Family-Run Bambi Baby Not Shy of the Competition

Family-run BambiWest New York, N.J. - Enelio Ortega has been working in his parents' juvenile specialty store here since he was 7. Originally set up as a business for his grandmother to run when she came to America in 1976 from her native Cuba, Bambi Baby soon became the family's primary business.
     "What made us successful and made us stand out is that we are extremely service-oriented," said Ortega. "We have always delivered, assembled, maintained, taught and installed - even when it was just my dad and his station wagon. We've always had the philosophy of going above and beyond."
     Bambi Baby started in a small 1,500-square-foot space, with a focus on layette, christening and communion clothes. As the business grew, the family expanded their offerings, and purchased another 10,000 square feet of space next door. In the 1980s, they added yet another 10,000 square feet above. Warehousing grew right alongside the store - from 6,000 to 12,000 to 50,000 square feet in the late 90s.
     Its large warehouse has given Bambi Baby yet another advantage in a competitive market: in-stock product.
     "We special-order very little," said Ortega. "...Especially with a tough economy, the customer doesn't have the ability to think that far into the future because they're so financially pressed, they can't fathom laying out $1,000 for something they won't see for six weeks."
     Being in business for 34 years, this is not the first bad economy that Bambi Baby has experienced. But through it all, they've changed, adapted and grown, despite new waves of competition, tough economic times, and changes in the industry.
     "We've had to make some major adjustments, but we've been able to overcome and grow," said Ortega.
Family-run Bambi     Their latest challenge, other than the economy, is stiff competition from mass market giants like Babies ‘R' Us and Buy Buy Baby. Ortega said there are at least six Buy Buy Baby stores and 10 Babies ‘R' Us stores within a 40-mile radius of Bambi Baby stores.
     "But we decided to go heads up against the go right at them and then overwhelm the customer with service," said Ortega.
     So Bambi Baby honors its competitor's sales and coupons, and price-matches its products. Part of the reason they're able to be so competitive, said Ortega, is their longstanding relationships with vendors.
     "At times it's not profitable, but it's important for the customer, so they don't always have the impression that the Home Depots of baby are always the cheapest," said Ortega. "...I don't like selling the product that the mass has, and it hurts me to sell a car seat that I'm only going to make 30% on and have to give away a 25% coupon."
     But in Ortega's mind, if the customer doesn't feel like she's getting the best prices, she'll take her business elsewhere.
     "The bottom line is, everybody's out to get the best deal possible because of the economy," said Ortega.
     Still, Bambi Baby doesn't owe its success to simply emulating the mass market stores - they take it a step further, offering things the mass merchants don't: car seat installation, stroller repair, and unlimited warranties - and products the mass merchants don't carry.
     "We get what the mass has so (the customer) can compare apples to apples," said Ortega. "We've got the same exact products, and then we offer different products."
     Major furniture vendors include Bonavita, Pali, Sorelle, Westwood, and Creations; bedding is from CoCaLo, Lambs & Ivy and KidsLine; car seat vendors include Peg Perego, Graco, Britax, and Radian; and strollers - a big seller with nearby New York City - are from Baby Jogger, Bugaboo, Uppa and Peg Perego.
     Ortega said Bambi Baby carries 15 mattresses, from Colgate to Naturepedic to Moonlight Slumber.
Family-run Bambi     "We have it all, in every category," he said.
     Ortega said he looks for innovative features when choosing merchandise, something he said is vital for the specialty stores.
     "A crib is a crib, but a special crib becomes special because somebody manufactured it a certain way and gave us something to talk about," he said.
     And that is what drives new product in the baby business.
     "I still believe the little guy is the one that creates the demand for the product," said Ortega, of independent specialty stores. "The mass market just puts it on the shelf and puts a price on it."
     And Bambi Baby remains a family store; Enelio's parents, Enelio Sr. and Caridad, still work in the store every day, and his brother, Elvis, works in management. The family atmosphere is evident, and Bambi Baby thrives on a philosophy of getting to know their customers - especially their lifestyles - before they make a sale.
     "We try to capture what the customer's needs are and then guide them in the right direction," said Ortega.
     In an area that deals with both urban high-rises and suburban households, those needs can be quite different, for both gear and furniture. Sales associates take the time to get to know the customers, understand their needs and their lifestyles, and then use a no-pressure sales tactic.
     This combination of selection, service, and pricing has helped Bambi Baby survive and thrive for more than three decades, opening a second store in Hoboken five years ago, and a Jersey City location in July 2010.
     The Hoboken store was set up as a satellite store only two miles away, and is much smaller, with no furniture displayed. Ortega saw a void in the market in Hoboken and jumped; the idea is to bring people in with their wide selection of gear, educate them, and then win them over so they make the rest of their baby purchases at the main store.
     Bambi Baby features hardwood flooring, Art Deco-type architectural details, contemporary, vivid colors and open spaces. Upbeat music adds to the atmosphere, as does the scent of baby perfume. (Baby perfume, said Ortega, is very popular in the Hispanic community, and is just like what it sounds like: a scent that smells like babies. At Bambi Baby, they spray it all over the stores, for an instant feel-good vibe.)
Family-run Bambi     "It has to be a fun environment when (customers) come in," said Ortega. "It eases the pressure - you don't want to sell furniture like you're selling a car."
     Another thing that eases the pressure: iPads with WiFi stationed throughout the store, so customers can explore products in more detail, and even check competitors' pricing.
     "We Google products in front of customers," said Ortega. "We check Amazon with customers."
     Ortega said customers today are so used to checking the Internet to ensure they're getting the best deal on a product, he thought he'd save them some time and let them check right there from the store.
     "I need to break that barrier," he explained, "because everybody's in that mindset."
     So it comes back to making sure Bambi Baby has the most competitive pricing - and the best service.
     "It's a battle - it's a war. But for the time being, we thought turning away from it would be worse than standing up to it," said Ortega.

Kids Today Staff | News & Commentary

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