Not just baby’s play

Once upon a time, toys designed for a baby’s first year of life were merely expected to be colorful, appealing and fun – little more was demanded of them.But that was before the revolution created by the Israeli company Tiny …

Once upon a time, toys designed for a baby’s first year of life were merely expected to be colorful, appealing and fun – little more was demanded of them.

But that was before the revolution created by the Israeli company Tiny Love, founded in 1992. From its first breakout product – the award-winning Gymini baby activity – Tiny Love changed the market in focusing on creating toys that would promote and maximize a baby’s development.

It also grabbed a sizable share of the toy market for babies under the age of two. The company now holds a 25 percent global market share for musical mobiles and activity gyms, while competing from established conglomerates such as Fisher-Price. Tiny Love, with far fewer products – selling only 25 carefully designed and chosen toys and accessories – now accounts for about 3 percent of the baby toy global market, with annual exports of $50-60 million and is continuing to grow rapidly.

Their quick success has made other companies sit up and pay attention to their market strategy, and today, if you look at any baby store, both traditional lines such as Fisher-Price line, and newer brands like Lamaze, put their emphasis on development.

Tiny Love was founded as a spin-off of the Shilav chain, a successful chain of retail baby supply and toy stores in Israel.

“The owners of Shilav – Shoshi and Isaac Oren – saw, from buying for their stores and from their experience as parents of a young baby, that there just weren’t any good baby toys out there,” explains Jonathan Segal, Tiny Love’s International Marketing Manager.

The ideas for Tiny Love’s designs, he says, were achieved and continue to be developed, “not through marketing surveys, but by meeting the needs of the parents and the details of baby development.”

Unlike most Israeli retail firms, Tiny Love was founded with the international market in mind more like a high tech firm than a baby toy manufacturer.

“In most cases, a company bases itself in its home market, and then branches out. But we began as a brand of developmental toys for the international market from day one,” Segal says.

The company conceives and designs the toys in Israel, manufactures them in China, and works with partner retailers worldwide. Half of its sales are in the United States and the rest are in Europe, Japan and Australia

“Basing the company in Israel is very easy in our day and age of technology and communications with telephone, email and easy air travel. A few decades ago, it wouldn’t be possible,” says Segal.

With the worldwide market it serves, Israel is actually fairly geographically desirable. And with its focus on the first year of life, language and cultural differences have little bearing on the product.

“It doesn’t matter what your race and religion are, where you live, the way your baby develops in the first year are the same,” says Segal. Early in the company’s history, there were differences in color and design between customers in the U.S., Europe and Far East, but “today, it’s all one global market.”

The company’s revenues grew by 25 percent last year, and a similar rate of growth is projected for this year. The most dramatic growth is currently in the Far East, particularly in Japan.

“We keep on planning to grow and one step ahead. We are proud that we are an Israeli company, don’t use it to our advantage or to our disadvantage, people don’t realize we are an Israeli company – even in Israel, because none of our packaging is in Hebrew,” says Segal.

The careful design and high quality of the toys have won their products numerous awards and honors worldwide: a ‘Gymini’ – the original ‘Tiny Love’ activity gym, which has sold more than 4 million units – was even displayed at Pompidou Center in Paris.

The company proudly claims that it applies “originality, innovation and excellence? to designing, manufacturing and marketing soft developmental toys for babies from birth to age two,” which it has determined to be “the most important years in a person’s life.”

The Tiny Love team includes psychologists, child development experts, quality assurance specialists, parent groups and babies themselves. These contributors participate at every stage of product development, scrutinizing each design decision to ensure it meets the highest standards in the industry. Believing in quality, not quantity, they pride themselves on concentrating on developing only a few new products each year and focusing on originality – all of which makes parents and those choosing gifts for babies willing to pay higher prices than competing brands.

The products tells the customer the developmental benefits of the toy they are purchasing, and is age-graded so the consumer can always tell if the toy they are buying is appropriate for the baby’s age and commensurate with goals. For example, 3 Discovery Lane is one of the only products on the market to specifically encourage crawling.

Tiny Love’s roots are in Shilav, which began in the 1970?s when Shoshi and Isaac Oren, who then worked as a taxi driver, gave birth to their second child, and became frustrated that there was no ‘one-stop shop’ for baby products, and that they were forced to travel from one baby-care shop to another, buying bottles in one shop, diapers in another, an outfit in yet another.

This brought them to the idea of beginning a shop in which customers could make a list of products they wanted to purchase before the baby was born, which would then be delivered to their home. This business, which was born in the Oren’s basement, evolved into an empire. After decades of steady growth, Shilav is the undisputed dominant Israeli chain for baby-care products in Israel with 35 percent of the market through its 30 shops in the chain, featuring cribs, strollers, bottles, bibs, and maternity clothes, and its own line of children’s clothing.

During the early 1990s, the company began developing its own fashion, textile and furniture lines – which led to the development of Tiny Love in 1994. The popularity of Tiny Love products has opened the doors for the marketing of Shilav children’s clothing abroad, which has also proved extremely successful.

Today, The Shilav Group includes three companies: Shilav, the leading retail chain of baby and pre-school products in Israel; Shesek, the largest importer and distributor of baby products in Israel; and Tiny Love.