Start-up makes the most out of 'word of Mom'

Eco-friendly baby products company discovers that even in the online world, word of mouth really counts.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

I always feel it important to mention at the start of any articles or blogs I write about parenting that I do NOT have the honor of being a parent. As always, I remain in awe of another example of how willing parents help each other "do the right thing."

Case in point is the subject of this blog, e-commerce start-up SproutBaby.com, which makes its real world headquarters in Los Angeles. SproutBaby.com bills itself as an online resource and source for organic, affordable baby food and other items that "eco-conscious" parents might need in the caring and feeding of their infant. Its "flagship" product, if you will, was the Sprout Foods organic baby food line dreamed up by celebrity chef Tyler Florence. One of its more recent line additions are disposable, biodegradable diapers.

Founder Jody Sherman (who is neither a woman, nor a parent) was casting about for new start-up ideas a couple of years ago, when he noticed a phenomenon at his local organic grocery store: Moms stopping other moms in the aisles to ask for advice about the best baby products. Apparently, parenthood is the ultimate conservation ice-breaker. "What I heard them talking about was advice and product recommendations and advice, all things that are facilitated by the Internet," Sherman says.

After engaging some of these parents in his own conversations, Sherman saw an opportunity: parents were really challenged to find baby products that had an environmental bent AND were not ridiculously overpriced. And thus, SproutBaby.com was conceived.

Sherman said the focus of the company's product line is on baby items that are consumable and that parents have to replenish regularly. Recalling the real-world nature of infant product referrals, Sherman teamed up with Florence to offer online distribution of his Sprout Foods items. As the baby-food company began selling its products in organic grocery stores, SproutBaby.com noticed a spike in orders. The company's highest customer concentrations are in New York, Texas, California and Florida, although there are now orders coming in nationwide.

Given how reliant SproutBaby.com is on word of mouth -- something like 75 percent of sales right now are direct referrals -- the team is obviously very careful about how new products are taken on. For starters, any potential  new item is vetted against lists produced by "Healthy Child, Healthy World." If it passes THAT litmus test, it will be subjected to SproutBaby.com's board of experts, including its official Chief Products Officer (who is, yes, a Mom).

Customer referrals also are taken seriously. If some refers the site, they'll get a $10 credit if the person follows through with an order, and the new customer will get 15 percent off his or her first order.

Next up a social networking component. But that project is still in gestation.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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