Seedling grows Aussie market

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 2 September 2013

If you’ve ever been into a toy shop or wandered through the children’s section of a department store, you’ll know all about consumer choice. Aisle after aisle of products vying for attention. Things that beep and bleep, shake and sing. High tech, low tech, vintage revival.

The toy and games sector is overwhelmed with products. At one end are short-lived fads that burst onto the scene with great fanfare, run their course and are discarded by kids in next week’s rubbish. At the other end are premium products like hand-crafted wooden kitchens from Denmark or ethically sourced knitted dolls from Guatemala. It seems nothing is too much for today’s child, grandchild, niece, nephew or friend’s little one.

The Australian toy and games sector is a strong one with estimated revenues of AU$2 billion. It is also a polarised market, with a few big retailers accounting for 40 per cent of market share and multiple independents making up the remainder. It is a lucrative but saturated sector. Few niches remain that don’t already have numerous contenders, both local and international.

Imagine my surprise then, when earlier this year I came across a brand that not only stood out on the shelves but seemed to pop up in every trendy little kid’s boutique and magazine. I was further delighted to find that Seedling is made by Kiwis.

From a brand and marketing perspective, a couple of thoughts sprang to mind as soon as I saw the Seedling products in Australian stores. Firstly, the packaging is bang-on-trend with its vintage recycled cardboard box which goes down so well with the 30-something mum. It’s the perfect blend of “ye olde” homeliness and modern hipster-ness. Secondly, there’s a craft revolution going on in Australia, as it is indeed around the world, and Seedling is right in the middle of it.

In 2012 around 10 per cent of the population were engaged in textile crafts, jewellery making, paper crafts or wood crafts, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show. That’s roughly 1.7 million Australians. When the ABS includes glass crafts, pottery, ceramics and mosaics it brings the total to about 2 million. It’s a hobby being passed down from parent to child at a time when the first-time parent is likely to be older and wealthier. Demand for premium-priced products is steady, if not slightly on the rise.

Seedling is not cheap, nor should it be as it’s targeted right at this market, setting itself far apart from the Two Dollar Shop arts and crafts at the other end of the category. Thirdly and I’d say most importantly, Seedling seems to have won a major coup in securing a great Australian distributor. It’s one thing to have a timely product, it’s another to see it on the right shelves at the right time, and that’s exactly what a relatively unknown brand like Seedling has managed to do in a short period.

I haven’t seen Seedling in the ever-growing and price-driven supermarket and department store toy category. I imagine it’s because founder and owner Phoebe Hayman has a tight vision of how to manage her brand.

Seedling’s distribution strategy reinforces its premium positioning and still reaches a lot of customers by focusing on that 60 per cent of independents. At least for now, in bypassing the superpowers of Coles, Woolworths and the like Hayman is able to command a higher price, keep manufacturing in New Zealand and constantly remind buyers why Seedling is just what their little darlings so deserve.

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