Local Heroes: Thinking out of the box pays off for new mum as business booms

Baba Box, a subscription service which delivers luxury hand-picked items looks set to be a big hit in the Irish mother and baby market and beyond, writes Joanna Kiernan

Sarah Walsh, who came up with the idea for her Baba Box when she returned to Dublin to give birth to her son Ted after 10 years in London Picture: Mark Condren

Joanna Kiernan

Baba Box is the brainchild of marketing maestro turned mumtrepreneur Sarah Walsh, who returned to Ireland in 2015, after a decade working in London.

Sarah painstakingly researches, reviews, picks and packs each individual product used in a variety of Baba Box subscription boxes, which can be bought as one-off gift purchases or in three or six-monthly subscriptions.

"I had been in London working as a marketing consultant and I moved back with my husband to Dublin in 2015 to start a family," Sarah said. "The idea came when I was on maternity leave, really from late 2015. I knew that at the time I didn't really want to go back into consulting; I wanted something more flexible so I could spend more time with my son and I always had the idea in the back of my mind that I would like to start something myself."

Sarah's light bulb moment came when she received a monthly coffee subscription as a gift from a friend.

"I am a big coffee nerd, so it was a really great gift; I got a different bag of coffee beans delivered to me each month and it was quite nice getting happy post like that rather than the usual bills and stuff," Sarah said.

"It can be quite lonely when you are home by yourself with a newborn, so I quite enjoyed getting these packages and trying out the new beans each month. That is when I started to think about other things new mums would like and how wonderful it would be to get other things delivered in the post as little treats."

Sarah began to research the area and found little available that was truly catering for this niche, but steady market.

"I looked at what was available and it became clear that there was nothing really out there for me as a new mother," Sarah said. "Subscription boxes are massive in the US and in the UK, but it is still quite a new phenomenon in Ireland. It is quite a new idea and I saw the opportunity in that this is something quite different too and particularly for the new mum market."

The more Sarah researched, the more she became convinced that she could offer something different, something other than the standard 'blue for boys, pink for girls and yellow for neutral' products she saw on sale.

"I always wanted to find stuff that was gender neutral and long before my son Ted arrived I have always been into shopping in independent businesses, where you come across products that you wouldn't necessarily come across elsewhere," Sarah said.

"So when I began planning Baba Box I was keen to tie my interest in shopping small into the business and offer people those unique products because there was a real gap in the market there for that; gift boxes that weren't blue and yellows and pinks and were filled with independent Irish and European brands and could also be gender neutral and contain stuff you could pass on to younger siblings."

In May 2016, when Ted was six months old Baba Box became more than just an idea, it began to form as a viable business; a number of independent brands got on board and in September the subscription service was launched into the market.

"I have had to work very hard to get it all together," Sarah said. "A lot has happened very fast, but newborns sleep a lot in the early days, so that gave me that time at the beginning and he naps quite well during the day now so I have three hours during the day to work with and the evenings when my husband comes home from work and I have the weekends."

Baba Box subscriptions are available as three month and six month packages starting from €36 plus post and packaging and feature a unique mixture of luxury, hand-picked items from organic cotton bodysuits and bibs to handmade burp cloths amongst many other products.

It supports home-grown Irish and independent European brands including Rain + Conker, Moobles & Toobles and Studio NL. Sarah also offers several standalone gift boxes including a newborn gift box and a 'breastfeeding mama' gift box.

"I have quite a few mums who actually buy it for themselves, but usually people will buy for new mums and it helps with that worry of not knowing what to buy them, it is all there and as a new mum I have tried and tested it all," Sarah said.

"Inside each box everything is wrapped in white paper with black and white string, so it feels like a little present inside the box, it is all wrapped and that is a nice feeling."

While motherhood has definitely helped Sarah to gain an in depth understanding of her target audience, her marketing background has also played a pivotal role in establishing the business as a recognised brand.

"It's funny because my customers are not always the final recipients of the boxes as people are often buying them as gifts for others, so that has been an interesting challenge," Sarah said.

"All of those years as a consultant you are giving advice to brands on how to do this and that, and suddenly you are in charge and you can decide and you don't have to wait for seven or eight people to agree with you; it's amazing to be able to do that, to use those skills in a different way and do something I really enjoy."

"So far I have had a brilliant reaction and many of the recipients of the boxes have got in touch over social media to say how much they loved them and used all of the products inside," Sarah added.

"Instagram and Facebook have been hugely important and I have used them in a very visual way; with brands that are more service-orientated it is harder to have that much of a following on the likes of Instagram for example, but when you have something quite visual and beautiful products like I do, which I photograph well and sometimes have cute babies with the cute product, it helps to showcase what I am doing and it works very well on those platforms."

After a promising first few months in business, Sarah hopes to grow steadily over the next few years.

"It has to be organic. I have a soon to be one-year-old now, so it has to grow bit by bit in a sense," Sarah said. "I have been very focused on the Irish and UK markets, but from early next year we will be offering worldwide delivery so that will change the focus of our marketing efforts."

"We have also focused on a lot of Irish and European brands for launch, but I have some brilliant American and Canadian brands lined up for the New Year too," Sarah added. "Again it is all stuff you wouldn't normally come across yourself, but are just lovely products to have and a combination of stuff for mum and baby as well. So there will be some branching out across the pond."