iCandy recently caught up with Debbie, Owner and Manager of Baby Lady, a family run independent nursery store in Kent. Debbie shares her industry insights as well as what it means to Baby Lady to be an iCandy Brand Ambassador...
About Baby Lady...
Tell us a little bit about Baby Lady-what was the inspiration to open the store?
Baby Lady was originally a nappy delivery service that I started twenty-eight years ago. Disposable nappies were very big and bulky then and not easy to carry home and we didn’t realise the impact disposables were having on the planet then either! Eventually the supermarkets dropped their nappy prices by a third because we were eating into their market, so we knew we had to do something different. Many of our customers had been asking us why we didn’t have a shop, so that’s what we decided to do. It was tiny but all we could afford at the time.
Since launching Baby Lady, how has it grown and developed?
It started as a little place, but we outgrew that quickly, so we moved to somewhere slightly bigger to expand the company further. Every time we’ve moved, we’ve taken quite a bit of time to find the right premises- even now we could fill something a lot bigger but overheads for retail are high. With every move and as the company grew and grew, we’ve always wanted to make sure we had the capabilities to provide the best service to customers because that is our core principle. We want to make sure that buying for the customer’s baby is a magical experience because that is what it should be. We try to take the stress away and we feel privileged to share their journey.
How long have you been trading with iCandy and how has iCandy helped support you during this time?
We have been trading with iCandy for about fifteen years, since iCandy became iCandy really! We have worked with the brand since the first iCandy products came on the market, such as the Cherry and the Apple which we loved because they really broke the mould for modern prams. Right through to the launch of the Peach which now defines the modern pram- when the Peach was launched no one had seen or pushed anything like it. We could not get enough stock to satisfy demand. Even to this day iCandy is pushing boundaries. The new Peach for 2020 is the best yet and the Cerium is a gentle nod back to the iconic special edition Apple. We’re thrilled to still be working closely with iCandy and now as a Brand ambassador. iCandy, like us, recognise that if something does go wrong (very rarely) we need to offer the very best after sales service as well as just selling a pram in the first place and their 5-year warranty reinforces this. iCandy provides independent exclusives and offers in-store only launches of new products which really support the independents. We were the first store in the UK to have a preview event of the 2020 Peach.
Tell me about your staff?
My staff are amazing, without them I couldn’t do what I do. They are dedicated and passionate and genuinely love what they do. How many people can go to work each day and get to share in one of the most exciting times in customer lives? All of them care deeply about helping customers, so they will always find solutions. Our customers even become friends with some of our staff because they get to know them so well, they often send us photos when they’ve had their babies! You need a special type of person to work in this industry, so it can be hard to recruit but I’m very fortunate. Many of them stay a long time because when you love what you do it shows.
What would you say have been your biggest challenges to date?
Probably the internet. When the internet first became a big thing, I think a lot of stores panicked and felt they had to try to compete, but you can’t offer the best service and the cheapest price, it’s just not possible. I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the Baby Lady store. I had no interest in just shipping boxes-I love people. Some customers don’t want nameless, faceless customer services; they want to have real service from experienced and knowledgeable staff. Our staff can save you time and money because they help cut through the maze of buying; they know which product will suit your lifestyle and your budget. Our staff can provide backup and will always be at the end of the phone if customers need them. It’s easy to ship a box but it’s not easy to provide everything that we do. We offer storage facilities which we don’t charge for, we offer payment plans so customers can have a beautiful iCandy, but they don’t have to pay upfront, there’s no credit, no interest, no extra charge for it, it’s just part of our service. We have an engineer in regularly so we can fix things in store too, we even have loan products so if we can’t fix it here, customers still have something to use.
You can’t get that level of service from the internet, it’s just not set up that way.
I often tell customers buying from us is like taking out insurance. You might not have a problem, but you need to know we are there just in case. We are not just about taking your money and selling you something, it’s about the whole journey, the whole time you own the product, if you have any kind of issue you need to be able to call someone and depend on them to help you. If we’re open, we’ll answer it. Our social media responds quickly to any questions outside of work hours too. We can’t guarantee someone will be on the other end all the time, but we try wherever possible to be there. I also can’t guarantee to anyone that we will always be the cheapest because we won’t, but we will give you a competitive price and we will provide the best all round value for money.
The industry is very competitive-how do you stay one step ahead? How do you drive traffic and awareness to your store and website?
The way we advertise has changed dramatically over the years. No one uses Yellow Pages anymore and like others we have been using social media quite effectively. We have our own YouTube channel and we produce our own in store videos about products so customers can see how they work if they can’t get to store. We also run live Facebook streams from Baby Shows as we have found customers love to be the first to see what’s new. You will always find Baby Lady with the first appointment at the launch of the new iCandy ranges. We still rely on word of mouth recommendations and we do get some lovely reviews from customers which help. We now send out monthly newsletters that keep our customers up to date with the latest trends and new product launches and in store offers etc. Customers can sign up on our website or via Facebook but there is no doubt that social media now provides the quickest way to get our message out to the widest audience.
What does it mean to you as a retailer to be an iCandy Ambassador?
It’s a massive honour, I’m really flattered. It’s a way to help the brand grow too because we can have an impact and offer feedback. We’re very passionate about developing products that can help parents.
Do you feel that your customers research products more now prior to purchase?
Yes and no, I feel like it depends on the customer. There are some customers who come to us because they’re time poor and haven’t done as much research and they need some guidance, or maybe they’ve over researched themselves into confusion. You can buy online but we save people time and money because our staff can provide professional and experienced advice on the best option for them. For instance when it comes to purchasing a pushchair, we ask questions such as, what car do they drive, what is their budget, who else is going to be using it, where will it be stored, where do they live, do they need to carry it upstairs, etc. We know our products inside out so these questions can really help someone at the beginning of their pushchair journey! I mean, if you have a Fiat 500, you’re going to have different requirements to someone with an estate car or a 4 x 4, if you live in the country or you live in a block of flats you’re going to need different products to others, it’s all about finding the perfect product for the individual customer which I think is something we excel at.
Do you think the seasons effect the buying decisions of your customers?
Yes. I think colours are influenced by seasons. I think that going into summer and spring people like lighter colours, brighter items. Customers are going to buy all kinds of different products in different seasons, for example, most people wouldn’t buy foot muffs in the summer but would look at parasols instead. Our staff are trained to talk to customers about the products, but I think if you’re just buying online or looking at a picture, people will be more influenced by colour rather than thinking about long term. We often have customers come to us who have bought something online or elsewhere because it looks nice but doesn’t fit their lifestyle. So actually, buying online can lead to expensive mistakes that are not always a bargain.
Is there a product at the moment that is an absolute must-have for your customers?
The bedside crib is a huge trend for us right now and we sell a really big selection which are all on display in our upstairs furniture show room. We also love the Snuza Hero Monitor which is a clever monitor that clips onto baby’s nappy to detect any interruption in baby’s breathing. Snuza, which has recently teamed up with The Lullaby Trust is a great brand and their product offers parents that all important peace of mind. We also sell reusable nappies (we’ve gone full circle!) as like everyone else we’re more concerned about sustainability. Ewan the Dream Sheep, a cuddly toy with calming light and sound features, is the most popular product that a mum who already has a child buys for another child in my store, it’s the number one thing that they will come back and buy as a gift for their friends who are pregnant. I don’t think that you’d buy something for someone else’s child that didn’t work for you.
When buying for your store, what features stand out to you within a pushchair?
We look for something that’s going to provide a solution for our customers. We’re looking for something that’s stylish; customers are now not only looking for practicality in products but also style. We’re looking for something well made. Generally, customers who shop with us would rather pay a little more for something well-built that will last them for every child than buy something and throw it away after a year. Customers really like the option of future proofing their pram and pushchair so that it can be re-used should they plan to have future children i.e. the ability to turn the pushchair into a double or the option to add a ride on board. iCandy futureproofs the lifecycle of every product so that it grows with a family.
What is your trend forecast for the next year within design features and functionality?
Beautiful prams that are well designed will continue to be on trend and prams that grow with the family. When customers buy a nice pram, they want everything to match so co-coordinating accessories will be on trend. We will also see the trend towards small, compact, and lightweight pushchairs especially in second purchases. The mantra seems to be the smaller the better, ideally things that might fit in the overhead locker of a plane, which has led to a big drop in sales of umbrella style buggies and I think this will continue. Fabrics are hugely important. Grey is still really big and any shade of grey will still be popular with checks and melange types leading the way. Black on black is seeing a big uplift and I think this will continue.