Building a better kids mat leads parents into business

Jan. 21, 2020

Parental frustration led a Sioux Falls couple into entrepreneurship as they tried to build a better sleeping mat for their kids.

After receiving yet another note that their daughter’s plastic foam mat had to be replaced at preschool, inspiration struck for Katie Riley and her husband, Dan.

“It just seemed like we’d literally bought it. Right within that moment, we said: ‘Maybe that’s a product. Maybe we can make a better one,’ ” Riley said.

They wanted a product more durable than the limited options on the market, which mostly are foam folding mats covered in plastic, she said. It also was important to be able to clean the product.

“We both always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “It’s just a matter of finding what’s going to get us there and what it’s going to take.”

That was about a year ago. As for figuring out how to create the product? The Sioux Falls couple turned to the internet.

Through a podcast focused on e-commerce businesses, they connected with a sourcing agent in China.

“It’s a middleman who can translate for you and knows the area and knows manufacturers.”

In this case, their sourcing agent was a woman who was able to get 30 prototypes sent to the Rileys, who evaluated thickness, colors and products from two manufacturers before making a decision.

They went with a teal, 1-inch-thick, vinyl foam mat, got help from a friend locally with a logo, and Tough Tot LLC was born.

“It’s a super durable foam,” said Riley, who tested multiple mats for months in her basement and the back seat of her car. Even with her dogs lying on them, “they will get indentation, but they fade out and go away over time.”

The mats are designed for kids age 2 through 6 and aren’t meant for younger children.

Riley estimates the family invested less than $20,000 to get the business up and running. She is leading the company while working part time in retail. Her husband works full time in analytics.

All marketing so far has been on social media and through word of mouth. After initial interest, they doubled their initial order and manufactured 1,000 Tough Tot Mats. And after just a week, they’re starting to sell. The cost is $40 plus $5 to ship.

“The local support has been great, whether it’s my friends or family members or people I work with, our clients from work,” Riley said. “My son has rest time at kindergarten, and we have sent it, and he loves it.”

For now, the third stall of their garage is doubling as their warehouse.

“Initially, we had really been set on selling on Amazon, and that’s definitely a possibility in the future, but we really wanted to learn every aspect of our business before handing it off to someone else,” Riley said.

“That means shipping and knowing how they come and how they should be packaged, and the other part is Amazon’s fees just went up, and our margin is higher doing it ourselves.”

They will consider using the e-commerce giant in the future and also would consider selling their product with local retailers, she said, adding the mat might be just the start of their business.

“We have a few ideas up our sleeve,” Riley said.

To learn more about Tough Tot Mat and place an order, click here. 


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Building a better kids mat leads parents into business

Parental frustration led a Sioux Falls couple into entrepreneurship as they tried to build a better sleeping mat for their kids.

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