By Margaret Jackson | Sep 11, 2022
Baby bibs, bags, and accessories
When Liberman launched Bumkins, her goal was to create a reusable cloth diaper that was environmentally friendly.
The mother of four designed an all-in-one product with a waterproof outer shell attached to the cloth and Velcro closures to secure the diaper onto a baby. She also searched for fabrics that were durable and could be made to look more like apparel by printing fun designs on them.
Though Liberman started out using home sewers, rapidly growing popularity necessitated the creation of a manufacturing facility in Arizona.
"It was such a little niche," Liberman says. "We got to about $1 million in revenue in diapers, but it's a volatile industry. As the economy got tough, moms didn't have the luxury of staying home with kids."
Liberman began designing other garments, and Bumkins debuted its bibs in 1991, followed by blankets, dishes, and cutlery. The company phased out the diaper line in 2017 because of low margins and heavy customer education costs.
After a divorce in the mid-1990s, Liberman decided to switch to contract manufacturers to make her products. She found an Arizona factory that made bicycle bags -- a seasonal product -- and was looking for other projects to supplement its production.
"I was trying to simplify my life and not live at the factory," she says. "It was a painful blending of the product lines and took a couple of years."
Bumkins really took off when a grandmother visited a Walmart and tested its baby bibs with a lead detector, resulting in those products being pulled from the retailer’s shelves. This opened the door for Bumkins, which Liberman says "over tested" its products to make sure everything was safe.
"A lot of our competitors were taking their products off the market, and we were given the opportunity to supply the bibs to bigger retailers," Liberman says.
Then the Great Recession hit, and Babies R Us told Bumkins that the company needed to cut their prices by half, or they would knock off the products and have them made by someone else. That’s when Liberman began to explore manufacturing overseas.
"Demand for the product changed so drastically," she says. "Some products people are willing to pay a premium for, but with some of the lower-cost baby items, it's hard to justify making it in the U.S."
Challenges: The dwindling number of retailers carrying baby products makes it more difficult for Bumkins to reach consumers.
"Retailers are struggling, birthrates are down, so not all retailers are putting full baby programs in," Liberman says. "Target used to have a big baby department, and now it's small and they have their own brand. Amazon has stolen a lot of business."
Another issue is that the Chinese manufacturing partners Bumkins uses are knocking off her designs.
"The knockoff situation is absolutely bizarre," Liberman says. "You have about three weeks before someone is copying what you do no matter how much you try to protect it. It gets very challenging."
Opportunities: Bumkins' products appeal to consumers who are conscious of where their goods come from.
"As a consumer, I look more carefully at who I'm supporting when I buy a particular brand," Liberman says. "Millennials and Gen Z are more thoughtful about who they're supporting. I'm trying to appeal to that customer who cares."
Needs: Establishing a strong customer base of 10 to 20 accounts with large retailers would help Bumkins boost its sales. Regulating e-commerce retailers also could help smaller shops prosper -- which would help Bumkins better reach its target audience.
"The malls are all national chain stores," Liberman says. "You see the same thing in every city and the same thing at every retailer. There are now about a dozen specialty stores compared to [the] 6,000 [there were] years ago."