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Strollers attract awards and Hollywood stars

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Donna C. Gregory


They’ve graced the pages of People and Us Weekly magazines, providing a sleek mode of transportation for some of the most famous babies in Hollywood. Angelina Jolie’s Shiloh, Tori Spellings’ Liam and Jennifer Garner’s Violet have all gone for a spin. 

Now, The Baby Jogger Co.’s strollers are becoming a common sight on a street near you. With its award-winning City product line, the company is gaining momentum in the premium baby-products market. Since 2006, revenue has nearly doubled. Executives describe 2008 as a breakout year, thanks to strong reviews for the company’s latest innovation:  the lightweight, City Mini.
“The City Mini has completely taken off for us. It is our must-have product,” reports Mark Zehfuss, Baby Jogger’s president.

In fact the whole City series of three-wheel strollers — including accessories such as rear brakes and a bug canopy — is much in demand. So much so that Angelina Jolie called the company to request a stroller. National retailer Babies ‘R Us also came calling as did other baby specialty stores, bike dealers and running shops.

But Baby Jogger is no overnight sensation. The company dates back to 1984 when founder Phil Baechler, of Yakima, Wash., tried to go for a run with his infant son, carriage in tow. After the carriage failed to hold up over hard terrain and long distances, Baechler, a journalist, designed a stroller more conducive for running. Hence the name, Baby Jogger.

The company released several versions of jogging strollers over the next 19 years, before finally being bought out of bankruptcy in 2003. Baby Jogger is now part of Richmond-based Dynamic Brands, which also owns The Bag Boy Co., AMF Golf and Slotline Golf. Altogether, Dynamic Brands employs 60 people, including 10 who work for Baby Jogger.

Dynamic Brands CEO David Boardman and COO Leighton Klevana each own 25 percent of company, while the remaining 50 percent is owned by a local business partner.
Zehfuss and Boardman both owned Baby Jogger products before they ran the company. “We knew there was a lot of brand recognition,” says Boardman.

Although the Baby Jogger name brand was synonymous with jogging strollers, Zehfuss and Boardman say previous owners had strained relations with retailers by selling directly to consumers. The company also hadn’t streamlined production or fully utilized some of its most-promising technologies, according to the executives.

Dynamic Brands entered into an agreement with an exclusive partner and moved production overseas to Taiwan and southern China for cost savings.  Then the company developed and marketed Baby Jogger’s patented “quick-fold” technology, which enables users to fold strollers in half with one quick pull of a seat strap.

“There are lots of strollers that fold easily, but there’s nothing as easy as ours,” says Boardman. “It gives us that wow factor that you really need in consumer products to be successful.”
With the change in ownership, Baby Jogger expanded its offerings to include the City series of strollers, suited for maneuvering in more urban environments.

“The running strollers are great for running and great on the beach, but they were never easy to put in the trunk,” says Boardman. “The new line of [City] strollers is just so much more applicable to everyday life. What’s really taken us to the next level is the City line.”

The City Mini is a compact version of the company’s City Classic model. It captured two awards last year: a Gold Award from Mother & Baby Magazine, considered the “Oscars” of the nursery industry, in the “lightweight buggy” category, and a Gold Award from the National Parenting Publications Awards in the “single stroller” category. Retailing at about $229, more than 50,000 City Minis have already been sold, with the line extremely popular among the Hollywood set.

This year is expected to bring more growth when Baby Jogger releases its newest innovation, the Summit 360. This multifunctional stroller is designed to perform in urban landscapes and off the beaten path.

Baby Jogger also is putting a new focus on accessories, including a double car seat adaptor and a snap-and-go diaper bag. “We’re going to keep focusing on innovation and new products,” says Boardman. “There is a lot of growth ahead of us.

2008 Virginia Small Business Success Story of the Year
CENTRAL VIRGINIA FINALIST
The Baby Jogger Co.
http://www.babyjogger.com
Richmond


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