We caught up with store owner, Sue who has been running the hugely successful Baby Care Dagenham nursery store for over 34 years.
Sue kindly took the time to explain to us not only her industry insights, but also what it means to be one of our newly announced iCandy Brand Ambassadors!
Tell us a little bit about the business. What was the inspiration to open the store?
My husband, Morris and I decided to start our own business 34 years ago. The inspiration came from my own pregnancy and not being able to find what I wanted or anything nice when I had my son (who is now 36 years old!) and I felt the need to do something about changing this as other parents must have felt the same, so decided to open the store.
Since launching, how has it grown and developed?
We started with a small shop in Maryland, London, then as sales grew and grew we gradually moved to the larger store in Upton Park expanding on from just toys to having a full nursery range available. The business has exceeded expectations and has just grown and grown over the past 34 years, allowing us to expand and move to various different units, across different areas within the Dagenham area. It has been wonderful to see the store grow over this time to the large Dagenham premises we have now.
We did get to a point where we were running 3 stores, then the recession hit in the 90’s and changed how we decided to run the business moving forward. This store in Dagenham was always my favourite and customers found it easy and accessible to come to, so closing the Upton Park store, which was very ‘football’ orientated over the weekends, was an easy choice for us.
The unit that we are sitting in now actually had been in operation for over 60 years as a nursery store; but in 2002 we managed to buy all three units together to have this larger store, which is perfect for us to showcase our entire nursery range plus house our bespoke iCandy stand.
How long have you been trading with iCandy? And how has iCandy helped support you during this time?
Since day 1! I was one of the first customers Martin visited, and he showed us the Apple 2 Pear and that’s where it all started! We began trading with a limited edition Apple 2 Pear that had an amazing velvet/ flock fabric chassis that just sold out almost immediately!
We have always loved iCandy and we have worked together through everything that has come up over the years. Peach has always been a favourite, our store manager Ali has a Peach for his first child, my daughter in law loves her Raspberry and my other daughter has a Peach too, so the brand is both close to our hearts personally and professionally.
Tell me about your staff?
There are eight team members currently at Baby Care Dagenham, with our Floor Manager Ali, our longest serving member who has been with us for over 10 years. We also have Roxy, Ellie, Trudi, Niya, Morris my husband and Melodie, who work across the week and weekends when we are at our busiest.
I also have to mention Linda, who was with us for 25 years and sadly we lost her nearly two years ago from cancer. She was like my sister and we closed the store to attend her funeral.
What would you say have been your biggest challenges to date?
The Recession in the early 90’s had a massive impact on us plus moving units over the years but everything going online has proven to be one of the biggest challenges we have faced in the past 5 years. We remain strong and are proud to say even with online posing a threat we have never struggled for sales and are lucky to have seen sales grown year on year. The high-street as we know it is changing though with more customers telling me that they are finding in-store retail has changed with customer’s service dropping or store closures, like we have seen recently with Toys R Us. But again, luckily we have stayed strong through these tough times by never dropping our high levels of customer service and consistently having only the best, high quality products on our shop floor so customers always make the extra effort to come visit us.
The industry is very competitive - how do you stay one step ahead? How do you drive traffic and awareness to your store and website?
We have a strong following across our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter social accounts and even have a team member dedicated to look after these channels, as we see that our customers enjoy talking to us over messenger and appreciate the fast, direct response.
Our website is lovely but I hope to always drive our customers back to the store. Service is very important to us. Here at Baby Care Dagenham, we do not just sell you a ‘box,’ we understand you are buying your first pram and therefore must have a good experience surrounding this and we NEVER sell for the sake of selling. We have a wide range of prices in store and always want to help the customer in making the best decision for their own personal needs and requirements.
What does it mean to you as a retailer to be an iCandy Ambassador?
We have always sold iCandy well but since the bespoke-built stand has been put into store, it has really added to the presentation of the products and looks beautiful! We look forward to adding the new Peach to join our extensive iCandy range.
Plus if I have faith in a brand to deliver quality products plus know the customer service support is there then it is easier to sell and I feel I have this relationship with iCandy, even more so now as an ambassador.
We go back for such a long time, the service is always improving and the relationship just goes from strength to strength. We only advertise through word of mouth and recommendation so knowing we have the support of the iCandy brand and team is so important to us.
Do you feel that your customers research products more now prior to purchase?
Yes, most definitely and with access to so many products being online we have really started to feel this. The customer’s product knowledge is improving but also we have seen a lot of ‘price wars’ on certain products too. We do not change our pricing and as such always explain to customers that come to our store that you are not just buying a ‘box’ but the whole experience and our high standards of customer service, which I feel you just do not get when you buy online.
Do you think the seasons affect buying decisions of your customers?
We do see across October, November and December are slightly quieter times for us but sales are always consistent. I do think that stores are up against online competition with Black Friday and Cyber Monday in November which does have a knock on effect during this period. January is when it picks up and are always very, very busy with sales, but overall sales are steady throughout the year as people are always having babies!
Is there a product at the moment that is an absolute must-have for your customers?
As we sell pushchairs specific to each customer’s needs over just making a ‘sale’ we find that there are star products across all the iCandy products we have. We do have particular customers that specifically want the ‘newest’ things and will travel across the country to see us for this. As we are in Essex, we do find that money is no object when it comes to getting exactly what they want for their new baby.
When buying for your store, what features stand out to you within a pushchair?
The 6 million dollar question!
Brand marketing really helps a product sell in store and colours are very important- the grey has been key over the years but has existed in the market place for a long time now and am looking forward to seeing what the next big colour trend will be. I have seen Navy is making a coming back and wood-effect details may take off in 2019 too.
Good quality features, such as leather handle bars, are definitely something I look out for as the ‘over all’ look of a pushchair is what a lot of customer look for. I see a lot of customers buy with their heart not their head, so aesthetics are really key when first time parents buy their first pushchair. Plus, seasonally the brighter colours also do well so like to keep this in mind when I am buying for the following year.