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A Companion Newsletter to Baby Shop
Issue #1 July 2001
www.babyshopmagazine.com

info@babyshopmagazine.com
 
 
   

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.

First Ad

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.

First 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 to us.

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 the BFP's
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. Watch out!

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 success.

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 to developing existing and new friendships for many years to come.

Bengt Lager/EB
June, 2001

www.regallager.com

 

 
 
   
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