From diapers to cribs, clothing to bottles, strollers to car seats, bringing up baby is big business — about a $23 billion industry.
And one Colorado Springs entrepreneur is seeking his share of that very large pie.
Jim Holley, CEO of Sentry Baby Products, believes he has an innovation that will bring in between $10 million and $20 million, once he starts selling it in the United States.
He calls them “guard-imals” — a cross between “guards” and “animals” — infant and toddler car seats that have a machine-washable plush cover, can transform from a three-point harness for young toddlers all the way to a booster seat for older children.
“It looks like a plush animal, which children love,” he said. “And the four designs we’ve chosen have universal appeal around the globe.”
The car seats are designed to look like teddy bears or monkeys, dogs or tigers. The seats can transition with the child, which means parents spend less money on car seats and boosters.
Production starts in May, and he expects to begin the process to sell the product in the United States this summer.
“That’s more expensive,” Holley said. “There are crash tests, but we can do those in Europe to save money and then get the tests certified here.”
But once the product is ready for the U.S. market, that’s when the company will see if it will be successful.
“I own the intellectual property,” he said. “I designed the seat to come apart, to transition. It fills a gap in the market right now.”
Holley didn’t start out as an entrepreneur. He was an aerospace engineer by training, working for Boeing in Denver and Seattle. But he grew bored with the job and wanted to try working for himself.
The journey from engineer to business owner brought him to the Springs.
“I’d worked in Denver and we loved Colorado,” he said. “When I was starting my own business, I knew it could be anywhere. We chose Colorado Springs because it’s family-friendly, close to the mountains, absolutely beautiful. And it’s close enough to access Denver if we want to.”
His entrepreneurial bent coincided with the birth of his first daughter — and his ideas seemed to focus on products to make life with baby easier.
“You know, it can be difficult taking a baby out — how do you deal with the formula?” Holley said. “You either have to keep it cold and then heat it up, or find some way to mix the powder. I decided to fix that.”
He created a bottle that would hold powdered formula at the top and water underneath. When parents were out with the baby, they just had to mix the two to create fresh formula.
The design, which Holley holds the patent on, was a hit. He went on to make other baby products for the company, he said.
He sold the business to move on to something new — Sentry Baby Products.
It wasn’t easy, starting a business with nothing but a few ideas, some capital and a knack for invention. There were some tough times along the way, Holley said.
New entrepreneurs should stick to what they know, he said.
“Stay with something you know something about,” he said. “Realize that every market is unique and there’s a huge, long learning curve. Things are going to take time.”
Holley said that he felt some entrepreneurs start with a great idea, but no market research to back that up — and no way to turn the idea into something bigger.
“You’re not going to come up with an idea and then be rich,” he said. “There’s a lot of work before that happens. An idea isn’t worth much. Proving out that idea is where the profit is.”
Holley holds 20 patents for his products, but not all his ideas are deemed patentable.
“My patent attorney is someone I’ve known since elementary school. We were college roommates,” he said. “So he isn’t afraid to tell me, ‘No, that won’t sell. Don’t even bother.’”
Creating an international business is multi-faceted, time-consuming and ultimately expensive — especially with baby products that must be tested and proven safe before going on the market.
“I have the networks already in place because I’ve worked in the industry before,” he said. “So really it is just a matter of manufacturing and distribution. The manufacturers will ship to the distributors and they’ll sell it to retailers.“
That’s essentially shuffling paperwork for the European market, he said.
“It’s easier to start overseas, if you have the network in place,” he said. “So this summer, we’ll start to take it to the U.S. with a $99 price point. That’s where the expense comes in.”
Holley believes his car seats will compete easily with baby-product giants like Graco, because they easily transition as children grow and also because they aren’t tied to Disney or other products.
“There’s no licensing a likeness,” he said. “These four designs are our own, so we don’t have to pay fees and we won’t get into a bidding war with other companies. The goal is to create a car seat that looks like the child’s plush animals, so they want to sit in it — it’s not a struggle.”
It’s clear that Holley isn’t finished inventing. He’s still working on other products and designs for the company.
“I like coming up with solutions,” he said. “It’s where I get to combine my engineering training with entrepreneurism.”
Sentry Baby Products
Year founded: 2015
Contact: 331-4303 or