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Babies’ Needs Create Inventor Moms
Many moms come up with ideas for babies and young children. Those who decide to move ahead as inventors have always found the baby/young children market friendly to mom inventors because of a large number of baby boutiques across the country. Now the market has improved even more for mom inventors because of the social media connections among moms that can turn a popular product on social media into a commercial success. Once mom inventors build sales momentum in the baby market through baby boutiques or social media there is also a well- established sales rep network and a key trade show that can help inventors build sales and create companies through broader distribution opportunities.
Baby Boutiques – Sell Direct to Increase Profits
Lindsey Ebuen was a mom who worried about potential damage from her new baby’s long fingernails. She tried putting various mittens and socks on her baby’s hands and decided that nothing in the market really worked to guard against those long fingernails. Ebeun and her partner Lilui Yeo started their company GoumiKids in 2011 and they have tripled sales every year since its start up and its sales today are well over $500,000. Today the company has three product groups, mittens which sell at retail for $12.00, a hats and boots combination with a retail price of $16.00, and jammies which retail at $28.00 http://goumikids.com
Ebuen worked for a couple of years trying out new ideas before finalizing her design. Ebuen was a project manager for Intel and didn’t know which way to go when she was ready to introduce her product. While considering her options Ebuen visted her friend Yeo to see Yeo’s new baby. On the visit Ebuen talked about her idea for baby mittens. She told Yeo she wasn’t sure what to do next. Luckily for Ebuen, Yeo had worked in the women’s sportswear and footwear group at Nike and knew a great deal about how to commercializing a product. They agreed to a partnership and the company GoumiKids was formed.
With Yeo’s outsourcing experience on the team it didn’t take much time to finalize design and arrange for production. The founders tried for US production but found they couldn’t get the prices they needed for the market so they went overseas for production. Their original plan was to attend the industry’s leading trade show, the ABCKids Expo, in 2011 but their overseas shipment didn’t come in time. So they switched to plan B, selling direct to baby boutique stores. Ebeun went door to door, samples in hand, to every baby boutique in the Beaverton, OR area. They had a 100 % buy rate and the partners were ready to hit the market.
The Marketing Effort
Yeo did talk to some sales reps at first. But the reps weren’t interested in a one line company. Reps generally won’t carry a product unless they can make at least $5,000 to $10,000 a year. At 10% commission, that meant they needed sales in their area of $50,000 to $100,000 to meet their goals. GoumiKids at first only had the one product and there was no way to produce that level of sales results for most reps.
The partners decided instead to make up sales kits and send them out to baby boutiques. The partners dug up names of baby retailers around the country through local phone directories and Internet searches. They could have also used lists from leading trade magazines. Lists could be found or purchased from Baby Maternity Retailer www.babymaternityretailer.com/ or Baby and Children Product News, www.babyandchildrensproductnews.com.
Yeo prepared sales kits to be mailed out to all the boutiques. They included information about the product, highlights of their sales efforts to date, with an emphasis on stores that were carrying the product, and with an offer to send a sample to any store interested in carrying the product. Retailers started to buy once they requested a sample. By the time the 2012 ABCKids show came around, GoumiKids had over 100 buying retailers. Success breeds success, and with that firm customer base new retailers were willing to take on the product line.
One of the company considerations was selling to end users on their web site. Some retailers don’t like their suppliers selling on the Internet and undercutting the retailer’s price. GoumiKids decided to sell on line so they could have nationwide coverage, but it sells at suggested retail on its site and it also has a store locator on their site, which is the site’s most frequently visited page. A vast majority of GoumiKids sales are through retailers and the company directs sales inquiries to retailers when possible.
The company also launched an aggressive PR campaign to support their sales efforts. If you go to GoumiKids site you will find about 40 web sites or magazines that covered the GoumiKids product line. Yeo and Ebeun hired a PR firm recommended to them by an industry contact that sent out press releases with a set of pictures to create exposure. Yeo isn’t sure what impact the PR releases had, but she feels it helped create site visits and it was a big help in landing retailers.
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Social Media / Internet Success for Mom
Lisa Pinnell is a young mom whose success has all happened because of Social Media. Her company, Binxy Baby, started selling the first commercial version of the product in 2014 and its current version of her product in February 2015. Binxy Baby had sales of $250,000 in 2015 and Pinnell expects to sell $500,000 to $750,000 in 2016. All the sales have been from her web site, which she promotes on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
As is typical for most inventors Pinnell’s path to market had many hiccups before her social media strategy took hold.
Inspiration: In September 2008 Pinnell’s second child was born and she soon learned that taking two children, including one infant, to the grocery store was impossible. The baby needed to go down into the grocery cart itself, with child number one the shopping cart’s child safety seat area. The problem was there wasn’t any room for groceries. Pinnell thought the solution was a baby hammock that would hang across the shopping cart which sells on the Internet today for $49.95. http://binxybaby.com/products/shopping-cart-hammock
Development: Pinnell borrowed a shopping cart and started out experimenting with product design. She had to work when her children were sleeping so the project took longer than she expected. She took about two years to reach a design she was happy with. Once Pinnell had a solution in mind she hire a seamstress to produce two prototypes and she applied for a provisional patent. She started having friends from Church test her product idea and she received lots of positive reinforcement as well as some feedback about product improvements.
Manufacturing: Pinnell wasn’t able to get the costs low enough so she decided to explore Chinese manufacturing and hired a sourcing agency. Sending samples back and forth with the Chinese manufacturer to ensure the product was right took two years. Pinnell placed her first order for delivery in the fall of 2014.
Social Network Marketing
Pinnell’s unanticipated marketing plan started when she placed a photo of the product on her Facebook site. She had only a bare bones Bixny Baby web site set up at the time. One of her friends noted the picture and pinned it to Pinterest with a reference to her Facebook site. Then, while not quite going viral, the interest took off. People loved the picture of the baby in the hammock. Moms knew moms and suddenly many moms were seeing the picture.
Pinnell wasn’t set up at all for this traffic. But she moved fast. On her web site she set up an email list for people who wanted to know when the product was available. She also let people friend her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram so that when her product was ready she could let her network know
Pinnell placed her first order from China for delivery in the fall of 2014. About 6 weeks before delivery she started letting everyone know the product was coming either by email or by her postings of pictures on both Facebook and Instagram and let people place pre-orders on her site. She received over 600 pre-orders before the shipment arrived. She was also helped by being featured on a Steve Harvey show in the fall of 2014 right after the shipment came in. Within 30 days Pinnell sold out of her first order
Today Pinnell still markets through her pins on Pinterest and her Facebook and Instagram pages. Her favorite is Instagram. The only promotional program she runs is to team up with some other baby product inventors who sell primarily on Etsy.com, a site where many moms are sellers of handmade baby items. On one promotion Pinnell teams up with four other sellers of baby related products and they post a picture of all four of their products with, for example, a spring-give-a-way promotion. To be eligible for a prize they have to sign up to follow all four sellers. Pinnell mentions that this is a great way to get people to sign up to follow them or friend her site.
Pinnell has tried more traditional marketing, she attended the ABCKids show in 2014 with samples in a booth. She attracted some retailers but she has found that they just aren’t as profitable as selling online. The key, says Pinnell is that “when moms of infants see her product, they want to buy.”
Lisa Pinnell – 918-728-1429
Reps, the Other Option
Another baby and children market option is to attend key tradeshows and establish a rep network. Often you can pick up reps, small retailers and even large retailers at trade shows. Reps are frequently the best option for landing large retail chains. Inventors with strong products can also use this approach to launch products without going through baby boutiques or social networking.
ABC Kids Expo
The starting point for every mom (or other baby product inventor) thinking about introducing a new product should be the ABC Kids Expo. This show has sections for toys and games, clothes, furniture and, of most interest to mom inventors, a special section for Mompreneurs (mother-entrepreneurs). I typically recommend inventors attend this show before they actually introduce their own products. At the show inventors can:
See how products are displayed and priced.
Meet other inventors that have recently introduced products and get tips from them on finding reps and introducing products.
Possibly find another inventor who would be willing to partner in a joint marketing effort to cut costs.
Meet representatives that might be willing to sell the product. You can meet the reps just by going up to different booths and taking sales people’s cards, many will be reps, or by just talking to people at lunch and break tables.
Use Trade Magazines
The industry has several trade magazines, Baby Maternity Retailer www.babymaternityretailer.com/, Baby and Children Product News, www.babyandchildrensproductnews.com. Baby Shop Magazine, www.babyshopmagazine.com, which includes maternity products, and Playthings www.giftsanddec.com/channel/Playthings.php, which focuses on toys. The trade magazines will often have information on representatives–but its most important aspect are the new product sections. Those sections allow you to send away for literature from a wide variety of companies with complementary products. Often the literature will come with the names of representatives that are in your local area. You can meet with those representatives and if they like your product they will often give you tips on how to move forward.
One of the great benefits of the young children’s market is that almost every major city has several small shops where inventors can get their product started. The GoumiKids founders Lindsey Ebuen and Lili Yeo took this approach to start. Inventors will have an easier time putting together a rep network to sell their product nationally if they can first prove the product will sell at their local stores. Inventors must be fairly aggressive in marketing to local stores and keep their momentum going to interest sales reps. Typical tactics include offering products on consignment, where stores only pay for product if they sell it, or offering products on a guaranteed basis, where you agree to take back any unsold products and give a full refund.
Develop a List of Manufacturing Sales Agents
Most of the activities I have listed are to help you build up a list of representatives that you can approach to sell your product. You may only get one out of 20 reps to sign up to sell your product so you need a big list to start with. The trade shows and trade magazines will help, in some cases you can also check out local gift markets, see www.giftmarts.com. Often some of the reps within the marts will also carry children’s gifts and other children’s products. We have also posted a rep list with over 150 rep groups from One Stop Invention Shop on the Inventors Digest web site for readers use
Don Debelak is the founder of One Stop Invention Shop (www.onestopinventionshop.net) which offers marketing assistance and patents to inventors. Debelak is also the author of several well-known marketing books including Entrepreneur Magazines’ Bringing Your Product to Market. Dondebelak34@msn.com, 612-414-4118
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