The $10 billion market for baby and young children’s furnishings (cribs, other case goods, layette, nursery decor, and the like) and accessories (car seats, strollers, baby monitors, diaper bags, etc.) is a lucrative market, and the baby stroller is one of its most competitive sectors. Hundreds of models vie for the attention of parents-to-be, and the level of detailed research, due diligence, and individual preferences may come close to the decision making process by an airline for the purchase of a Boeing 787. There are only few things – at least that’s what the industry makes you believe – that are as personal and intimately important to consumers as a baby stroller. The stroller embodies the commitment, care, and love that a couple chooses to devote to their newborn. It is the most visible representation of good parenthood. And in the US, the baby stroller market combines three quintessential American traits into a mind-boggling mix of over-commercialism: an abundance of choices, an obsession about mobility, driving, and vehicles, and a profoundly whacked out paranoia about deficient baby care. All that turns the stroller into a status symbol, especially after the chic Bugaboo arrived on the scene (thanks to Sex and the City) and became the must-have stroller for every DINK (double income-no kids), oops, with kids now – from Los Angeles to New York.
All the more rewarding then is to see a baby and kids super store that defies this irrational exuberance by taking it even a step further, turning a farce into a comedy. Lullaby Lane in San Bruno, CA is a paradise for stroller shoppers precisely because it doesn’t try to be one. It runs three stores and a warehouse in the suburban town south of San Francisco, and surprisingly, the town isn’t named after the brand yet - as perhaps one of the biggest non-big-box baby gear suppliers in the world. The town of San Bruno is adjacent to the San Francisco International Airport (the noise of planes taking off may disrupt your shopping experience at Lullaby Lane every other minute, but my wife used it as an extra lever to lure me into the shop – “if you get bored, you can watch planes.” I love watching planes almost as much as I hate shopping).
But bored I was not. Lullaby Lane is a one-of-a-kind store, independent, grassroots, not slick and shiny – but having been in business for 57 years and family-run, it is the anti-Babies R Us. Almost like a garage sale with sales reps that are a charming mix of car mechanic, Formula One engineer, and precocious kindergartener. Adhering to an old-fashioned model of super-personal customer service, they master folding and unfolding hundreds of different strollers, and go to great lengths to thoroughly analyze each and every feature of the many brands of strollers that they carry – including a live comparison of the performance of the inflatable wheels of the Bugaboo Frog versus the non-inflatable wheels of the Uppa Baby Vista (the Bugaboo is the clear winner). The best thing about Lullaby Lane, however, is its product reviews on YouTube, enhanced by a delightfully ill-placed soundtrack (AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells”) and astonishing, unexpected outbreaks of stroller stunts. You have to see them yourself; here's one example:
The videos are smart. They’re rough, low-budget, authentic, fun, and laden with just enough irony so they don’t turn off hardcore parents-to-be but also cater to the more enlightened shoppers who (wrongly) think that they aren’t succumbing to the baby industrial complex. The videos feature men and are designed to appeal to men, highlighting the strollers’ features and the competitive nature of their performance. You feel like they’re selling you a sports car. Once you’re in the store, however, the sales reps pay closer attention to the mothers-to-be, knowing they will ultimately make the purchasing decision. Even though I was the one asking more questions, our sales rep would always face my wife when answering them. When we left the store, we had bought two strollers (I learned that you need one for home and a lighter one for travel), and we swore we’d come back. There’s always more you need for your baby. Yes, we care. And then we watched planes.
By the way, you may think the Lullaby Lane videos are edgy, but they pale in comparison to the guerrilla marketing campaign conducted by UNICEF in Finland. Wanting to raise awareness for children rights, the “Be a Mom for a Moment” campaign placed fake blue strollers with a crying baby audio track in crowded places in 14 cities. If people looked in the strollers, they would find a note with the message: “Thank you for caring, we hope there are more people like you. UNICEF – Be a mom for a moment.” Apparently, the media and public reaction was overwhelming, with coverage in all the major TV, radio and web news. The estimated media reach was more than 80% of Finnish population after two days.
Lullaby Lane and UNICEF’s campaign share a commitment to meaningful marketing. They successfully connect with their audiences by applying what I call the "five principles of meaningful marketing (pdf):” be social, be personal, be dramatic, be disruptive, and be responsible. Lullaby Lane embraces the idea of generosity (“give more than you take”) and originality (the videos) to create long-term customer loyalty, and UNICEF’s campaign was a perfectly choreographed moment of “disruptive realism.” Both create meaning – events and experiences that you can relate to other events and experiences and that are at the same time so scarce and unexpected that they’re worth sharing.
Happy Father's Day!
(photo credit: UNICEF)