Winter 2006
Oh Baby! By Emily Lambert

Twin Reasons to Stock Baby

For women 35 to 39 years old, the birth rate from 2003 to 2004 rose 4 percent*. That's an important shift, because as more women wait to bear children, couples are likely to have more disposable income when they reach parenthood.

Baby boomers are becoming grandparents. Their grandchildren could be the beneficiaries of their enormous spending power—to the tune of $2 trillion a year**.

*National Center for Health Statistics
**The Boomer Project, Richmond, VA

Tapping Into The Market

Any parent will tell you that babies need “stuff”—lots of stuff. For example, they need blankets, diapers, bags to carry diapers, strollers, high chairs and car seats. Nothing new here, but what are new are the accessories themselves—their look, their feel, the “new” audience to which they cater. Today’s accessories focus on the parents, not the babies. After all, the parents are the ones toting the diaper bags, pushing the strollers and housing the high chairs. One more thing: These days, parents want products with function and fashion. They’re no longer content with yesterday’s styles; they want contemporary items that reflect their tastes and lifestyles. And—the best part—once they find them, they buy them.

Cha-ching! Parents with spending power

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, births to older women are on the rise. For women 35 to 39 years old, the birth rate from 2003 to 2004 rose 4 percent. That’s an important shift, because when women wait to bear children, they are likely to have more disposable income by the time they reach parenthood.

Not to mention, “. . . in earlier days, [parents] had multiple babies who had to share the love,” says Michael Silverstein, senior vice president of The Boston Consulting Group in Chicago, and co-author of Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer. “The decline in family size [and] the age of parents have increased available per capita spending to a very high rate.”

Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, found further proof of parents’ spending power. It found that estimated U.S. retail sales of infant, toddler and preschooler home furnishings (such as cribs and bedding) and accessories (portable products like strollers and car seats) surpassed $8 billion in 2005, a 5.2 percent increase over the prior year. This category is expected to exceed $8.9 billion by 2010.

Boom time

It’s not just the parents who are spending on baby gear. The nation’s biggest population segment—the baby boomers—are becoming grandparents. In January 2006, The Boomer Project, a Richmond, VA-based research firm, estimated boomers’ spending power at $2 trillion a year. Grandparents play a key role in the luxury trend.

“The current baby boomer generation has disposable income and shares the thoughts of the parents. That is, they want the best for the child. . . . Grandparents have not changed. They still come bearing gifts and they are not afraid to spend,” says Michael Russo, president of the Gift Association of America in Johnstown, PA.

“Parents waiting to have children, spills over to the grandparents who have been waiting longer. They too have amassed wealth,” says Alison Bates, vice president of the distributor Kastel International in West Orange, NJ. Baby gear is a huge gift category, because when it comes to babies, there is always a reason to buy: baby showers, the birth itself, birthdays and—when you think about it—every other day. When there’s a baby on the scene, people want to celebrate. Gift stores with unique offerings can cater to all of these occasions. The questions that remain: What kind of baby gear do people purchase? And why?

Swaddling baby in luxury

For one thing, luxury is in. “The new luxury items give parents a kick. . . They look for a product that has technical [and] functional benefits, better raw materials [and a] more elegant design. That ladders into emotional benefits,” Silverstein says.

The “new luxury items” that he refers to are everywhere. Amy Chezem, communications director for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a national trade organization in Mount Laurel, NJ, says many manufacturers are coming out with high-end luxury lines.

A perfect example is the luxury line of prams, or baby carriages, from Inglesina, a company headquartered in Vicenza, Italy. Inglesina’s “Classic” pram is built from wood, with hand-painted porcelain medallions on the sides, and curtains made of real lace. Recommended retail prices range from $780 to $820. Why do parents aspire to have such a stroller when they could easily get one at Babies “R” Us for a fraction of the cost?

“Parents see the stroller, as well as other items, as an extension of themselves,” says Bates, whose company distributes Inglesina products.

The Packaged Facts report also found this to be true, stating: “A child’s stroller or car seat or bed is one more opportunity to flaunt style and lifestyle.”

Hollywood has given birth

Just who is setting the trend in luxury baby goods? As in many other areas, it’s Hollywood! In case you haven’t noticed, Hollywood is in the throes of a baby boom. Stars and their offspring are splashed across cover after cover of magazines, and have become favorite feature stories on television. Who hasn’t heard of baby Shiloh Nouvel by now? (She’s Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s much-publicized creation, in case you haven’t.) There’s even a Celebrity Baby Blog, covering everything from Shiloh’s new crib to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner sharing a family moment with their baby, Violet. The point is—we love our movie stars. We follow what they do, where they go, what they eat and, these days, what strollers they use to push their babies. And with so many stars having babies on the Hollywood scene, parenting and its accoutrements are getting a lot of press.

“[Movie stars] have brought pregnancy out of the closet. It’s all part of this whole new lifestyle. People are embracing their pregnancies and their motherhood. The bar has been raised,” says Julia Beck, founder of Forty Weeks in New York City and consultant to Petunia Pickle Bottom, a wholesaler of diaper bags for chic mommies including Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields and Julia Roberts. These aren’t just any diaper bags; they’re contemporary, sleek designs with an array of colors and fashionable prints, like retro flowers and Asian brocades. No Winnie the Pooh here.

And Petunia Pickle Bottom isn’t the only diaper bag company gaining fame from selling to celebrities. Jolie sports StorkSak’s Gigi bag, made of nylon satin trimmed in leather. In addition to holding diapers—which you’d never guess these bags do, by the looks of them—they accommodate cell phones and laptops, and come equipped with thermo-insulated bottle holders, changing mats, key-ring clips, mirrors and plenty of places to hold all the parenting necessities. Too many separate pockets can drive you crazy, but not enough and you can’t access what you need when you need it, says Melanie Marshall, co-owner of StorkSak, which has its headquarters in the United Kingdom.

Don’t forget the dads. Hollywood dads and their diaper bags are also drawing attention. Pitt, for example, has been seen donning StorkSak’s Jamie bag.

Chris Pegula, a father of three, saw a need for diaper bags that dads could tote in style. So he founded Diaper Dude in Los Angeles. Celebrity dads like Ben Stiller, Eric McCormack and Matthew Broderick have been spotted toting Diaper Dudes, which feature camouflage patterns, dragons or peace symbols, and use sophisticated fabrics like faux suede. Then there’s the Diaper Vest, which eliminates the diaper bag for dads altogether. Made by DadGear, a company based in Denver, CO, the vest has pockets to carry diapers and wipes and other baby essentials.

Another jet-set, fashion-inspired way to carry diapers and wipes can be found with the invention of Diapees & Wipees, by Christina Rein in Flower Mound, TX. With retro and contemporary patterns, these smaller bags conceal two to four diapers and a travel pack of wipes, for shorter trips when you only need the essentials. Some customers also use them in larger diaper bags to prevent diapers from bunching up. The stars are in on this action, too. People magazine recently called Diapees & Wipees a celebrity mom must-have.

One note of caution: Movie stars may help sell products at first, but it’s quality that will see them through. Retailer Jennifer StromSimonte, owner of Belly Dance Maternity in New York City, caters to many customers who come in search of the “Angelina Bag”—StorkSak’s Gigi. In fact, the store immediately sold out of its first shipment.” [But] people tend to forget those things [the celebrity affiliations]. I think we’ll see how [the bag] does now,” she says, with shipment number two in stock.

The future is now:
Product innovations

The modern world in which we live is fast-paced, and innovation is the name of the game. Skip Hop, a baby gear company based in New York City, describes the new age of parenting as one “Where baby photos are blogged, birth announcements are sent via BlackBerry and lullabies live on iPods.”

“. . . the [product] changes are enormous in a matter of years,” says Sandy Jones, co-author of the Great Expectations series—including a gear guide, to be released in 2007—and partner in Jones & Daughter, a consulting firm for the baby products industry. “Products have become more sophisticated and laden with bells and whistles. Strollers have morphed from huge, heavy contraptions into very sleek, multi-component systems that are really quite remarkable,” Jones says.

“The march of technology is relentless, and will continue to stimulate sales of ITP [infant, toddler and preschooler] furnishings/accessories in the coming years,” reports Packaged Facts.

For example, Inglesina’s flagship stroller has a folding mechanism that can be operated using only one hand. Fold it up, climb into the cab—stroller in one hand, baby in the other—get out and pop it back open. Compact products make it easier for parents with mobile lifestyles. As Bates says, “[Today’s parents] take the baby and they go.”

A stroller is an example of a big-ticket item, but innovations are also being noted with products as simple as baby blankets. “They’re not the same old, same old, throw them in the car. Baby blankets today keep [babies] busy with visual stimulation and tactile stimulation,” says Jamie Wingert, owner/designer of Kid Kouture in Elkader, IA. Blankets come in many textures, some trimmed in tabs for fun fingering. PetuniaPetunia, located in Conestoga, PA, offers blankets that are equally tactile-friendly, such as the Loopi—with small loops all around for tiny fingers—and the Squish—a synthetic “stretchy, bumpy, lumpy” blanket.

Even the traditional colors of baby blue and pink are getting a new spin. Parents today want colors with punch, says Alessandra Lopez-Kiely, founder, designer and owner of PetuniaPetunia. “They want to reflect the solid colors in their house,” she says. In addition to blankets (and other bed linens), PetuniaPetunia offers a line of hand-knit accessories including mobiles,crocheted hats and tooth-fairy pillows in cheerful, “punchy” colors like aqua blue, lime green and vibrant pink.

Home decor: No plastic high chairs need apply

With all these changes, it’s no wonder the baby’s room doesn’t look the same. “The baby’s room used to be wicker and bleached-out wood; now it’s clean lines and colors. Parents are trying to integrate the baby’s room into the rest of the house,” says Ellen Diamant, co-owner and creative director of Skip Hop. In other words, she says, “Modern design is a huge trend.”

This theory extends to the rest of the house, as well. Baby items need to blend with what’s already in place. “You want to touch the parents’ tastes, not change the parents’ tastes because they had children,” says Diamant, who has expanded Skip Hop’s diaper bag line into diaper caddies, bottle drying racks and baby food organizers to meet this demand. These items all have a modern air, with bright colors and contemporary, functional designs.

Skip Hop offers small, simple items that most gift store retailers can easily showcase. But what about other home decor, like furniture? Should you carry it? “First, be aware that baby furniture eats up an enormous amount of floor and storeroom space. Plus, parents are reluctant to backorder, and furniture companies [are] notorious for slow delivery,” Jones warns.

That said, there are smaller furniture offerings, like Svan of Sweden’s high chair, in sleek designs that take up little space. Because Svan offers four, soon to be five, wood finishes, and nine seat colors, customers can easily blend the high chairs into their homes. The average retail price point ($234.95, cushions sold separately) may be hard to swallow for some customers, but the chair is intended to grow with the child from 6 months to 4 to 5 years old, and later the tray can be removed and attached to a regular dining table. “It’s an investment,” says Erin Lane, marketing communications manager for Scandinavian Child, in Raleigh, NC, importer of Svan products.

If you don’t have the room to stock larger items, “Creative night lights, decorative mini flower pots, bright and colorful wall art and a variety of picture-frame styles are very popular. These categories are great for shops who cannot offer furniture,” Russo says.

GUND’s newly introduced, coordinated nursery line, babyGUND, includes just these sorts of products: frames, personalized banks, mobiles and night lights. “More and more parents want to coordinate their nursery, and we like to make a one-stop shop for the consumers,” says Shallu Chhabra, marketing and licensing manager for GUND in Edison, NJ. That means, for example, that GUND’s traditional plush bear can be coordinated with a frame, a growth chart and a mobile, because the same bear is replicated on each product. Because they already come gift-packed with a gift tag attached, these items make ideal gifts for boomers who want a gift-to-go, Chhabra says.

Whether it’s a growth chart, a high chair, a diaper bag or a blanket, baby gear is a category that will never go out of style. There will always be babies. There will always be gear. But especially now, with stars spawning their own creations and copycat parents with disposable incomes ready to spoil their little ones, upscale baby gear is an important focus for any gift store catering to new parents, their extended families and friends. Silverstein sums it up succinctly:

“This is a long-term trend. And it self-perpetuates. Success breeds imitation and new ideas. It’s an exciting time to be in the [baby] gifting business.”

Emily Lambert

Lambert, a regular writer for GIFT SHOP, resides in Philadelphia. She can be reached at emilylambert@comcast.net.




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