Maternity firm making strides after difficult birth
IT'S in expansion mode now, but by all rights maternity start-up Eumom should have been dead and buried almost a decade ago.
Founded at the height of the dotcom boom, Eumom was set up to offer online pregnancy advice throughout Europe.
"We believed women would log on to the site, advertisers would follow and the revenue would come," recalls founder Jim Kelleher. "It didn't work."
The early difficulties were put down to poor internet connectivity, a target audience that had yet to get to grips with the internet and the reluctance of advertisers to switch to a new medium.
Those challenges were quickly replaced by something far more seismic -- the dotcom collapse.
Eumom's first reaction was retrenchment. A team of about 25 people across Ireland, Germany, the UK and Switzerland were slimmed back to a much smaller group based out of Dublin. Costs were slashed. Then came reinvention.
"We'd spent years knocking on the doors of all these (maternity and baby) brands, so we looked at getting into direct marketing," Mr Kelleher said.
The direct marketing concept quickly evolved into a backpack jammed with baby-friendly goodies for new mothers.
The first packs went out in 2003, and by 2005 Eumom had built up a steady presence in Dublin's hospitals.
The rest of the country, however, remained a challenge as UK giant Bounty had a fierce hold on the market. Then, in 2006, Bounty announced a withdrawal from Ireland.
Eumom then blitzed the national hospital market. Last year about 75,000 babies were born -- 65,000 of their mothers got Eumom's now-famous red backpack, hand delivered by Eumom's 25 national reps.
Recognising that there was a "pre-natal" goody bag opportunity, Mr Kelleher's company now also offers a samples set to mothers who are 12 or 14 weeks into their pregnancy. More recently "Eumomers" were offered another batch of mini-products when their babies are four or five months old.
Eumom insists it's had no problems filling its sample packs, but the brands used are not immune to the effects of the recession.
"Of course everyone's looking for deals," says Eumom's recently appointed managing director Rose Kervick. "But brands don't tend to leave us because they know that what we do -- experiential marketing -- works."
Mr Kelleher stressed that Eumom had also been flexible with its brands, allowing companies to put promo inserts into the bags instead of actual samples and bundling packages that include online ads and sampling together.
Almost a decade after the dotcom collapse, these online ads have value again. Online habits have also swung in Eumom's favour; new registrations of expectant mothers were 9,000 in the first quarter of 2010, a three-fold increase on the figure two years earlier.
"For a long time we didn't see any benefit in spending money on the site because we couldn't get it back, you couldn't even give away advertising," said Mr Kelleher. "Now we're preparing for a full web re-launch."
The new website, to be unveiled in the coming weeks, will be a sleek modern creation, far more user-friendly and visually appealing.
The recession prompted pay cuts across Eumom's now 30-man team, but the firm had little scope for wider cost cuts.
"After the crash, a dotbomb wouldn't get a €500 overdraft.
"We've had to trade the last 10 years in cash-positive territory and that's really standing to us now."
With the dotcom crash firmly behind it, Eumom hopes to grow last year's €2m turnover by about 20pc in 2010.
Ms Kervick's appointment signalled a step-change in Eumom's expansion plans.
The newcomer will run and develop the home market, leaving Mr Kelleher free to focus on international expansion.
A German direct marketing venture is up and running with support from a pharmaceutical chain, and Kelleher is talking to Enterprise Ireland about possible expansions elsewhere.
"We're doing now what we thought we'd do 10 years ago," said Mr Kelleher.