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The rebirth of Mamas & Papas: talking to a millennial generation

Mamas & Papas is embarking on a new phase of growth targeting millennial customers with tailored store formats, new collaborations and launches, as well as a focus on in-store experiences.

Jonathon Fitzgerald, co CEO of Mamas & Papas

Jonathon Fitzgerald, co-CEO of Mamas & Papas

Jonathon Fitzgerald, co CEO of Mamas & Papas

A new boutique-style concept that opened two weeks ago on Northcote Road in London’s “nappy valley” underlines the new direction for the maternity and nursery specialist, which has returned to profit part way through a three-year turnaround plan.

The 2,000 sq ft Battersea store features an edited range of Mamas & Papas’ most popular products, as well as offering events and experiences such as yoga in collaboration with fitness studio Frame, nutritional classes and workshops.

The store, designed with agency Dalziel & Pow, also offers a new “Rest and Enrich” area offering bodycare from brands such as This Works, Neal’s Yard and Cowshed, as well as a collaboration with Bloom & Blossom.

We are now actively seeking other locations to open this type of small-format stores

“The Northcote Road store is smaller than our normal stores, which are typically 5,000 sq ft on average and up to 10,000 sq ft,” chief commercial officer and co-CEO Jonathon Fitzgerald told Drapers.

“We are now actively seeking other locations to open this type of small-format store, particularly around affluent boroughs in north London.

“We are also planning a new warehouse-style concept as a kind of Mamas & Papas Marketplace, which will be a true blend of product and experiences. It will feature nutrition workshops as a well as a café-style offer, collaborating with artisanal partners on things like cold-pressed juices.

“We plan to roll out very quickly and we’re looking to test and learn with the new concepts,” he said.

Mamas & Papas new concept store on Northcote Road in London

Mamas & Papas new concept store on Northcote Road in London

The new Mamas & Papas concept store on Northcote Road in south London

The firm is set to open another store in Speke in Liverpool on August 22, which will be 5,000 sq ft and based on the “digitally-enabled” format of its Westfield London store, which opened in March.

The Westfield store is divided into zones: there are dgital wall projections, a touchscreen pushchair-finder and a cut-out Mini Cooper that parents can use to test out car seats.

The new Liverpool store will also feature the Rest and Enrich department and an area dedicated to experiences and in-store events.

Mamas & Papas currently has 32 UK stores and is planning a UK estate of around 50 stores in the next few years.

The company closed around half of its stores through a company voluntary arrangement in 2014 after it was bought by private equity firm BlueGem Capital, which also owns London department store Liberty.

Return to profit

Fitzgerald said the firm has now returned to profit and stores are trading at 20% like-for-like increase on last year.

In its most recent results, the company’s turnover was £137.6m for the year to 29 March 2015, down slightly from £137.7m in the year in 2013/14. It made an operating profit of £91,000 before one-off costs, compared with a loss of £5.7m in the previous year.

Of the turnover, around £50m is derived from wholesale sales, which will continue to be key, Fitzgerald said.

We worked with agency TrendBible to modernise our marketing for the millennial generation

Around £100m comes from the UK and the rest from overseas, particularly from the Middle East, the US, Australia, South Korea and South Africa. The US will be a focus for the future and China will be a key territory for growth, he added.

“We have spent a lot of time on the product pipeline and we’ll launch a new pram in October, followed by new major launches every six months from then,” said Fitzgerald. 

“We worked with agency TrendBible to modernise our marketing for the millennial generation. Our average customer is a first-time parent aged around 30 years old and we need to make having a baby fit into their lifestyle, not take them out of the lifestyle they’re used to.

“Without sounding clichéd, they are extremely savvy and use social media to connect with the community to look for recommendations and advice.”

He said the company is building its strategy around key pillars of wellness, edited ranges and connectivity – both with the brand and its community.

“We want our business to be about stores and experience,” he said. “For example, currently around 10% of revenues come from personal shopping, which is still exploratory, and we offer parenting events.

“We’re midway through the three-year plan and now we’re ramping up our next phase. We’re focusing on the experience part of the business and we expect to be 70% product and 30% experiences within the next three years.”

We’re midway through the three-year plan and now we’re ramping up our next phase

There is no charge for most of the events and experiences Mamas & Papas offers at the moment, but Fitzgerald said he sees no reason the firm cannot make revenues from some of its experiences in future, such as yoga, for which there is a “nominal fee”.

Within Mamas & Papas’ core estate, many stores have a mezzanine floor, which Fitzgerald plans to turn into a “wellness studio” and events space.

Virtual presence

The company will also relaunch its website at the end of the month – as a mobile site that trades internationally – and a new mobile app and loyalty scheme will follow next month.

Mamas & Papas new concept store on Northcote Road in London

Mamas & Papas new concept store on Northcote Road in London

The interior of the Northcote Road store

“Social media is huge for us, particularly Facebook and Instagram, which helps to build loyalty and a sense of community and the new loyalty scheme should work really well for our customer base,” he said. “We have such an intense period of interaction from pregnancy through to when the baby becomes a toddler – we’ll be able to reward customers for that loyalty through that time.”

Mamas & Papas is also poised to enter the second-hand market next month, with a concept called Loved for Life for prams and pushchairs.

The company worked with Deloitte’s innovation consultancy, Doblin, on the concept, which aims to tap into the £131m market for second-hand baby products and is growing at 18% a year.

“Customers typically trade with each other through Facebook and other social media platforms, so this is a big opportunity for us,” Fitzgerald said, explaining that Mamas & Papas will repair and recondition its prams and pushchairs. “We have trialled some events where we give customers a voucher up to the value of £140 per pram then we can recondition it and sell it on.”

The firm will also offer a Care Club and a 20-point valet service. Fitzgerald said this could pave the way for Mamas & Papas to enter the second-hand market with other categories, but that it is early days yet for any expansion of the concept.

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