Spring 2014
Baby is Big By Heather Johnson Durocher

A timeless category for gift stores, baby continues its heavy growth spurt with new product introductions.

Alyssa Tierney is a big believer in shops carrying, at the very least, a few great baby gifts. “Baby is huge,” Tierney, owner of Monograms off Madison in New York, NY, says of the product category. “They’re fun, celebratory items that make people happy. Every store should have some.”

At Monograms off Madison, baby items are about 20 percent of the store’s made-to-order offerings—“stitch-able, engrave-able items,” as Tierney describes them. An especially popular brand for the store is Mint, which creates a variety of baby gift items in classic colors and styles such as seersucker, gingham and corduroy. Mint’s Snack Square, an insulated cooler of sorts available in grey, hot pink and chocolate gingham, is ideal for parents of babies and toddlers, Tierney says. “They’re great for a small bottle and a snack,” she says. “We’re putting the child’s name on it, and I definitely have customers who come in and say, ‘I got one for a gift and I want to give one to my friend.’”

Jane3Indeed, baby gift items are big sellers, with personalization of such products one of the trends within the category. From traditional baby gear including diaper bags, bibs, booties, bedding and clothing, to plush animals, books and toys, the kinds of baby items available are practically endless—and continue to be in high demand.

Sales of infant and preschool toys alone totaled $3.82 billion in 2012, a five percent increase from 2011, according to the Toy Industry Association, a New York City-based not-for-profit trade association representing all businesses involved in creating and bringing toys and youth entertainment products to kids of all ages.

The baby product category is expansive, but industry leaders suggest focusing on a few key items to ensure strong sales of these products in your store. Adrienne Appell, a toy trend specialist for the Toy Industry Association, offers these as top trends to consider: educational items; building and construction toys; plush items; and those with a nostalgic/retro feel. Functional and stylish products also are big. Here’s a closer look at some of these trends (plus products that are available for each):

Learning + discovering

MommasJewels1“Parents’ desire to make playtime fun, entertaining and educational really starts at birth,” says Appell, who has a young child herself. “Toys that have the ability to grow with your child—that’s going to enhance the value of the product. And it’s also really fun to watch how your child is progressing and evolving and playing with that toy differently as they’re crawling, standing and then walking.”

These products could include stuffed animals that make sounds. “The baby realizes their actions cause a reaction,” Appell says. CR Gibson, a Nashville, TN-based manufacturer known for its commemorative gift items, also has a line of baby and kid products that encourage learning.

“There’s a lot of interaction between parents and their children,” Lisa DiCostanzo, specialty division vice president, says of CR Gibson’s assortment of board books, keepsake coloring books and puzzles, among other items. “They are things they can do together as well as by themselves.” A favorite product is the My First Mother Goose board book, retailing for $14, DiCostanzo says. “It has tabs on the side so it makes it very easy for the child to turn the pages,” she says. “They can do it themselves or they can read along with mom and dad … There’s something to be said for that classic interaction—the tactile experience of touching books and playing with toys and books. It’s very traditional.” All items are gift packaged in colorful boxes, too, she says. “The packaging element really makes it an attractive gift piece,” she says.

Soft & soothing

Rashti-Carters-MusicalBearLearning and discovery can happen at bedtime as well, thanks to plush baby products that combine engagement with soothing elements. One such example: the Musical Cuddle Bear, part of Carter’s Sleep Soothing Solutions line created under license by New York, NY manufacturer Rashti & Rashti. It retails for about $20, and includes a security blanket.

“Each plush character features one or more interactive elements such as musical melodies, soothing sounds, nightlights and light projection to engage and comfort baby,” says Danielle Signorelli, media and communications director for Rashti & Rashti. “The plush characters are soft and soothing for babies.”

Other items in the collection include Night Light Soothers, which retail for $26 and play 16 different melodies and have a soft glowing belly synchronized with the music. A larger item—featuring a light projector for the ceiling, four different nursery rhyme melodies and four soothing nature sounds—retails between $45-$50.

Plush animals are always well-received gifts, says Appell, of the Toy Industry Association. “It’s a toy that’s evergreen. It’s cute and cuddly and it’s something that will go along with a gift, like an outfit,” she says.

Baby feet and softness also go hand-in-hand, and Portland, OR company Solmate Socks offer a colorful and cozy baby gift option. “I think socks are a fun, colorful gift that people gravitate toward because they know people will use socks—specifically when it comes to infant socks. It makes a great baby shower gift,” says Lisa Flood, marketing director for Solmate Socks. “It’s not just another onesie that a lot of parents get. It’s different, but very functional and usable.” Solmate Socks is known for its multi-patterned and colorful mismatched socks, all of which are made from recycled cotton yarn.

Displaying these items in your store can be fun, too. Solmate Socks offers display pieces—a tabletop unit that holds socks in an upright position, for example—as well as signage. Displaying them in a clean, organized way is helpful, and the socks’ tags have given some shop owners the idea of stringing pairs from a clothesline-style display. “Stores tell me that works really well,” Flood says.

Baby gear with purpose

SozoUSA2Baby items need to be functional, of course, and those with a flair for personal style also are popular among gift givers. The newest designs for Babee Covee, a convertible baby blanket and cover, include the color combinations of turquoise and “toasted almond,” and yellow and “platinum gray.”

“What has sold the quickest are the prints and colors that are [geared toward] boy/girl—that’s why I went with these particular ones,” says Alma Moussa, of Pleasanton, CA, who is the creator of Babee Covee, a 6-in-1 convertible baby blanket. The product, which retails for $39.99 to $49.99, can be used as a car seat “tent” cover, stroller cover/blanket, shopping card cover, high chair cover, nursing cover, and playtime blanket.

“It’s the simplicity,” Moussa, mom of two, says of the product’s allure. “Instead of having an overflowing diaper bag, you have these six products that is basically one product. It eliminates the need to buy, pack and carry bulky single purpose items while protecting your baby or toddler from germs wherever you go.” In response to customers’ requests, Moussa recently added a new feature to the product: a sewn-on tag that provides illustrations of each way the Babee Covee may be used.

Timeless & long-lasting

Baby gifts that can become keepsakes are smart items for your shop. Consider Mint’s traditional styles that stand the test of time, says Christi Chittim, president of the Boerne, TX company that makes over 250 items for personalization like backpacks, lunch boxes, snack squares, nap mats, spa wraps, dog collars, baby boxers and art smocks.

“We’re kind of like a blank canvas—we make everything for other people to embellish,” Chittim says. “We do seersucker and nylon and corduroy and very traditional fabrics that our customers embroider and applique and personalize.” In the baby category, Mint’s baby bloomers and boxers “have done extremely well,” she says. “They’re a newborn gift and they also double as a swim diaper cover-up,” she says. “We have other items that can sell with them—we have burp cloths and diaper bags with the baby bottle holder.”

You personalize these items for your customers, or sell them as is: “They are still cute,” Chittim says. The baby bloomers, sold embroidered, typically retail between $15-$18 a piece. Mint products range in retail price from $5 to $55. Customers especially like the classic look and feel of Mint’s products, Chittim says.

“The seersucker is timeless, it seems, and I think it’s appealing as a trend as a traditional fabric,” she says. “You can’t go wrong with something like seersucker or corduroy. It’s timeless and adding the initials or a name or cute design allows them to keep it for a long time or pass it down. It’s a good gift and a good investment.”

Jacaranda Living, a Wellesley, MA company, also makes classic and timeless baby items including pillows, quilts, baby layettes and bibs. “Our products are the sort of things you’d want to give to the next sibling or cousin or even pass down from one generation to another,” says Cathy Deale, founder and owner of Jacaranda Living. Deale suggests stocking your store with basic baby gifts such as bibs, booties and hats.

“It’s an easy purchase in a gift store—all babies need little booties and a matching hat,” she says. “It’s easy for a store on a limited budget and space for a baby section to start with that, before you start with blankets and other things.”

“I can’t tell you how often I hear from stores that they have a small baby section and it does so well,” Deale says. “When one is going shopping for a gift for a precious baby, a relative or for a friend, you want something special. You don’t want something out of a big-box store. The smaller independent stores can do that—have gifts that are creative and unique and tasteful and there’s a story behind them.”

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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