In the latest in our series profiling the 2020 Queen’s Awards winners, we talk to Guy Schanschieff, founder and managing director of Bambino Mio, the Northampton-based firm making eco-friendly reusable nappies that export to more than 25 countries.
The award, announced in April, recognised the brand’s success in international trade and ongoing efforts to make reusable nappies and associated products commercially acceptable – to 'ditch the disposables', in the firm's words – and available worldwide.
Established in 1997 by Schanschieff and his now-wife Jo, after the pair got the idea on a round-the-world trip – “discovering nappy-laundering services in Nepal was one inspiration” – the firm expects revenues of £18m this year.
The US, Germany and Australia are key markets for Bambino Mio.
The brand's range of products, including reusable swim nappies and potty training aids, along with nappies in funky patterns and colours, help make it distinctive.
Not that it was all plain sailing – Guy is honest about the bumps along the road, including the global financial crisis of 2008/9 when staff had to be laid off.
But the entrepreneurial pair had tapped into the zeitgeist – a growing awareness of the nappy contribution to landfill (one statistic puts that at 15% of overall landfill, while in the UK alone, we dispose of three billion nappies a year) and the environmentally-friendly nature of reuse.
Q: How did your reusable nappy product come to pass?
A: Our initial venture was around nappy laundering, but we found out that business model wasn't scalable.
It was my wife Jo, a former manager at M&S, who developed the concept of the washable, absorbant cloth nappy. Then we had our own children and tested the range on them.
Take our ‘hero’ all-in-one nappy, Miosolo, which has seen a four-fold increase in sales [retailing at £13 each on Amazon]. That was developed over 20 years. More recently, we appointed a head of product to develop the range further.
Q: What are your main selling outlets?
A: Initially distributors were important to get coverage and so we built up 40 distributors around the world. Then we hit a plateau of £2m turnover between 2008-10 and struggled to get to the next level.
Distributors can’t do our brand like we can – so we took on German and US nationals to help with digital marketing in their countries, languages and cultures.
Now, it’s an even spread of channels. Amazon, supermarkets, pharmacies and independent stores – they all have something different to offer to consumers.
Q: What was the game changer to growing overseas?
A: Going direct and building up direct relationships with consumers and retailers – that is, not going through distributors. It’s working! This year, for example, we may achieve €3m+ turnover in Germany.
The engine behind going direct to our target markets was our embrace of digital marketing. The internet disrupted the baby sector more than other industries, opening up possibilities. We started to do email marketing and social media, working with bloggers and influencers.
Q: Would you encourage other firms to enter the Queen’s Awards?
A: Absolutely. The Queen’s Awards is the ultimate competition.
We have won other awards, but the Queen’s Awards feel truly independent, being free to enter unlike others and with only a few given out each year.
You feel you’ve really achieved something. We have a fantastic bunch working here – committed to getting people to use reusable nappies.