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The Battle of the Brands: Boon and Munchkin fight it out in the Target baby aisle. Babble’s Infant Industry.

Boon, Inc., is a rarity in the baby industry: a parent-run start-up whose Great Idea actually clicked. Boon’s very first product, the Frog Pod Bath Toy Scoop & Organizer, won the Innovation Award at the 2005 Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association convention in Orlando. Within a few months, the Boon brand was buzzing, and the founders, Ryan Fernandez and Rebecca Finell – who’d met at church in Phoenix – introduced a training potty and footstool, a faucet fountain adapter and a host of other innovations. Soon, they had laid claim to something far more coveted than a trade show award: shelf space at Target.While Target may be in every baby-product inventor’s business plan, the store rarely stocks products that come from outside the Baby Industrial Complex – the Gracos and Kolcrafts and Fisher-Prices. If anything, Target will knock off an innovating product in-house, like they did with Robeez stay-on baby shoes, and Like-A-Bike, the $279 wooden toddler scooter from Germany (Target version: $49.99). 

My friends and I try to use our baby gear dollars to support independent, parent-run businesses whenever possible. When we saw the Bath Toy Turtle Scoop from Munchkin on Target’s shelf next to the Frog, we were sure it was yet another instance of The Man ripping off the home-spun entrepreneur. At $12.99 vs. $24.99, the Turtle smokes the Frog on price. “Isn’t Munchkin a ‘made for Target’ brand?” one mother I know, Stephanie, asked. “Talk about ripping off start-ups!”

Setting aside for a moment the fact that her cry of indie injustice was coming from the toy aisle at Target, the answer to Stephanie’s question is instructive for parents of conscience. In fact, Munchkin is far more like Boon than unlike it.

Despite its near-inseparable associations with Target, Munchkin is not an in-store brand. If you don’t count Bamboo, their pet products division, Munchkin is not a complex, or even a conglomerate. It’s still privately held by the founders, L.A.-based Steve and Laura Dunn – and Steve’s dad, David, who ran money for the Bass brothers and fronted his son $500,000 to start the business in 1992. (So this is how hedge fund managers show their love: by valuing their son’s yet-to-be-launched business at $2.5 million?)

Dunn founded Munchkin, the story goes, “to rid the world of tired and mundane products by developing clever, innovative products that excite and delight parents and children, making parenting and life safer, easier and more enjoyable.” Boon’s own mission, meanwhile, sounds remarkably similar: to “create innovative products in response to the needs of modern parents.”

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