Infantile Inventions

No, no, it's not a bad thing! The baby-products market is the perfect place for brand-new inventors to take their first steps.

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."

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,, 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.

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This article was originally published in the October 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Infantile Inventions.

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