Will Momzelle appeal to nursing mothers?

October 8, 2010

Christine Poirier designed her own nursing top to help her feel less insecure about breastfeeding in public after the birth of her first child. Her invention turned into a business and now she faces the challenge of expanding her Toronto-based apparel company, Momzelle, into the U.S.

The target audience for Momzelle is straight forward: new breastfeeding, active, urban mothers (see original story here).

“They want to be able to go to restaurants, cafes, meet their friends outside in parks and just have a baby and have a life as well,” said Poirier, adding they’ve sold close to 10,000 shirts this year, which retail from C$45 to C$70.

THE PITCH

In the U.S., 74 percent of women who gave birth in 2004 breast-fed their babies for at least some period of time, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Poirier estimated the North American breastfeeding apparel market is between C$25 million to C$40 million and said her biggest challenge is to increase Momzelle’s exposure and sales in the more lucrative U.S. market.

“It’s about 15 to 20 percent of our overall sales that are from the United States,” said Poirier, who added of the 80 maternity and baby stores that sell her tops across North America, just 10 are in the U.S. “The market is 10 times bigger than the Canadian market.”

Poirier is trying to boost exposure south of the border by partnering with U.S.-based websites and hooking into the very active community of mommy bloggers.

TAKING IT TO THE EXPERTS

Kristen Chase, who co-founded the Chicago-based website Cool Mom Picks with friend Liz Gumbinner, actually recommended Momzelle’s nursing tops and agreed that appealing to the influential blogging community of moms was the right way to go.

“We’ve learned over the years that breastfeeding moms are super engaged online,” said Chase, whose site regularly features mom-made consumer products, from handbags to sippy cups. “Cultivating relationships with carefully chosen mom bloggers and then working together with them to create advertising programs, sponsorships and/or giveaways could be a really cost effective way to reach hundreds of thousands of state-side customers.”

Chase added that many mainstream magazine editors surf these blog sites for the “coolest and hippest finds” and that by appealing to mommy bloggers Momzelle may also attract traditional media buzz as well. She cautioned that finding the right blogs is a time-consuming process, but the payoff is worth the investment.

“Connecting with blogs that have an engaged audience who is passionate about breastfeeding would definitely be worth it.”

Retail specialist Doug Stephens agreed that mommy bloggers hold a lot of sway, but a better route would be to get the endorsements of celebrity mothers such as Anjelina Jolie.

“If they could get the product worn by pregnant celebs I think it might get a real buzz going and turn the key with a lot of buyers,” said Stephens, who runs his own Toronto-based consultancy firm Retail Prophet. “They may have to push the fashion (and the price) needle a little though to get celebrity moms to pay attention. But it only takes one photo of the right celebrity wearing their line to make it trend.”

While Stephens liked Poirier’s business concept, he wasn’t fond of the Momzelle brand name and questioned if it “speaks to a women’s sense of fashion and style.” He ultimately thought it was worth revisiting before really tackling the U.S. market.

In addition, Stephens said Momzelle would also have to significantly increase its online sales volume if it wanted to strike a distribution deal with a large retailer such as a Wal-Mart or Target.

Stephanie Azzarone, who founded the mom-focused New York public relations firm Child’s Play Communications, liked that Momzelle had tapped into a key concern for moms: how to breastfeed in public while maintaining privacy.

“The fact that her target audience is constantly replenishing itself – there are more than 4 million children born each year in the U.S. alone – is a clear opportunity for the continued growth of the brand,” said Azzarone, who nevertheless felt Poirier needed to do a better job at distinguishing her tops from her competition. “Why should a mom buy this product?”

In addition to blogs, Azzarone thought Momzelle should be displaying its product at booths in some of the numerous mom-blogger conferences held throughout the U.S. every year. She said connecting with house party programs where moms host other moms could also generate more groundswell around the product.

“All of these approaches will enable Momzelle to reach her specific target market and spread the news through the all-powerful ‘word of mom.’”

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