A Company Is Born
While most couples are overwhelmed juggling two careers, an 18-month-old daughter and another one on the way, the husband and wife team of James and Heather Bendle decided it was the perfect time to start a new business. In 2003, the couple welcomed two new arrivals into their lives – a bouncing baby girl and a company, Baby-Wise.
It was a risky venture for the entrepreneurial duo, but based on their experiences as both parents and consumers, the Bendle’s were confident Baby-Wise filled a much-needed void in the industry by offering a mix of both tried-and-true classics and innovative breakthroughs. One could say Baby-Wise was initially born out of frustration, as Heather and James were both fed up with the headaches and hassles of shopping for their little ones.
“When the Floppy Seat first came out, I couldn’t find one anywhere,” Heather recalled. “I practically tackled a mom in the grocery store to find out where she got hers. Then I had to jump through hoops to find it online and get it shipped. At that time it was a frustrating process, simply because the product was so new. It just wasn’t readily available.”
Unfortunately for Heather, this became the status quo when it came to buying unique baby products. “I spent lots of time, energy and money purchasing the latest and greatest items for my children,” she says. “It was aggravating because I couldn’t find everything I needed in one place. Classic baby items, like car seat and cribs, were at one store and the cool new products, like Floppy Seats, were somewhere else.”
The Austin-based baby products retailer, incorporated in 2003, launched its virtual store shortly thereafter. “For a long time, Baby-Wise was just me, James, a computer and garage full of stuff,” smiles Heather. At the time, James was also working full-time at a financial services company, spending his evenings growing the new family business. “I guess it was a blessing that our baby was colicky, because I would be up with her every night. Why not get some work done too,” he laughs.
For the first year, Baby-Wise’s inventory, featuring Heather’s favorite baby items, was stored in the Bendle’s two-car garage. A year later, they moved into a large warehouse that should have lasted them two or three years. They outgrew that location in less than a year and moved into a larger warehouse. Again, this one should have lasted another two to three years. A mere ten months later, a wall had to be knocked down to make more room.
“Our customers wanted to come in and test products,” says Heather. “They wanted to see, feel and touch these items, especially car seats and strollers, since they would soon become staples in their baby’s lives.” Due to customer demand, Baby-Wise gave birth to its first showroom in 2006.
“Parents would come in to test-drive a stroller and instantly fall in love with it,” explains Heather. “We broke their hearts when we told them we weren’t equipped to sell the stroller to them that day.” Since the Bendle’s were serious about their unwavering dedication to customer service, the showroom was transformed into a retail store. “We’ve always done whatever it takes to make our customers happy,” adds Heather.
In fact, customer service is almost more important than the products. “We truly care about every customer because they’re people, not numbers,” explains Heather. “They’re moms, dads, grandparents and friends who deserve to be treated with respect.”
Half a million products later, today Baby-Wise has matured into a thriving company. And just like baby, the company is celebrating new milestones. In 2008, the company rebranded itself as BabyEarth to reflect a growing interest in green living. “The new name, BabyEarth, reflects our commitment to making baby’s world as healthy, happy and safe as possible,” explains James. “Just like baby, a thriving company eventually outgrows everything too. The Baby-Wise years were rewarding, but it’s time to celebrate new milestones. ”
While only a portion of their products are eco-friendly, BabyEarth boasts one of the largest selections of eco-friendly baby products in the market today. “When I first became a mom, I was interested in raising my children in a wholesome all natural household, but I had no idea how to do it,” she admits. “Now I’m more educated about going green and I want to share what I’ve learned with other parents. We’re not trying to push parents in one direction or the other. We advocate options. Giving parents the option to choose the product that best suits their family is extremely important to us,” Heather adds.
To further illustrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility, BabyEarth has implemented a variety of eco-friendly business initiatives. “Every parent knows you have to practice what you preach to set a good example,” says Heather. “If we advocate eco-friendly alternatives across all lines of business, we’re truly living up to our name. It’s the responsible thing to do.”