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Baby gear: necessity is the mother of infant inventions.

Niche markets can get you everywhere especially in baby wear. Itty Bitty Baby specializes in clothes for premature infants and babies up to one year and another company, Pettersen Infant Products, of Flin Flon, has made a success of Baby Trekker infant carriers for more than eight years.

Both firms have expanded slowly and steadily, with products marketed across Canada and into the US. Both companies are also pondering expansion.

Judy Pettersen developed her Baby Trekker a decade ago in answer to her own needs. Her first child had been an amiable baby but the second was colicky and fretful and demanded to be carried as much as possible. Judy wanted a comfortable lightweight holder that would give the baby the comfort it needed while freeing her hands for other work. There were lots of models out there front packs, back packs, slings - but none provided the flexibility Judy wanted to allow both herself and her husband Clarence total mobility while they carried their child. So Judy designed and personally made what she needed. The Trekker offers five carrying positions.

The carrier attracted attention and the orders started to come in. Judy had enough work on her hands to test the Trekkers' marketability. She entered a display in the Flin Flon Home Business Show in October 89. The positive reaction she received encouraged her to formally start Pettersen Infant Products in January 1990.

The company has also made and sold bunting and diaper bags, but it's the Trekker that remains the heart of the business. It got a new look in 1995 when Judy got a small business loan to develop professional packaging and tags for the product which continues steady sales and a growing reputation.

Baby Trekkers are sold at about $75 retail in every major city in Canada and by mail order to the world at 1-800665-3957. Each carrier bears the firm's 1-800 number for customer calls, and says Pettersen, "If there's a problem it's ours, not the retailers, and we'll fix it."

But calls are few. Trekkers wear well with multiple infant use and sell on the second hand market at about $45. With more than 5,000 orders a year, Judy and her seven home sewers are kept busy so busy Judy's husband has taken a year's leave of absence to help out. The company is undergoing a feasibility study to see if they should start their own small manufacturing plant. "An expansion would be good for us and good for the community," says Judy. "I'd be proud to help bring new employment to Flin Flon."

Judy Pettersen has received her share of attention for developing the business. In 1994, she was invited to participate in the Women and Invention exhibition at the Manitoba Museum and in 1997 she received the Home Business Entrepreneur Award from the Women Business Owners' Network.

Another baby-centered company is Itty Bitty Baby. In 1995 Carol Spain and husband Rod Little went looking for infant wear for the newborn triplets of friends. Born premature and therefore small there was nothing to be found that would meet the size or needs of these special babies. Carol, who had designed and sewn clothing before, developed a pattern for preemie sleepers after talking with nurses. The tiny seamless cotton garments were an instant hit with parents and nurses, both for aesthetics and because they provided extra warmth.

Since the Littles were expecting their first child at the time, they were curious whether the gap in infant wear was universal. With Rod's business background and Carol's education degree they had the resources to conduct thorough market research, mainly with neonatal nurses and parents of preemies in large cities. Their findings? There was little out there for this market, and the few products that existed were poorly made.

That fall, Carol and Rod started Itty Bitty Baby with both working full-time in the business. Carol manages production, suppliers, quality control, sales and marketing. Rod manages paperwork, shipping and receiving, customer service and accounts.

At first the couple relied on home sewers to produce their product but there were too many difficulties with missed timelines and quality control. They then subcontracted the work to other manufacturers but again experienced some ups and downs on that front. They are now seriously considering starting their own plant.

"That has its benefits on the personal side too," laughs Little, now the proud father of two. "Though production takes place elsewhere, our lobby is the shipping and receiving area, and our basement the office - it doesn't look like a home."

Though preemie clothing is their core product, the company has expanded into larger size baby clothes at their customers' request. They limit size to first year babies to avoid the extra health and safety regulations imposed on children's clothing. And their customer base and reputation keep growing. On October 29, the Littles received the 1998 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award from the Self-Employment Program.

"We've worked hard," says Little, "but we've also had tremendous help from others in the business - people from Midwest Garments, other apparel manufacturers, Manitoba Industry Trade and Tourism they've all been very supportive. And last year, we met the Pettersens from Flin Flon at a trade show in Dallas and had a great time swapping stories with them. Our businesses are selling to the same markets but they are complimentary, not competitive. Who knows where that might lead?"
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Title Annotation:infant clothing and product companies Itty Bitty Baby and Pettersen Infant Products
Author:McCracken, Andrea
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Geographic Code:1CMAN
Date:Nov 1, 1998
Previous Article:Winnipeg's apparel sector sees the future: a tradition survives.
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