The "BIRTH" of Regal Lager, Inc.
The beginning of Regal Lager is probably very similar to those
of many of our colleagues in the industry. You have small children
in your own home, and you feel products are missing. Or, as in our
case, you see opportunities for existing products in a new market.
For a number of years in the 80's, my wife Luanne Whiting-Lager
and I lived and worked in Sweden, my home country. When we had our
oldest daughter, Linda, we received lots of positive comments about
the Swedish products we used. We heard them from Luanne's family
over here as well as from friends visiting us in Sweden. We got
the same response when we traveled in the U.S. This big interest
in high quality (Swedish) products for small children came to be
the birth of Regal Lager, Inc.
Luanne and I started to discuss how we could possibly turn this
interest into a business opportunity. As often happens, these ideas
were soon forgotten and we went about our life as usual. However,
around the time of our daughter, Malin's, birth, we decided to research
business opportunities for Swedish children's products in the U.S.
more seriously. The hot business trend in the U.S. during the late
'80's was mail order, so based on this we thought a mail order catalog
with Scandinavian children's products should be a viable business.
With this plan in mind, we both quit our jobs in the summer of
1990 and started to contact manufacturers throughout Scandinavia.
The idea for the catalog was to cover four areas. Baby accessories
like Baby Björn, high quality toys like Brio, safety items
like car seats, bike helmets and home safety, and also a limited
assortment of 100% cotton baby clothes (this was at a time when
everything in the U.S. was made out of polyester!). We received
great feedback from everybody we contacted, and our assortment was
coming along fine.
During the fall of 1990, we were in full preparation for the big
move to the U.S. The house was for sale. The container to ship our
belongings was ordered and the plane tickets picked up. Thanks to
the positive response from different manufacturers, we felt we had
a very good assortment of products. One evening about a month before
we were leaving we sat down and counted how many different products
we were going to sell through the catalog. The count scared us to
death! We had over 800 different items, counting all colors and
sizes. We right then and there realized that with the little money
we had, and the fact that we planned a home based business run by
only the two of us, there was no way to pull this off! It would
be an understatement to say that we were worried and did not sleep
well at night.
After the initial shock and disappointment settled we tried to
think logically. We then decided to pick what we felt were the best
products to try direct marketing by advertising in select parenting
magazines. With this idea in mind we selected Baby Björn, Stokke's
Tripp Trapp chair (now known as the KinderZeat) and a Swedish manufacturer
of car seats and bike helmets by the name of Bil-Atlas.
We made the move, and in the spring of 1991 we set up our business
in the basement of our new home in Marietta, Georgia. Unfortunately,
we quickly learned about the differences in standards for car seats
and bike helmets between Europe and the US, so these were no longer
viable products for us. With much anticipation did we await the
first ads we had placed in Child Magazine. The phones started ringing
in May, but not at all to the extent we had hoped. We quickly came
to realize that the amount of business these ads created, were not
enough to build a business. We started to seriously doubt the business
model we had chosen.
JPMA show in Dallas 1991
Björn Jakobson, the founder and owner of Baby Björn,
had suggested early on in our discussions that we should become
distributors and sell to retailers. Then one day in June a sales
rep in the juvenile industry called us from New York. She had been
a sales rep for Baby Björn for a previous distributor in the
early 80's. From her and also from a close neighbor, who happened
to be a sales rep, we learned as much as possible about being a
distributor. We contacted JPMA and got a last minute 10 x 10 both
at the 1991 JPMA Show in Dallas.
This trade show came to be the real starting point for us as a
distributor representing Baby Björn. The exchange rate was
very unfavorable at the time and our prices were quite steep. This
made the Baby Carrier and the other products a tough sell. On top
of that, many reps and retailers had been "left hanging"
after a previous distributor and didn't want to touch Baby Björn
with a stick. Despite this, we were able to recruit a few reps,
and some retailers gave us a chance. After the show, Luanne and
I started traveling around the country, knocking on doors, trying
to convince the retailers that the Baby Björn products were
worth a try, despite the high cost. We were able to convince some,
but more often we got the answer that our products were just too
expensive. Many retailers also had had some bad experiences with
the previous distributor and were just not willing to even talk
1995 ad that appeared in
Baby Shop for
Baby Björn Baby Carrier
We did our best to not be let down by all this. By being persistent,
our sales increased ever so slowly. By 1994 we finally got a big
break when the exchange rate improved and we could change our pricing
quite dramatically. This suddenly made it a lot easier to recruit
both new retailers and reps. Around this time, the BabyBjörn
Baby Carrier started to be well known by word of mouth among retailers
and parents all over the country. Suddenly the wheel started to
turn in the right direction.
Early on we wanted to establish agreements with the different buying
groups, but we could not afford it. In 1994 we were finally able
to reach agreements with the buying groups, and the following year
NINFRA awarded the Baby Björn Baby Carrier their "Product
of The Year" award. This was a tremendous achievement for us
at that point. It suddenly gave us credibility within our industry.
Suddenly reps wanted to represent our Baby Björn products and
retailers wanted to sell them! A few years later, in 1997, BFP also
chose the Baby Carrier as Product of the Year another very rewarding
recognition for the two of us.
Bengt and Luanne receiving
Product of the Year award 1997 from John Alexander.
By seeing early, and closely following the European trends in fashion
and color, Baby Björn has become a fashion leader in the juvenile
industry. Sales wise, some of the designs may have been more memorable
than successful. This has been a conscientious decision on Baby
Björn's part to create interest. Many of you may remember the
Harlequin pattern from 1997 and other designs that have stirred
up great interest. For those of you that have walked around the
JPMA Show, you have probably seen our show room changing from year
to year, from the black and white chess carpet to the BabyBjörn
blue of last year. Many of our friends in the industry still talk
about the Lime Green showroom in 1997 when we introduced the somewhat
wild "Harlequin" in the Baby Carrier collection! We'll
keep you in suspense for this year's colors until show day in October.
Baby Björn has developed some wonderful new products over
the last years. The Toilet Trainer is the only potty seat that fits
any toilet in the world, thanks to a very clever adjustment mechanism.
In 1998, it was chosen as one of the New Product Show Off winners
at the JPMA Show. In 1999, we introduced a totally new concept for
diaper bags with the Baby Björn Diaper Bag. Made from durable
materials of matchless quality, coupled with innovative design,
it offers functions that no other diaper bag has. At last years
show we introduced the new baby Björn Plate and Spoon, and,
again, to our delight it was awarded one of the Show Off awards.
The Swedish Challenge
Looking back, there are so many highlights in building our business.
We all remember the 1996 Olympic Challenge sales competition where
the winners were invited to follow the Olympic Games here in Atlanta.
Another very memorable experience was the year long sales contest
we conducted a couple of years later to challenge our reps to increase
sales even further. It definitely served the purpose of stimulation,
and it culminated with a fantastic trip to Sweden in the summer
of 1999. Close to 30 travelers toured the Baby Bjorn Headquarters
in Stockholm and the Distribution Center in Lanna in the province
of Småland. There were visits to the glass works of Kosta
and Orrefors, a train ride through the pastoral beauty of the Swedish
countryside, and a dinner cruise in the beautiful archipelago of
Stockholm. "The Swedish Challenge" as we had named this
competition, remains an unforgettable memory.
Another highlight occurred just last year, when we were awarded
The Swedish Trade Council's Annual Achievement Award for Superb
Consumer Market Adaptability. We were recognized for "outstanding
initiative and achievement in promoting Swedish business in North
America". Starting from scratch in our basement back in 1991,
we had managed to establish Baby Björn as the premier upscale
brand name for baby accessories in the United States in just nine
years. There is no question that we were honored and pleased to
receive this award.
For Luanne and myself it has been a very rewarding experience to
start and build Regal Lager over the years. In all honesty we didn't
know what we got ourselves into, but for some reason it has worked
out well. The growth we have experienced is quite incredible. From
being in the basement of our house with five employees in one room
in 1996, we have now grown to 22,000 sq ft. and 18 employees at
our Marietta office and 18 sales reps all over the country as well
as one in Canada. We both feel honored and fortunate to work with
such good products, retailers, reps, colleagues and not least of
all, our employees.
Baby Björn as a company turns 40 this year. The last ten years
have indeed been an interesting journey. The US market has grown
from basically nothing to become the single biggest market. The
key to our and Baby Björn's future success will be for Baby
Björn to be able to continue to develop new and unique products.
The Lager Family
Best of all over these years has been all the wonderful people
we have met in this industry. We have become very good friends with
all our retailers, and it is always a great pleasure to meet again,
whether it's at a show or in the stores. As mentioned above, we
have a great group of reps that has become very close personal friends.
Last but not the least are all our colleagues in this industry,
many of whom we met through our active roles in JPMA. This has maybe
been the most surprising and rewarding relationship. We can't more
than believe that the juvenile industry is very unique with this
form of camaraderie among colleagues. There is a willingness to
help each other and share information that never stops to surprise
us. You may be competitors out in the field, but at the same time
you are very good friends on a personal level. Again, and it bears
worth repeating, Luanne and I both feel honored and fortunate to
be able to work with such good products, retailers, reps, colleagues
and all our employees all of whom have played a big part in our
We ended up in a new country and in a great industry by pure
coincidence. We have enjoyed every minute of it, and we look forward
developing existing and new friendships for many years to come.