Most people will always forfeit personal luxury to provide for their baby. It’s no wonder that the baby industry is perpetually booming. Liz Heynes and Catherine Kerstjens take a look at five Australian companies on the move in an industry where only the best will do.
By Liz Heynes
Michelle Vogrinec’s husband thought she was mad when she started concocting creams in the kitchen in a bid to treat their eight-week-old son’s eczema. “Some of the commercially available creams I tried made Josh’s skin blister before my eyes,” says Vogrinec. “So I did some research, boiled herbal infusions on the stove and made up my own potions to put in Josh’s bath.”
And it worked. The improvement in Josh’s skin was soon the talk of mothers’ group, and when requests came in from other parents, Vogrinec knew she had the foundations of a business.
Four years and two more children later, Vogrinec has developed Gaia Skin Naturals into one of Australia’s top-10 pharmacy skincare ranges for babies. The company now produces seven products – bath and body wash, shampoo, conditioning detangler, moisturiser, skin-soothing lotion, massage oil and cornstarch powder – made entirely from natural extracts and certified organic ingredients, and has just released a Made for Men range.
For those with sensitive skin, Gaia products tick all the right boxes as they’re free from soap, sulphates, harsh detergents, petrochemicals, mineral oils and other known skin irritants. And most of the range is vegan-friendly.
Like its products, Melbourne-based Gaia seems to have found the right formula. The company has more than 2,000 stockists Australia-wide and internationally, including the UK, Denmark, Canada and parts of Asia.
Vogrinec prides herself on treating her clientele with respect. “We are honest with our customers,” she says. “We don’t stretch the truth in our marketing or use scare tactics to sell our products, which is a rare approach nowadays.”
It’s an approach that has earned Vogrinec a string of accolades, including four Victorian Micro Business awards and the 2003 Australian Micro Business Woman of the Year title.
Gaia shows no signs of moving away from its family-oriented roots – in fact, one day it might become a family empire. “My six-year-old has already said he would like to take over the business one day,” Vogrinec quips. “That would be nice!”
By Liz Heynes
In 1999, Deborah Kalisse was a first-time mum with a screaming baby on her hands. The doctor told her the baby’s crying was due to reflux, the painful regurgitation of food from the stomach to the oseogaphus, a common condition in 50 percent of full-term and almost all premature babies.
Kalisse noticed that the baby’s crying worsened when he was being changed and was frustrated with not finding a solution, so she took matters into her own hands. She formed BUBOO and designed the Baby Elevator, a sturdy sloped change mat that helps to relieve reflux by keeping the baby’s head at a higher level than its stomach.
During the business’ second and third years, its sole employee – Kalisse – coped with a sales increase of more than 300 percent, to the point where BUBOO had 40 stockists and a manufacturer that could not keep up with the orders. By then a mother of two, Kalisse decided to license the Baby Elevator to a nursery company and step back from BUBOO’s day-to-day running. She’s now negotiating to relicense the product and plans to distribute in New Zealand and further overseas by next year.
Discovering the equilibrium between roles as a mother and proprietor of a fast-growing business has been a long, slow process for Kalisse. “Licensing has been the biggest help of all in this balancing act, as the everyday dealings with the manufacturer, suppliers and stores is in the hands of the licensee. I organise as many meetings as possible within school hours and try to concentrate less on the business and more on the kids during the school holidays.”
Kalisse has also learnt that looking after herself is paramount to the business. “At times I have to put my needs first, which is a very hard thing for a mother to do. But it’s a vital part of the juggling act and one I believe more women should feel justified in doing.”
BUBOO has plans to continue in design and development, working with manufacturers and distributors to bring more baby-focused products to market. Kalisse envisages growing the Baby Elevator brand significantly overseas – and maybe finding time to put her feet up, too.
PUSH DONT SHOVE
By Liz Heynes
In business, sometimes staying ahead is harder than getting ahead.
The Valco brand is an Australian icon. Started as a family enterprise in the mid-70s, Valco strollers and nursery furniture are now at the top of every new parent’s wish list.
So what has given the company the strength to survive over the past 30 years?
Valco creates most of its own products rather than purchasing products developed elsewhere. As a result, the Valco team can incorporate the ideas and needs of Australian consumers in product development.
Valco’s local focus is paying dividends. The company’s products are a hit in US and Canadian markets, and there are plans to expand into Europe in 2007.
Keeping innovative in a competitive market is top-of-mind for Valco, and its strategy for staying ahead of the pack is organically tied to the company’s target market. Many of Valco’s employees are parents of young children and inspire the development of new products. For many of these parents, it’s true that epiphany sometimes strikes in the early hours of the morning when they’re up caring for a sick child or feeding a baby.
Some of Valco’s most popular products include the three-wheeler Runabout Tri-mode for difficult terrain and the lightweight Titan stroller, which can be adapted for newborns through to toddlers. And Valco has also developed a series of recliners for parents, to make feeding more comfortable.
Slow but steady growth has been the key to Valco’s success, and it’s a philosophy that others would do well to emulate.
By Catherine Kerstjens
As a kid, there’s nothing more fun than sitting down, letting your imagination run wild and creating a masterpiece. Melbourne-based company Colorific knows this all too well and has founded its successful toy and educational resources business on that very principle – fun.
“We are one of Australia’s leading family-owned toy and educational resources businesses,” says Peter Levi, Managing Director of Colorific. “Our emphasis is on innovative product development, excellent customer service, quality and value for money.”
From humble beginnings in 1986, Colorific has grown exponentially – with its products now available in forty countries and territories around the world.
“We are already working on a brand new range of products for 2007,” says Levi. “Designing products in-house allows us to tailor and extend existing ranges, while also introducing completely new items.”
One unique Colorific product is a face paint stick called FaceUp – an economical and fun product that takes the mess out of face painting. Just released is the licensed range of AFL team paints. In one smooth sweep, these will have your face emblazoned in your favourite team colours.
Colorific’s most successful products, based on a unit figure, include ScrapAttack and LeadLites. ScrapAttack is a scrapbooking kit, available in different themes and designs that includes all of the materials to create a memorable scrapbook. The LeadLite range allows kids to create their own window scenes by adding colour to different moulds – be it a horse or a fish.
Having won numerous awards from the Australian Toy Association, retailers and the Victorian Government, Colorific continues to go from strength to strength. One of their more recent accolades was winning the First Generation-Family Business of the Year Award in Victoria.
And if that all sounds too serious, don’t worry. Colorific is all about fun and will continue to provide the inspiration and tools for kids to enjoy their childhood for a long time to come.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
By Catherine Kerstjens
Here’s a children’s wear boutique label that appeals to a child’s sensibility. Launched in 2005, Big by Fiona Scanlan uniquely fashions children’s fancy dress together with practicality and style.
“Big by Fiona Scanlan is about approaching children’s wear through the eyes of a child or in the way they would like to put together an outfit,” says Fiona Scanlan, founder of the label.
Scanlan’s name is synonymous with Australian fashion. After departing designer women’s wear label Scanlan and Theodore (a joint venture now run by her former business partner Gary Theodore), Scanlan spent time away from the industry with her young family. Emerging refreshed, she identified a gap in the children’s wear market and, from there, Big by Fiona Scanlan was born.
“The uniqueness of Big by Fiona Scanlan is in the way that the fancy dress and dress-up items are merchandised so that the child has no inhibitions – tutus over little shorts with great chunky cardigans, while fantasies are brought to life with wizard capes and cowboy belts,” says Scanlan.
The fun and colour of the ensembles and the philosophy behind the garments have created significant points of difference within the children’s wear market.
“Instead of trying to contain children and make them perfect, it’s about letting them be themselves,” says Scanlan. “There is a positive feel about the clothes that celebrates the beauty and innocence of childhood.”
Since its inception, the label has gone from strength to strength. Its flagship store in Melbourne’s Hawksburn Village will be joined by a further store in Chadstone this month. Myer has carried the brand from the outset and sells Big by Fiona Scanlan nationally. Further wholesaling opportunities may be realised overseas in the future.
And while the label is built around the notion of children pondering ‘When I’m big…’, the opposite could also be said to be true. There are very few adults who could claim not to be filled with nostalgia and pure delight when faced with these unique creations.