Your Business: Firm broadening base beyond nappies

By Gill South

Kevin and Pia D'Ambros-Smith are aiming for growth of 15 per cent a year. Photo / Dean Purcell
Kevin and Pia D'Ambros-Smith are aiming for growth of 15 per cent a year. Photo / Dean Purcell

It is not easy for a business when you lose a third of your customers every year. But this is what happens with Motherbase's core business, nappy and babycare home delivery service Nappies Direct.

The solution for marketer Pia D'Ambros-Smith and her husband, former ad man Kevin, is to be as broad as they can in what they sell to busy parents.

As well as Huggies nappies, they sell products including bassinets, breastpumps, toys and pharmacy items.

About to celebrate their 10th anniversary in business, the couple are planning a separate pharmacy online shop which will join their online toy business. Any product expansion has to be branded products that people buy regularly, says Kevin.

The D'Ambros-Smiths, who base their business in Mairangi Bay, regularly go to events such as the Auckland Parent and Child Show to recruit parents.

Their first contact with customers is often through their Nappies Direct baby club. Parents-to-be and parents of newborns can join for $10 and receive up to $70 of babycare goodies, plus discount vouchers. The couple also work with Parents Centre, which has 50 centres around the country for childbirth and parenting education.

Two years ago Motherbase and Plunket became 50:50 partners in PlunketShop. The couple worried that the PlunketShop might cannibalise their Nappies Direct sales but it is quite a different audience, says Pia. It's expanded the business and taken it to more households.

"Around 94 per cent of New Zealand babies see a Plunket nurse."

Pia started Nappies Direct in 2002 at the age of 27, before beginning her own family. She was a pioneer in online retailing and one of the first companies here to process credit cards transactions live online.

Her customers in the early days "were nannies with the mum's credit card", or they were professional mums whose children were in daycare. Since 2009, Pia has found people have downsized. More mothers have stayed at home and had more children.

Pia and Kevin met when working together at the advertising agency Ogilvy and now have two boys. Kevin, who joined the business over six years ago from Saatchi & Saatchi, concentrates on relationships with suppliers such as Huggies' Kimberly-Clark and Johnson & Johnson, while Pia works on the retail side and is the voice of the business on social media.

"I engage the mums. We have 40,000 mums on the database, and over 9000 coffee groups registered with us from around the country. We put products in the hands of coffee groups, get them talking about products. If they review products we will broadcast these reviews."

Pia also talks with their 2500 Facebook fans daily. "We always say we know our customers better than supermarkets. We know their babies' names. A lot of mums are at home and they are finding their new identity."

The entrepreneurs, with a staff of six, took a new step recently. "We've hired ourselves a boss through The Icehouse," says Kevin.

Of several business advisers put forward by the business incubator, they decided on Ken Leeming, formerly of Heinz Wattie's.

"Ken got our business in 10 minutes," says Kevin.

"Our goals are now more focused, though we've never been short of ideas. With $1.5 million turnover, we are pretty ambitious for growth. We hope for 15 per cent a year growth and new ventures on top."

- NZ Herald

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