How this mom turned her parenting blog into a multimillion-dollar baby-care business
Thousands of parents will converge on MommyCon New York City this weekend to learn about baby sleep, toddler eating habits, carseat safety and potty-training. But one mom, Xza Higgins, will keep watch over the familial crowd, making sure everything is running smoothly.
Higgins, the CEO and founder of Parent & Co., is bringing her two-day MommyCon conference, which specializes in natural parenting philosophy and techniques, for the second time to New York. Here, she matches thousands of new and expectant parents with babywearing educators, lactation consultants, sleep experts and carseat-safety specialists — not to mention hundreds of baby products on the market.
MommyCon grew out of a blog, the Mommy Dialogues, that Higgins created when she felt isolated as a first-time mom in Chicago wanting to learn more about natural parenting. Through the blog, she met like-minded moms and started organizing meet-ups and retreats, which eventually led to the first MommyCon in Las Vegas five years ago, attended by just 150 parents.
“We had to beg for people to come,” Higgins recalls. “We had $ 29 a night hotel rooms. You could have a family of four, with a hotel room and your tickets for under $ 100.”
Now, MommyCon is taking residence at the Grand Hyatt hotel by New York’s Grand Central Station, where rooms cost considerably more than $ 29, and tickets to the event range from $ 25 for general admission to $ 150 for VIP admission, which includes an additional day of panels and a special gift bag. The MommyCon event series, which runs throughout the U.S. and Canada, is now a multimillion-dollar business that reaches 250,000 parents each year. In 2018, Higgins is rolling out new DaddyCon and KidCon series, in addition to running separate brand-partnered events.
MommyCon is divided into panels and educational sessions, but another draw for attendees is the exhibitor hall. This is where parents get the chance to meet with small-business owners, many of whom offer more specialized baby products that are harder to find on the market, such as cloth diapers, baby carriers made from woven wraps, and silicone feeding products. That doesn’t mean mainstream products aren’t available: Ergo baby carriers, Ju-Ju-Be diaper bags and Huggies diapers have a big presence at MommyCon. But a number of exhibitors only sell directly to consumers or through authorized retailers, such as Kinderpack baby carriers, Applecheeks cloth diapers and Tekhni woven wraps.
The global revenue of the baby-care-product industry is estimated to generate $ 11.4 billion in 2018, and could rise to $ 13.3 billion in 2021, according to Statista.
Higgins’s direct experience with both parents and baby-product brands has put her in a unique position as a liaison, expert and facilitator of feedback between the two. Higgins’s company gathers information from the 250,000 parents at MommyCon via ticket sales, surveys and focus groups. She also creates programs for companies to offer products directly to consumers for feedback. This has translated into a new data-driven revenue stream for MommyCon.
“It’s not just the events. It’s actually the data that we collect from our audience. We’re able to facilitate giving brands that information that they really need and find crucial in development of their new products,” she says.
MarketWatch caught up with Higgins before MommyCon NYC to discuss her insights into the baby-product industry, creating the offshoot DaddyCon and KidCon series, and running her own business as a parent herself.
Your conference began as a single event and has now grown into multiple series of events. You’re also expanding the data and marketing side of your business. Tell me about that
We have a very active community that’s extremely eager to provide us feedback, to give us their opinion about products that they want, that they need, that they don’t need. So we’re able to give that data to brands and to our corporate partners. The area I’m most passionate about is creating these marketing campaigns where we’re actually getting the product directly in the hands of parents. These parents, primarily mothers, actually turn into being brand ambassadors for these companies. The moms don’t necessarily view themselves that way, but they’re recommending a product that we’re sending to them so they’re acting on the brand’s behalf. It winds up not only being a way for the brands to collect data but also for brands to market their products.
Besides events and data, what are your other revenue streams at Parent & Co.?
We sell event tickets, we sell sponsorships, exhibitor space. We do digital, which encompasses our website, our ads, our affiliate accounts and well as blog posts and social media content. We do launch events for brands, both at MommyCon and as private events. Through Parent & Co., we create marketing campaigns for brands to reach a very specific audience. We did a campaign with Evenflo Feeding where they wanted to get reviews and feedback about their new pacifiers, bottles and breast-milk-storage bags. So we got 1000 units out to new moms all over the country, and we’ve created a Facebook community for them to come in, so we’re getting social sharing and feedback on the actual products.
A lot of new parents may not be aware of small baby-product businesses like those at MommyCon. What have you observed about these small businesses within the giant baby-product industry?
The mergers and acquisitions within the baby industry has been really fascinating to watch because over the last two years, we have seen [for example] in the field of baby carriers — these are the products that parents are wearing their babies on — that we went from about 10 major players, companies that did $ 5 million to $ 100 million in revenue, to having really only four major players. The companies kept acquiring one another or they merged. Parents have in ways more options because they have better access to these carriers. At the same time, the products have become so designed and engineered that a lot of the artistry in it went away, where every carrier does everything now. It used to be if you wanted to forward-face, you’d go with X brand. If you wanted to back carry, you’d go with Y brand. Now, all of them do all of the things.
Is there another segment in the baby industry that’s ripe for mergers or acquisitions?
I want to see one of the feeding brands really take control of that segment. By feeding, I mean your bottles, your sippies, your plates, your cups. Take all of those pieces together and really create one solid brand that parents can turn to for all of those things. Right now, you have companies like Munchkin that makes an amazing Miracle 360 cup. Then I go over to MAM for my bottle. I’ll go over to Replay for my plates. I adore Replay because all of their products are made from recycled bottles, but it’s not going to be what fits everybody’s lifestyle. I love EZPZ mats, and right now their product line is exclusively for the mats that go on a lot of tables for kids to eat off of. They’ve expanded a little bit into the craft field because they have a craft mat that you can use for paint, and they also have a line of dog bowls that stick to the floor. But again, they don’t have a cup that goes with it, they don’t have forks and knives. They don’t have all the other pieces that would make it a more well-rounded product line. So I could see them being acquired by a company that was looking to bring on a really great plate option.
What have you noticed about parent spending habits? So many seem to rely on Amazon Prime or big-box retailers.
Thank you, Amazon, for creating something that was going to make people’s lives easier. There are so many products out there that honestly just make things more complicated. I don’t have a lot of time. People ask me, how do you balance it all? I’m always like well that’s a joke, because I don’t balance it all. However, I employ different technology and different people to make this life of mine happen. I don’t grocery shop. I use Instacart, because if I didn’t use Instacart, I wouldn’t have groceries. I cook four nights a week, but I use Plated. I use these amazing companies to make things in my life happen seamlessly, because they wouldn’t happen otherwise. If I had the choice between grocery shopping and spending an hour with my kids, I’m going to choose spending an hour with my kids. Keeping a clean house is really important to me. I don’t have the time for it. That became one of those contentious points in my marriage a few years back, when [my partner] said, “This is spending money we don’t have.” I’m like, “Yes, we do have this because my time is worth money and you’re not going to do it.” So, I outsourced the cleaning aspect.
What does your 2018 look like in terms of conference rollouts?
We have seven MommyCon events all over the country. We have three DaddyCon events. We have something called Gather, which is an event we collaborate with a brand on. So we’ve teamed up with Ergo Baby to do six Gather events across the country. They can be used for brands to have intimate gatherings of their fans, or those that they want to reach within a specific demographic, to come meet with them, have breakfast, have playtime with their kids. They’re able to use the feedback from those events to personalize the brand. Sometimes when you get so big, people don’t look at you as the mom that started this great company. You’re just this giant corporation that sells stuff. So we really like to show the brand story.
KidCon has been years in the making. It’s going to be launching in Chicago in December. This is our solution for all of the amazing people that come to MommyCon that want the next stage. Once you get past the baby and early toddlerhood stage, where do you go to find products that are going to fit your active lifestyle, that are going to fit the needs of your family? KidCon is our solution to that. June 1, we’re going to launch the tickets for sale and right now, everything’s in preview mode on our website.
You have a fulltime staff of just 16. As you build and scale events, what can’t you take for granted?
We all wear many hats and we’re a really tight-knit team. We went from all being remote to, over the last two years, really bringing everyone in house. So every new hire now is local because we do feel, even though we can have a flexible and family-first work environment, it’s so valuable to have that face time. When we launch new events, it’s all hands on deck to make them happen. One of the things I can’t take for granted is this team. They really are amazing and so passionate about the work that we’re doing. When I interview new people, the biggest reason why people want to leave the positions they were in is because they want to move into doing something that’s good for humanity. We’re events and there’s fandom involved with that but at the same time, we’re educating parents, we’re providing resources, we do so much non-profit work. It’s not just a job, it’s really a lifestyle we’ve all embarked on.
What advice would you give someone who also wants to turn her passion into a business?
Two things that I would tell them. One is, create that business plan before you leave your security of having your job. You really want to think it through, you want to be able to document it. The biggest thing for me, which I really credit to a lot of our success, is don’t spend money you don’t have. I oftentimes see founders and small businesses spend money that they truly don’t have. Starting a company with a tremendous amount of debt is going to hinder their overall success. Don’t look at the extraordinary exception as the norm.