Winter 2011
Baby Lassos Profits! By Heather Johnson Durocher

Looking for a growth spurt in your sales? Appeal to adoring grandparents with standout gifts for baby. Take a look at what’s new in this super cute product category.

Babies are simply adorable and even better, for retailers, they lead customers to spend time and money buying that perfect “Awww!” gift. Cindy Hoeppner says people want to show up at the baby shower with the best gift. “We all know that this ‘best gift at the baby shower’ contest does indeed exist,” says Hoeppner, who launched Mitetees in Whitman, MA, after presenting her “production” six-pack of onesies to a mom-to-be friend. The gift idea, she says, “wowed everyone at the party—especially the moms.”

Cute in large doses

And there are many products competing for precisely that “Wow!” factor. Cuteness in style will always be among the top reasons shoppers gravitate toward certain baby clothes, blankets and other items for infants and toddlers, but these days you’re sure to also see these customers seeking out products that truly stand out from all the rest.

Indeed, with a plethora of baby products on the market today, both online and in big-box stores, having out-of-the-ordinary products is a sure-fire way to boost sales, says Karen Helburn, owner of Just Hatched in Guilford, CT.

These “out-of-the-ordinary” products could include organic cotton onesies and tees that feature “enlightened” quotes by Mahatma Gandhi, (“My life is my message”); or super-soft beanies, bibs and booties sporting cartoons from The New Yorker. Even ultra- customized baby wear carrying family-specific sentiments: “Hanna’s little brother” or “A Turner & Harrison Production” from Mitetees help.

Steady sales

Baby apparel sales in the United States remains fairly steady, according to NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based provider of consumer and retail market research information for a variety of industries. Americans spent an estimated $14.7 million on infant and toddler apparel between September 2009 and August 2010, according to a recent NPD Group report.

Retailers and vendors also say that the country’s Baby Boomers, who are now grandparents, are infusing a healthy dose of spending into this product category. “Grandparents make up a large number of our customers,” says Helburn. “Grandparents purchase very emotionally and less practically. They head for the tutus and say, ‘Isn’t this adorable?’ If it’s got a bow, it’s got glitter, if it’s pink, they go to it. They bring a lot of enthusiasm into the store.”

Baby-boomer women in particular are ready and able to open their wallets, says marketing consultant Richard Meyer, director/principal of Online Strategic Solutions in Simi Valley, CA. He calls them the new ‘sweet spot’ demographic group, “even though many marketers have stubbornly held onto the outdated notion that males 18 to 34 are the prized consumer.”

Marlena Frank, owner of organic children’s clothing line Sweet Spud, is seeing many of these Baby Boomer grandparents buying the company’s infant bodysuits up to size 18 months that feature quotes by “enlightened leaders” using water-based inks. “The Baby Boomer generation is very, very drawn to ‘made in the U.S.,'” says Frank, whose North Salmond, MA wholesale company uses only U.S. organic cotton.

Quality calls the shots

As with any other product category, quality counts.

High quality is also important to grandparents, says Amanda Searancke, of Austin, TX and owner of Kina Collection, which makes lambskin booties for infants and toddlers. The booties, which retail for $38 a pair, are big sellers among this older age group, she says. “The grandmothers love them because they don’t want something disposable,” says Searancke, who also operates Nui Organics, a New Zealand-based creator of baby clothing made from certified organic Merino Wool. “That generation is really identifying with quality and that’s what they want to give.” Searancke adds that customers are willing to pay for quality because they see the value in well-made products.

Baby gifts to coo over

When buying for babies, apparel is not the only strong seller. Layette basics including blankets, bibs, burp cloths and booties are equally big. In fact, retailers often suggest selling (and displaying) such pieces together to boost sales.

An example is the receiving blanket from Barefoot Dreams which, says company founder Annette Cook, is made to be warm, soft and fuzzy—also important factors when considering baby layette. The blanket is made of polymicrofiber knit and is adorned with patches embroidered with cute images.

Along focusing on the “soft and cuddly,” Hoeppner, of Mitetees, recently partnered with plush company Zooguu to offer “plush pairs,” a gift set that combines her onesies with one of Zooguu’s handmade plush animals.

Ana Colagrossi, founder of Little Raggio, maker of patent leather and suede children’sshoes in Greenwich, CT, says she frequently receives emails from grandparents who are interested in her products. Little Raggio shoes, which are available in month sizes (0 3, 3-6, etc.) come in different colors and include varying embellishments, and can also be monogrammed.

Humor is a hit

Humor plays a huge role in baby products and cutting-edge humor can especially draw in another important demographic—young, urban, wealthy parents.

Irreverent and funny has worked for Silly Souls, initially known as babygags, since 2002. That’s when the self-described “original funny baby company” began designing, manufacturing and distributing funny and whimsical baby and kids apparel, shoes and gifts.

Most recently, the San Francisco-based company partnered with publisher Condé Nast to produce a line of baby clothing featuring cartoons from The New Yorker. The New Yorker Baby Collection is designed for babies and children ages 0-10 years and includes baby bodysuits, beanies, bibs, booties, melamine dish sets and T-shirts. Each product features a baby- or kid-themed cartoon from the magazine’s archives, brought to life in kid-friendly colors. “New Yorker cartoons are a fantastic fit for our brand,” says Shelley Foster, founder and president of Silly Souls. “There’s something for everyone, whether it’s the first day of school or the reality of the traditional working American mom. It gently but very intellectually makes fun of and mocks what everyone deals with every day.”

Baby grows green

Organic continues to be big with baby, and now more customers are seeking these kinds of products into toddlerhood and beyond, Searancke says. The U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2010 tracking study, jointly sponsored by the Organic Trade Association and KIWI Magazine, shows U.S. families are buying more organic products than ever before and from a wider variety of categories.

“We are taking both of our lines to older ages, too,” she says. “For the past few years, the big focus on organics was on babies—people want clean, pure, and organic next to their child’s skin—and now those babies are getting older.”

For retailer Karin Schaefer, owner of children’s clothing and toy shop Acorn in Brooklyn, NY, eco-friendly apparel is an absolute must in her store. She carries the Kina Collection lambskin booties as well as select baby clothing lines by local designers. “We’re not interested in making money on clothes that I’m not 100 percent sure of the working conditions where they are made,” Schaefer says. “In my shop I want to promote products that are good for the customer, good for the environment and good for the people making them.”

Pretty packaging, diverse displays

It goes without saying that attracting customers with well-crafted packaging and displays makes a difference, say vendors and retailers.

While these factors are important, remember that products for baby are also about softness and the sensation of touch. Helburn of Just Hatched says it’s important for customers to be able to touch and feel, particularly when it comes to gifts for baby. One of her store’s more popular offerings are soft blankets and hoodies from Angel Dear, a company based in Union City, CA. “Tactile experience is important,” Helburn says, adding that she’ll often see customers pick up one of her chenille blankets or baby clothing and walk around the store holding it. “They don’t want to put it down.”

At Just Hatched, there are no specific display areas devoted to boys and girls. Instead, she showcases items in different settings: “We show it as a story,” she says of her 1,000-square-foot space. Clothing may be draped over an antique ladder she found at a second-hand shop. Helburn has also used a giant mailbox, found at a hardware store, and “a junkyard table” that’s been spruced up, as part of displays.

Interestingly enough, she says, customers tell her, ‘You always have new things,’ even when she’s only arranged items in new ways. “Things just need to be moved and seen differently,” Helburn says.

Whether cute and clever, or soft and sentimental, baby apparel can be strong sellers in your store. These are feel-good products, after all, says Frank, of Sweet Spud.
In the 13 years of owning her shop, Helburn has developed a flourishing relationship with her vendors and with her customers. Customers return time and again because Just Hatched is known as the go-to place for cute and trendy baby products.

“There’s a cult following with them,” she says.

Mouse over images below to view.

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

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