There’s no need to compromise
Style, function and safety. These are the hallmarks of Scandinavian Child, the North American distributor of high-end specialty children’s products. President and CEO Brenda Berg started her company in 2003 out of a desire to control her time more, as well as to fill a market niche that she saw.
Before the birth of her first child, Berg and her husband Christer visited his homeland of Sweden. It was there that they spotted the elegant high chair made by Svan that would eventually become their first product offering.
“I was a transportation engineering consultant when my first child was due,” she explains. “My husband was a software executive, and with both of our travel schedules we decided that someone should have a more controlled travel schedule. The very first product that came to mind was a high chair that we had found for our child in Sweden. I called the company, and they were looking for a distribution agent for North America, so we started up from that.”
Berg describes Scandinavian Child’s typical customer as one that values functionality and ergonomics and tends to be more progressive when it comes to choosing products. “They’re not looking just to buy what their sister had, but they’re actually looking for something that’s special,” she says.
It’s important to Berg to offer a consistent line of products that meets the company’s standards across the board.
“We don’t have sort of a hodge-podge of products. We have products that are all functional. They’re all focused on safety, not just ergonomic safety, but also we try to be as environmentally friendly as possible regarding chemicals and so on.”
Of course high design is the element that really sets Scandinavian Child apart. The company’s exclusive brand offerings include Svan, Anka, lillebaby, Micralite, and Beaba.
“Too often, you have a product that looks great, but doesn’t really work,” says Berg. “Or it works great, but it has Mickey Mouse all over it, and it’s plastic. So we look for products that have that balance of everything. You don’t have to compromise.”
Scandinavian Child started out as a distribution company only but has recently acquired its first manufacturer. The company sells wholesale to specialty stores such as Babies “R” Us, Buy Buy Baby, Target.com, Walmart.com, and Williams-Sonoma.
Despite a Masters degree in public policy and a focus in statistics, Berg says she’s actually a frustrated engineer at heart. Thus, the product development aspect of her job is something that excites her. Berg says that people often think that when a company imports products that those products are just bought off the shelf. However, she explains that she is very engaged in the product development, packaging and testing, as well as helping set safety standards.
“What surprises people when I sit on an airplane is when you tell them that you run a children’s product company and they say, ‘Oh, do you do that from home?’ I don’t know if it’s because I’m female, or maybe because it’s children’s products. They assume I’m sitting at home knitting hats in my basement or something, but it seems to surprise people nine times out of ten.”
It’s important to Berg to get input from her whole team, no matter their role. She says it takes a while to gain the trust of new employees who come from a more traditional corporate environment, and who feel that their job is limited to just answering calls all day.
“What they don’t understand is that they are the touch to the customer, the most direct contact we have with the customer,” Berg explains. “So of course I’m going to bring them into marketing and product development meetings.”
Berg started Scandinavian Child out of her savings account, with just enough money to buy a small container of high chairs and fund two trade shows. She boot-strapped things from there and then four years ago signed on private equity investors to function as strategic partners.
These partnerships are not ones that Berg takes lightly. She says that each was chosen because the partner understood and valued Scandinavian Child’s mission.
“There’s a difference between investors who come in and say, ‘Well, I’m going to invest in this company because there’s something that I can fix’ versus ‘I’m going to invest in this company because I believe in it, and we just need to take it to the next level.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s your third party warehouse, your lawyer, or just two people going in to start a business together. Choose your partners wisely, because you are married to that person, whether you like it or not.”
Scandinavian Child has experienced solid growth year after year. Berg says the company is constantly re-investing and there are plans for some of their brands to be launched into spinoff companies soon. For the next eighteen months the company will focus on its domestic role, with plans to go more global after that. It will also continue its transition toward more manufacturing.
Though her sights are set on global pursuits, Berg is careful to maintain a strong interest in her local community as well.
“Living and working here in Wake County has been a nice asset for us and for the quality of life of our employees,” she explains. “It’s a good match. That’s why I’m engaged with the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t get anything directly for my business out of the Chamber, but I think that we as business owners need to continue to support the community and make this community as attractive as we can.”