Jennifer Graham, Cuddle Clones, The Story ExchangeYour Name: Jennifer Graham

Business Name: Cuddle Clones, a service that creates plush versions of people’s pets

Type of Business: E-Commerce

Business Location: Louisville, Kentucky, United States

Twitter @cuddleclones

Reason for starting
I’m the type of person who has a new business idea every day and have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. One day, while resting my head on my Great Dane, Rufus and talking about some random topic, I had that idea that I should have a life-size plush version of Rufus. I logged the idea into my journal, where it rested for several years. Fast forward about 5 years and the idea surfaced again in my Entrepreneurship MBA program at the University of Louisville. Cuddle Clones kept coming back as an idea that both myself and my team were passionate about and that we believed we could make happen. After winning a few business plan competitions, Cuddle Clones became a reality.

How do you define success?
Success for us means that we have gotten over the initial challenges of starting the business and can now concentrate on growth. Getting to the point where we can actively market our products without worrying about meeting quality standards will be a big day for us. Reading our customers’ stories is one of the best parts of our day. From a customer telling us that he practically attacked the UPS man when his Cuddle Clone arrived to another telling us that we have made her year by helping her cope with the loss of her dog is one of the best ways to measure our success.

Biggest Success
Our biggest success to date is proving that a market exists for our products. We haven’t been advertising at all up to this point but people are still finding us and wanting to buy a plush version of their pet. From sending someone a Cuddle Clone to hug to cope with the loss of their pet to sending a teenager off to college with a plush version of their best friend, we really are creating big smiles. As pet lovers ourselves, it makes us happy knowing that our customers are happy.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Our top challenge is manufacturing a high-quality product. From the procurement of premium acrylic plush materials to finding top plush designers, our road has definitely been uphill. We have worked with several consultants, some good, some bad, to help us find a manufacturing solution. We tried finding a third party factory to take on our business model (making one custom plush animal at a time) but it’s extremely different than what they’re accustomed to. We finally decided to just go for it and open up our own manufacturing workshop. We now have 7 employees at the workshop, which opened in March 2013. We are trying to get them to understand the high quality design needed for our products and to build up a large inventory of plush materials.

Who is your most important role model?
I would say my father is my most important role model. He came from a blue collar family in Illinois and has always pushed me to be the best that I can be. My dad made me save half the money I ever earned for college and I don’t know how many hours we spent studying for spelling bees when I was younger! I was definitely a tomboy – I played three sports in high school and have always been extremely independent. I will give credit to my dad for helping me to become an entrepreneurial success.