Consistent birth rates coupled with product innovation and growing interest in developmental products have attendees at this year's Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association show (May 3 to 5) optimistic about the future. "The industry is very healthy and birth rates are strong," says Joseph Shamie, president of Delta Enterprises. "Parents also are spending more than ever on more categories than ever before."
While industry data is difficult to ascertain, executives estimate that sales of juvenile products are growing by 5 percent to 6 percent annually. Helping drive those sales is a commitment by the retail community with different venues to reach out to consumers. Among the most popular are baby registries such as those created by Babies "R" Us, Target with Lullaby Baby, and Wal-Mart with Baby Connection. Wal-Mart also recently launched BabyConnection.com, an online site that features 200 articles devoted to pregnancy, babies, and toddlers. The site also includes a link to Wal-Mart's e-commerce site and baby registry.
Mothers Work, a retailer with 1,000 stores including Mimi Maternity, A Pea in the Pod, and Motherhood, has stepped up its licensing efforts. Together with The Joester Loria Group, the retailer is working on a line of Motherhood-branded soft goods and hard goods due on shelves in 2005. "Retailers recognize that getting mom into the store to register and hopefully gaining her as a repeat customer is extremely important at this crossroads in her life," says Joanne Loria, executive vice president at The Joester Loria Group.
Retail space is on the rise as Wal-Mart and Target carved out space for the first-ever freestanding travel section last year. Target added the Disney Classic Pooh Collection in February and is expanding its exclusive Parents brand in fall 2004 with three skus under the Parents Imagine + Learn moniker (its first entry into the preschool market) with plans to add travel accessories into its existing Parents Child + Safety selection for 2005. Gap Inc. also is adding its maternity line to 10 babyGap stores this spring for a total of 33 locations.
There is no shortage of products for retailers to showcase on their shelves as traditional and developmental products aimed at the youngest of consumers are in the pipeline. Licensed properties will play an important role in the mix with strong brands such as Fisher-Price, Disney, Nickelodeon, Jeep, and Care Bears sure to make a statement.
"Licensing has always played a lead role in our strategy, especially in the juvenile products category," says Caren Shalek, vice president of licensing for Fisher-Price. "Through licensing, we provide products parents need to care for and entertain baby. Categories include feeding, diaper bags, travel products, music tapes and CDs, infant books and apparel, and more-an entire range of products focused on babies' and parents' needs."
Here's a sampling of what's on tap at JPMA this year:
Baby Boom: The company is working with Hallmark on bedding and room and home décor for the third/fourth quarter and currently is testing infant bedding with an undisclosed mass merchant. Diaper bags for Jeep, Eddie Bauer, Carter's, and Care Bears remain strong.
The Baby Einstein Co.: First juvenile products debuted last June with Kids II. New licensees on board include Equity Marketing for plastic and plush items, Hamco for bibs/hooded towels, Hallmark for party goods for first birthday and shower, and Graco for activity center and accessories.
Blue Ridge International: Travel accessories for mom and baby are a focus with 15 new skus split among Fisher-Price; Sesame Street; and its own private label, Safefit.
Brainy Baby: Four licensees are helping grow the brand beyond its home video roots. VTech has created a line of 14 electronic toys for the left and right brain with packaging that explains the benefit of fostering both the creative and imaginative parts of the brain. Imagination Entertainment is marketing a line of puzzles and games. Bendon Publishing is doing books, while Style Studio is readying nursery décor.
Delta Enterprises: Children's furniture is one of its biggest growth areas. New deals with Disney and The Wiggles (HIT Entertainment) complement its stable of Nickelodeon properties. On tap for 2004 are toddler and twin beds inspired by The Wiggles' Big Red Car and a Princess bed for the mid-tier due this summer. The company also adds Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants to its line of umbrella strollers and is coming to market with a line of licensed table and chairs with storage, growth charts, and coat racks. The company also supports Fisher-Price's babygear for feeding, as well as packaged and hanging layette.
Fisher-Price: The company's babygear line is a focus as Fisher-Price strives to fulfill its "better for mom, better for baby" philosophy. A coordinated statement will be threaded throughout the babygear line with popular themes such as Ocean Wonders Aquarium making a limited statement across other products in 2004 and a full rollout in 2005. An undisclosed new category is also on tap for the brand. Some product highlights include the Deluxe Jumparoo, the Soothing Massager Bouncer, and the Baby Papasan.
Kolcraft: The wheeled category continues strong with the first Jeep jogging stroller and other strollers, walkers, and playards. The company also takes on Care Bears with playards, strollers, bouncers and walkers, and high chairs in the works.
Lambs & Ivy: The company is experiencing a growth spurt with projected growth for 2004 estimated at 30 percent. "Our niche is fashion oriented, which is good as we have no seasons and no sizes," says Barbara Laiken, president of Lambs & Ivy. Hot licenses include Hello Kitty with a line of wall décor, upholstered lockers, shelves, hampers, drawer pulls, as well as toddler and infant bedding. Snoopy & Family with brother Marbles and sister Belle is featured on bedding and accessories.
LeapFrog: The company marks its entry into the juvenile products business with three products. The Learn & Groove Activity Station introduces infants to learning through music and play. The Touch & Tug Discovery Book is a crib activity panel, and The Magic Moments Learning Seat is an infant seat with a magic mirror activity bar that delivers vibrations using one of three Gentle Touch settings.
Munchkin: With licensing now at about 10 percent of its business, the company has expanded its licensing deal with Nickelodeon with Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants joining Blue's Clues on its insulated spill-proof cup line. Dora and SpongeBob also join its Sunblock Rollershade line.