From the October 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

Parents aren't the only ones delighted when a baby is born. Entrepreneurs are, too. Grandparents, friends and other relatives are eager to shower gifts on the newborn. And because infants turn life upside down, moms and dads are always searching for new and innovative ways to save time and make life easier-no matter what the cost.

No wonder the baby-products market is the most popular one for individual inventors. And that's not just because there's a huge base of parents ready to spend their hard-earned dollars on new products. Often, becoming parents inspires moms and dads to invent new baby products. And because there are so many babies around, inventors in this category have ample opportunity to test products and determine ahead of time whether they'll fly in the market.

Of course, it also helps that three relatively easy and straightforward avenues exist to help new inventors enter the baby-products market: catalogs, buying groups and trade shows.

Calling All Catalogs

Have you ever gone shopping with a baby or two? If you have, then you understand why baby-products catalogs are so popular (and profitable): They promise a more convenient shopping experience for parents.

That's good news for inventors. There are dozens of baby-products catalogs out there, and they're always looking for new and innovative additions. To find a listing of catalogs in this category, simply visit your local library and peruse a directory of mail-order catalogs. For example, check out the Directory of Mail Order Catalogs (Grey House Publishing) by Richard Gottlieb.

Like many entrepreneurs, Jim Moritz, 32, and Greg Nieberding, 44, of Baby B'Air successfully introduced their product through catalogs. (See "Vested Interest" below.) According to Nieberding, "The main advantage of catalogs was [that] we didn't need retail packaging."

The Dallas company's founders got their initial list of catalogs by simply asking moms what catalogs they received. Says Moritz, "Once we had the catalog names, we just kept contacting them. Our product [a safety vest for babies to wear on planes] was unique and had a useful benefit, so the catalogs were ready to give it a try."

Some of the catalogs they sell in include Bye, Bye Baby; One Step Ahead; and the Right Start Catalog. But although the catalog option opens doors for inventors, you won't succeed unless you're able to keep your commitments. Cautions Moritz: "You can't afford to miss a delivery date. The catalogs have a big expense including your product in the catalog, and they expect your product to be there when their customer orders."

VESTED INTEREST
As with most baby products, the idea for the Baby B'Air Flight Vest stemmed from a real problem faced by a new mother.

Back in 1996, Greg Nieberding's younger sister complained about the difficulty of carrying baby car seats onto planes. Yet she felt uneasy about holding a child on her lap during flights, as rough turbulence could send a small baby flying.

So Greg partnered with Jim Moritz to find a solution. They developed a vest the child could wear that would attach to a parent's seat belt. The design meant mom or dad no longer had to hold the baby tight. Says Moritz, "We weren't trying to replace the car seat as a safety device in a plane. We just wanted to provide some safety for the 85 percent or so of babies and toddlers that ride on their parents' laps."

To get their invention on store shelves, the partners started by researching the market. They asked friends, relatives-anyone they knew with a baby-what they thought of the Baby B'Air. Positive feedback prompted them to approach American Airlines, whose safety personnel also liked the idea. Unable to secure financing, the Dallas entrepreneurs launched a Web site, www.babybair.com, and built a base of initial sales. Based on that success, they moved the product into catalogs and mass merchants.

Today, the product seems to be taking flight: It was voted best of show at last year's Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association show, and Nieberding and Moritz expect 2001 sales to hit $1 million.

Look Who's Buying

If you want to get your baby product in retail stores, try contacting buying groups. Individual baby stores frequently band together to form buying groups, not only to get better name recognition, but also to negotiate better prices from big vendors.

When Shawn Boice started In Touch LLC in Bothell, Washington, in 1999, she first sold her Carseat Companion to individual stores. Boice, whose product is a mirror that helps parents keep tabs on their babies while driving, says, "The product was a big hit at every store, and some of the store owners told me I should contact corporate headquarters for bigger orders."

The first major event where Boice met representatives of buying groups was the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) show in Dallas. Not long after returning home, Boice, 39, she used success at the JPMA show to get the attention of other buying groups, too.

According to Boice, buying groups gave her an advantage by opening the other two avenues into the market. Groups offer a catalog of products that member stores can buy from, and they host their own trade shows where store owners can place orders.

REARVIEW BABY
Before finally becoming an entrepreneur, Shawn Boice was employed as a pediatric nurse, where she met new parents all the time. "I heard complaints from my patients about rear-facing car seats, but I never realized how big a problem it was until I had my own child [in 1998]," she says. "I wanted so badly to see how my child was doing, and I didn't like only seeing the back of the car seat."

So in 1999, she developed the Carseat Companion, which retails for $24.95. It comes with a mirror that attaches to the back seat so that a driver can look through her own rear-view mirror to see a baby in the rear-facing car seat.

Boice started her business cautiously at first because she was funding the invention on her own. She began by making a few of the mirrors at home and selling them in the pediatrician's office where she worked. After finding success there, she sold on consignment at a local baby store. When that lot sold out, Boice took her product to other local baby stores and eventually started marketing through baby-products buying groups.

"Sales have been wonderful," says Boice, who's bringing in $125,000 every three months. "I need 5,000 new Carseat Companions every two to three months."

Showing It Off

As Boice learned from experience, trade shows-whether sponsored by buying groups or other organizations-are a great way to get products to market. "I landed lots of new stores, and I didn't have to follow up for orders-people gave me the orders right at the show," she says. Virtually every juvenile-products retailer and manufacturer attends the JPMA show, scheduled for October 5 to 8 this year, and it's a great spot for introducing items. For details, call the JPMA at (856) 439-0500 or visit www.jpma.org.

Although Nieberding and Moritz didn't sell to many retailers when they attended their first JPMA show, they still recommend the event. Says Moritz, "We met a lot of other small manufacturers, learned lots of marketing information and found out which customers we could trust."

At its second JMPA show appearance in 2000, Baby B'Air started to pick up more retail store orders. Today, the product is carried by independent baby stores nationwide and has just been picked up by Babies "R" Us.

Boice, too, attended last year's JPMA show and expects to introduce several new products this year. Says Boice, "JPMA is really the one big show in the industry, and it's one where you want to make a splash."

As the experiences of those inventors show, finding success in the baby-products arena is not only possible, it's easier than in many other industries. So if you have a great idea for a product, don't just daydream about what could be-make it happen! You just might find yourself joining the ranks of million-dollar baby-products entrepreneurs.

BABY-PRODUCTS BUYING GROUPS