Success: Mums' other baby learns to run

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Fast-growing business began with bibs.

Mum 2 Mum's Jo Keall (left) and Jo Bond have their eyes on new markets, such as aged-care. Photo / Christine Cornege
Mum 2 Mum's Jo Keall (left) and Jo Bond have their eyes on new markets, such as aged-care. Photo / Christine Cornege

Critics of some social welfare benefits often cite the unintended consequences: Working for Families for the asset-rich, for instance.

But sometimes, those unintended consequences can be a benefit to businesses, particularly entrepreneurs. Take paid parental leave, a topic that is generating plenty of heat in Parliament and the media.

New Zealand once boasted more generous provisions than Australia (a low bar, admittedly) but the Lucky Country upped the ante and now offers 18 weeks' paid leave at a higher rate than here, plus a A$3000 ($3790) "baby bonus". About 300,000 children are born each year in Australia.

An unintended consequences of this generosity has been a boom in small businesses run by women across the ditch, reports Jo Bond, co-founder of Mum 2 Mum, a Waikato-based producer of baby products.

Bond and co-founder Jo Keall initially avoided exporting to Australia, a natural market for their wares, because of the stiff competition from what they call "mumpreneurs" - businesses run by mothers for mothers.

They believed, correctly, that Britain, the United States and Asian markets would be easier nuts to crack than Australia as these markets were not as well served by baby product manufacturers.

"It's not that we didn't want to go there; we had other opportunities knocking," explains Bond. "[But the Australian payment] is quite an amount and up pops a whole bunch of mumpreneur businesses and there's a lot of competition. It's not the easiest market to get into."

Supporting entrepreneurs has exercised the minds of successive governments. So it's ironic that policy as simple as providing support to parents has done the trick in this case, when decades of different business-support schemes have produced mixed results.

Mum 2 Mum is now in Australia (and Britain, the US, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Singapore and South Africa) and has a contract with David Jones, engaged a distributor and shifted 20,000 units over the Tasman in the past two months.

There may be stiff competition but Keall and Bond believe they produce a superior product. It's certainly impressive that the Mum 2 Mum "Wonder Bib" can absorb a quarter of a cup of water in one go.

Of course, it's not water that parents worry about: "A baby doesn't dribble a quarter of a cup but if they're going to do a power chuck, [the bib] is going to catch all that vomit that comes out," Bond promises. Any parent will surely applaud such efficacy. "All of our products are about making life easier for other parents," she adds.

Big things are expected of the Australian market but Keall and Bond are more excited about Asia and new territories, such as South Africa.

The women met when they were each pregnant with their first child (they now have two apiece) and the initial products were devised for their children and those of the near community. Synthetic bibs don't cut the mustard for parents with kids suffering reflux and eczema. They also don't catch a fistful of vomit.

"We realised early on that a lot of people wanted our bibs - and it was more than just friends and family," says Keall, a chartered accountant. The pair's skills were complementary; Bond's background was in marketing and event management. In 2004, a business was born.

They concentrated on bibs but then brought in a wider range of accessories, such as hooded towels and super absorbent change mats.

Orders from Farmers and the Baby Factory followed, so they moved production to China, which halved costs, and started exporting their wares, initially to Britain.

By last year the company had won the supreme award in the Westpac Waikato Business Excellence Awards and took the Deloitte Fast 50 category prize for the fastest growing manufacturer in the central North Island, with year-on-year growth of 50 per cent.

The pair won't divulge revenue figures but "we do say we're in high growth and we've had a 50 per cent increase in turnover year-on-year for five years now".

Independent distributors handle each territory - "they essentially buy and own the product and the only say we have is how they brand and market it," Bond says. The transaction is conducted in the host country's currency, so distributors don't carry any currency risk, which falls on Mum 2 Mum.

The company's biggest territories are Japan, Britain and New Zealand. Also in their sights is a move into the aged and special needs market.

- NZ Herald

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