A plethora of laws aimed at keeping children safe, as well as fresh insights into the challenges that come with a new baby, have propelled baby products business into an explosive growth area. One of the many companies to take advantage of this growth is Evenflo (named for a nursing device patented in 1935). Today, Evenflo has carved out its own slice of the US$ 13 billion a year baby products business in the US.
Some may think that the baby accessories business is recession-proof, since people continue to have children no matter how the economy is doing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Evenflo, which saw sales of $ 301 million in 2002 -- a 5.3 percent dip when compared to the previous year. The privately held company also shed 13.1 percent of its employees in 2002. Those numbers could be due to mismanagement or other issues unrelated to the economy, but it seems like a safe bet to say that parents dealing with a poor economic environment will go for cheaper brand names or simply head to a used baby products store to equip their newborn.
Name recognition is also a factor here. While Evenflo is recognizable to most parents as a company that makes baby bottles, nipples, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, and other feeding accessories (the prominence of the name on the packaging helps), it’s not as well-known as a maker of strollers, high chairs, car seats, playpens, cribs, activity chairs, and other items not associated with feeding. Part of that is likely because of the way those products are displayed: parents examine floor models of, for example, strollers and may judge them by sturdiness, safety, and other criteria before really looking at brand names.
Evenflo’s relationship with OshKosh, which lends its name to certain strollers, high chairs, portable playards, car seats, and other products manufactured by Evenflo, may also be contributing to a lack of consumer awareness in its non-feeding baby accessories. Many parents, especially those who are past their first child, will respond more to the OshKosh brand than the Evenflo one, which increases Evenflo’s chances of making the sale while muddying the brand name in the process. Did those parents buy that stroller for the OshKosh name or the Evenflo name? Did the brand name ever come into play? Those are key questions that Evenflo should be researching.
However, one area where Evenflo does have more name recognition is its Snugli line of baby carriers. Parents can strap baby into a Snugli and walk around hands free with the child suspended closely on either their front or back. The brand has become synonymous with all products in the category, thus achieving a status not unlike Coca-Cola, which is synonymous with cola drinks due to its “first kid on the block” status.
So while Evenflo has a solid brand identity in the feeding accessories area and Snugli wraps ups carriers, it clearly needs some help in other aspects of the baby products business. Perhaps the solution is an advertising campaign that informs parents that the other products it sells are of the same quality. Perhaps the solution lies in fully embracing the success of the OshKosh relationship by putting the OshKosh brand front and center when it comes to strollers, high chairs, and other non-feeding products. Such a strategy could build off the brand awareness already in place but it is risky since it would backfire if the relationship with OshKosh fell through.
Evenflo faces competition on a number of fronts. Brands such as Playtex and AVENT — which manufactures wide-mouth bottles and larger nipples that many mothers prefer (Evenflo should take a hint from that) — threaten in the feeding products arena. Names like Dorel Industries, Graco, Peg Perego and Mclaren loom over the high chairs and strollers business. So while diversity helps Evenflo weather economic storms by relying more on a segment that is doing better, it also opens up more competitive fronts and increases the number of areas where the company must advertise and market.
However, it must be said that Evenflo does very well in one area that can easily doom any baby products brand: recalls. Because of stringent safety standards, baby products can be recalled very easily; a company’s responsiveness to those recalls — as well as the severity of the problems that initiated the action — is critical to how safety-conscious parents view the brand. In the case of Evenflo, it generally handles product recalls well and without much controversy. This seeming ‘non-event’ in the management of the brand is huge when it comes to the amount of trust necessary for a successful relationship between parent and baby brand.
In the long run, the success of the Evenflo brand depends on management’s ability to compete effectively in a variety of areas and build brand awareness as much as possible; sorting out the OshKosh situation would help. Parents can be fickle, so the smallest misstep can spell doom to brand loyalty. If they equate Evenflo with safety and quality as their children move from newborns to babies to toddlers and beyond, the brand will grow with them.