This story first appeared in the Sunday edition of the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper.
NEW GLARUS — The business success stories are many in this northern Green County Swiss village.
Ruef's and Hoesly's are established meat markets and Jack Links has a large production facility in the industrial park.
Downtown, the New Glarus Bakery traces its roots to 1910, while atop a hill along Highway 69, New Glarus Brewing Co. this year will make more than 120,000 barrels of beer, further solidifying its role as one of the largest craft brewing companies in the country.
Now there's a business in this community of 2,174 focusing on the end product.
Nicki's Diapers started in Nicki Maynard's home on Madison's West Side in 2003 after she wanted to save money on diapers but realized there were few places to buy cloth diapers. Now she has a store on Madison's Far West Side and a new 9,000-square-foot building in New Glarus that houses offices, a warehouse and distribution center.
Even though the $500,000 New Glarus facility opened in December, Maynard, 34, and her husband Jesse, 36, say the building likely will be expanded in the fall.
"I thought it was a hobby that was getting out of hand," Jesse Maynard said of his wife. "Nicki doesn't say no and she doesn't take no for an answer. We just kept growing and growing."
What started as Nicki's Diapers, selling a variety of cloth brands, now includes the company's own line, Best Bottom Diapers, launched in 2009.
Next month, Maynard will begin selling her line of swim diapers.
Planet Wise, a second division created in 2008, sells the company's own line of bags in various sizes that can hold wet and dry diapers and snacks. It also sells nursing covers.
Bringing back cloth
Maynard's products are available on her own websites and in 800 online and brick-and-mortar stores around the country. Annual sales have topped $5 million.
"We're getting the word out that it's easy," Nicki Maynard said of using cloth diapers. "It's not like it used to be. You can save a ton of money and it's good for the environment."
Maynard sells the old-fashioned pre-fold diapers, fitted diapers and all-in-one cloth diapers that are similar to a disposables but can be rinsed and washed. There also are fleece pocket diapers that have washable cloth inserts.
But the company's biggest seller is the Best Bottom Diaper. The system uses a decorative waterproof shell with fun prints such as owls, cows and giraffes with cloth inserts that snap into place. When the insert is soiled, it is replaced with a clean insert unless the shell also is soiled.
The company recommends 8 to 10 shells at about $17 apiece and 18 to 24 inserts at about $4 each.
The diaper systems, designed by Maynard's team, are made at two factories, one in Illinois, the other "in a small town about an hour away in southern Wisconsin." She declined to name the vendor companies.
Maynard estimates her customers typically spend about $400 on their cloth diaper systems compared with the $2,000 they would spend on disposables.
Amber Zimmerman of Madison began using cloth diapers shortly after her son Cameron was born about a year ago. Her husband was looking for a way to save money.
"It's really not that hard," said Zimmerman, who was in cloth and pins when she was a baby in the early 1980s and has embraced the much-easier Best Bottom system. "It's incredible. (Nicki) knows what she's doing, obviously."
According to Richter Investment Consulting Services, which specializes in the diaper industry, cloth diapers were first mass produced in 1887 with disposables invented in the late 1940s. Pampers disposables were first test marketed in 1961 before being introduced nationally in 1964 to change the way babies were diapered.
About eight years ago, Maynard said one in 12 people would consider using cloth but that number is now at five to six out of 12.
"If we could do it, anyone could do it," said Maynard, who had three children in cloth diapers.
The entrepreneur grew up in Oconto and graduated from UW-Stevens Point with a double major in business administration and psychology and minors in accounting and finance.
She worked in annuities and equities at Sentry Insurance but moved to Madison with Jesse, who landed a job at a Middleton biotechnology company.
Because her husband had a good-paying job, Nicki didn't feel financial pressure to succeed immediately. The couple didn't take out loans for the first four years and the only business plan was in Nicki's head.
"We really grew out of nothing," Nicki said. "If somebody tells me it can't be done, I have to find a way to do it."
The couple and their children moved to New Glarus in 2005, but it didn't take long for the diaper business to outgrow their home.
In 2007, Jesse quit his job to work for Nicki and they moved the business into a 3,800-square-foot building that was expanded to 5,000 square feet six months later.
Their current facility, in the village's industrial park, largely was furnished by buying most of the office furniture and warehouse shelving from toy company Oompa Enterprises, which closed its 10,000-square-foot Madison warehouse last year. Buying used furnishings saved the Maynards about $100,000.
In the next five years, Nicki Maynard expects to more than double her staff of 25, launch new products and websites and enter other markets by finding new uses for some of their existing products such as dry and wet bags. She's considers diversification a way of ensuring the company's long-term success.
"Everything is really strategic," Maynard said. "It's like a money portfolio."
Nicki's mother, Virgie Hartman, a retired Oconto school teacher, now lives in New Glarus and works 20 to 30 hours a week on the websites and occasionally in the warehouse. She's hoping to reduce her hours to 10 to 15 a week and isn't surprised by her daughter's success.
"She's a very determined young lady. She has been since the day she was born," Hartman said. "She just has a good business head."