?

We sell to about 30 countries, but that can be anything from a single shop to a major retailer covering the whole of SE Asia.

Polly and Family

What city do you live in and how long have you lived there?

We don’t live in a city. We both live in the country – in rural Somerset.   The whole team works remotely from our homes. Before that Helen lived in Bristol, and we have both lived in London and loved it! We each moved with our husbands out to the beautiful UK countryside as we had children, and now we enjoy both the countryside and escaping to the city when we can.

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What do you love most about your city as mamas?

I think we would both say our city (even though we don’t live there now!) is London – and it’s a truly wonderful place to take our children. We love to show them all the sights, take in the atmosphere, people watch, and just enjoy how crazy it all is. London is so beautiful with all its old buildings and parks, and there is always just so much going on. Covent Garden is a place both of us love to take our children – you can watch street performers, browse the markets, and enjoy café life too.

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What would be your top tips for a family day out for visitors to your city?

We would both recommend the London Eye as its such an awesome way to see all of London from on high, and then to take a boat trip down the River Thames – you can see so much from the river and its so much more peaceful than trying to see everything on foot. The trip from Westminster down to the Tower of London is awesome, and you see so many of the sights of London all in one go. We would also both recommend visiting the parks – St James’s park and Hyde Park are both beautiful, and are surrounded by the sights of London too – so a great place to sightsee but also be able to escape for a bit of a rest and green space with children to get away from the crowds.

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What are your favourite fashion stores for kids wear?

Our kids are outdoor kids so we both choose quite practical clothes for them, from stores like H&M or Gap. As our daughters are getting older they are deciding for themselves a bit more and so we spend a lot of time in Accessorize!

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What are your go-to mama stores for fashion and home?

Time is tight for both of us with running the business, so we both shop online mostly and use stores like Next, H&M and ASOS for most things. We both really enjoy shopping in boutiques when we have a chance. Sometimes when we are away with Cuddledry at an expo or a meeting, the two of us will sneak off and explore boutiques and have made some gorgeous purchases. Polly managed to buy a huge Moroccan lamp at one event, so travelling home with that was quite entertaining! We’ve also managed to find some lovely fashion items in little stores we would never otherwise have found, including one near St Pancras Station in London where we were meeting a French retailer from the Eurostar!

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What is your favourite holiday destination?

Somewhere warm and sunny with lots of fun activities for the whole family to share experiences and laugh a lot! We both enjoy France – Polly goes to the coast and Helen to the mountains –and this year each of us are taking our families to places where we can snorkel. Polly is going to Egypt and Helen to Corsica.

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Have you ever been to Dubai?

Polly stayed with a friend on a business trip – so sadly no children. However, my friend has children there and they seemed to enjoy lots of the usual activities children enjoy all over the world – swimming, karate, playparks and after school clubs and parties. There were lots of places for mums to go in malls to spend time out during a shopping spree. Or to leave their children in the soft play while they went shopping, which seemed a very good idea to me!

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Describe your parenting style in 3 words.

Kind, consistent, firm.

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How do you balance home and work life?

We both work between school hours. Once school is out, Cuddledry work if taken over by other responsibilities. Mobile smart phones help manage to keep up with work whilst outside of the office but must be left off where it’s important to have proper family time. In order to fit everything in, there is little time for yourself or any relaxation. Every minute of every day is filled – there is no wasted moment.

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