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From midwife to rocking toy artisan – the story behind children’s rocking toys and Nobsi

The location of the Nobsi family is located in Estonia, Harju county Raasiku vicinity in a small and cute town Aruküla. The below interview has been carried out with entrepreneurial mother Anna-Liisa Miilits, who has created a new local brand “Nobsi”. The wooden rocking toys with an eye-catching design help towards development and is increasingly popular. We will find out how they have reached their success story in such a short time

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How did you get an idea to start making wooden rocking toys for children?

I basically got the idea out of nowhere. One day I saw a random wooden rocking toy on the internet I saw that it had great potential, however, the finishing was quite clumsy and uninspiring for me. As I have experience in decorating wood and restoring the furniture, I started brainstorming immediately. I started to fantasize what kind of rocking toy I would like to make for my children and how it should look. I also made initial sketches on paper – at first, I had an idea that the rocking toy should be an animal. I also made first prototypes, tested the rocking toys with children and carried out several changes, in order to make sure the rocking toy is safe and at the same time practical and appealing. “BIRDIE” and “JUMBO” were made through testing. I have tried new challenges before, but this time my gut instinct and motivation were completely different. I trusted my intuition and told my husband, that from now on we will start producing rocking toys.

We have three boys at the age of 6 months, 2 yrs. and 8 yrs., and we saw immediately how children in different ages use the toy. The older boy uses it for rocking and different balancing exercises and the younger one is trying to copy him. The versatility of the rocking toy is what makes it so appealing for me. It can also be used for climbing, sliding and as a tunnel. By placing it on the side, it is great for playing a shop or café. The creativity of children is endless! Our main aim is to make rocking toys from the heart, which would help towards a healthy development of the child.  

Author Anna-Liisa Miilits and little Samuel. Photo: Evelin Talvar

What is your background? Have you tried anything entrepreneurial before?

I am originally from Rapla county and after high school, I started studying singing at the pop-jazz music department of Viljandi Kultuuriakadeemia. However, I didn’t choose the musician life and came to a conclusion, that I would like to do something more practical. Biology and medicine have fascinated me my entire life. I made a complete twist and went to study midwifery. Since graduating from the university, I have been loyal to this profession and worked as Midwife at Ida-Tallinna Keskhaigla. Entrepreneurship is something completely new for me.

Did anything come as a surprise for you as a new entrepreneur? Unexpected difficulties? Something you couldn’t foresee?

I have always looked at entrepreneurs with great respect and presumed that they have a great advantage compared to employment – you are in charge of your own time. In reality, I couldn’t imagine that as an entrepreneur, I don’t know how to take a break from working. I always have different ideas (how to prepare my products more efficiently, how to market them, how to find a consumer…?). Even when carrying out normal house duties, I am looking for answers subconsciously. I always keep in mind that nobody will give me an answer to these questions. The sustainability and success of the business depend on your own steps. At the moment, I am on maternity leave, I have a 8-year-old, 2-year-old and a 6-months-old boy.

I have to admit that it has been quite difficult next to three small children. I have to find time to make rocking toys next to house duties and children. I have jokingly laughed at myself, that even if I get a small lunch nap then I leave the room and start running aimlessly from one place to another. It seems that there’s a lot to do – starting from laundry to painting the rocking toy slits. Where to begin? I have actually only reached today’s existence of “Kiigesellid” thanks to my husband’s support and help. Through time, we have developed our own allocation of work which makes the process smoother.

Rocking Toy JUMBO WHITE

What would you recommend others who have an idea but haven’t implemented it?

The entire task seemed completely impossible for me at the beginning and I was afraid whether I could do this or not. I tried to gather thoughts and understand where to begin. Where to find the right material? What are the appropriate finishing materials? At first, you will have a million unanswered questions. Don’t overthink, just start looking for contacts on internet step by step, make calls, send emails… Slowly you will collect information and move on. It definitely helps to have a principle that at first, you will have to make a product that makes you happy as a user and then selling it will give you great satisfaction. When things get more intense, it makes me calm to see my boys playing with the rocking toys and know that it is a fantastic venture.

What kind of materials and finishing products do you use?

The rocking toy has been made with damp-proof birch plywood which is aimed for indoor use, it is one of the touches plywood types. For finishing, I use special water-based colours that have appropriate certifications for using on toys.
rocking toy birdie black
Rocking Toy BIRDIE BLACK. Photo: Mari-Liis Nellis

What has been the interest in rocking toys? Are there any popular models

The interest towards rocking toys increases and at the moment, our customers are mostly young, trendy mothers, who are familiar with online stores and Montessor/Waldorf theme. Many mothers and foremost grandmothers are not even aware of Kiigesellid rocking toys to look for them for their children or grandchildren, because this type of arched floor rocking toy is not very common in Estonia.

All Kiigesellid rocking toys are using nice child-friendly tones, but I could say that there is a little preference for the rainbow-coloured Papagoi rocking toys. We always bring new colour solutions and for example, we recently made a prize draw for stylish Suitsupääsukese rocking toy. People have sent us a lot of positive feedback for it.

How does your company’s allocation of work look like?

The secret behind a successful start-up is a functioning allocation of work. We have also developed our own system; we both have our own main tasks. My main tasks are finishing the rocking toys and communicating with clients. My husband keeps an eye on material stocks, assembles the rocking toys and when necessary, carries out courier tasks. Collaboration is very important in our family, as there’s no other way next to small children. Sometimes it does make me smirk when children are asleep and we are both awake – one communicating with clients on the computer and other one packaging the rocking toys. It’s a really homely organisation!

How do you find time to prepare the rocking toys next to small children?

I have to admit, that every minute counts and sometimes it is not enough. It is hands-on work and producing rocking toys is slow with a long finishing process. I have sometimes worked when sacrificing sleep, but the next day I immediately realise that I haven’t done myself any favours. Sometimes when I have a lot of work to do then I deliberately take time off to remind myself that I cannot jump over my own shadow. I think about what is the most important and start doing everything in order. I console myself with the fact that it is positive stress which will definitely get better over time when children are more independent.

What are the future plans for Kiigesellid? Are you going to take over foreign markets?

At the moment, we try to establish ourselves in Estonia. We have to make a lot of awareness-raising in order to introduce the Nobsi production to people. We have been to some fairs in summer in order to give people a chance to see the rocking toys with their own eyes and to test them out. Expanding our activity to international markets is definitely a future goal for us, but everything has its own time.

Rocking Toy BIRDIE WHITE. Photo: Pärnu Fotostuudio

If someone would like to use their own design or colours, then do you offer such a possibility?

Yes, we have made different colour solutions to our clients and we have a lot of ideas ourselves for making additions to existing colours. At the moment, we don’t have a chance to bring a lot of these ideas to life but our plan is to bring more models into the product selection. Our goal is to ensure that the customer could find a suitable rocking toy from an existing collection. Our Facebook page and website give the best overview of our products and an opportunity to ask any questions: fb.me/mynobsi and at the webpage: mynobsi.com/contact/

Let Your Childs Joy Fly!