Kids II is a toy and gear manufacturer that creates products targeted toward infants and toddlers. Located just north of Atlanta, in Alpharetta, Ga., the company is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Originally called Pansy Ellen Products, the organization re-branded in 1993 as part of an overall business strategy. “A change was needed,” said Ryan Gunnigle, president and CEO. Until that point, the company primarily manufactured bath and toy products for infants, but Gunnigle and his team were eager to expand into additional infant product categories.
As a global manufacturer and supplier, Kids II has undergone a major transformation in the past decade. The company opened its first international office in 2001 in Hong Kong, after Gunnigle and his team made a conscious decision to expand to all corners of the world.
By 2006, Kids II had offices in a handful of countries, including Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. In each of the last three years, the company managed to grow, on average, by 25%. Although the US market has grown substantially, much of the growth is due to its international success.
“Early on, we knew we wanted to stay in control of our brand’s message and be aggressive in terms of pricing,” Gunnigle said. “In the past few years, we’ve invested heavily in our Asia infrastructure.”
Gunnigle and his team built a factory in Asia, which is now responsible for 30% of the company’s total manufacturing capacity. The factory also allows Kids II to ship directly to retailers in its European, Asian, and North and South American markets.
“Because we’re a global supplier, we have to be aware of the different testing and product compliance standards in every country,” Gunnigle said. “Fortunately, we’ve never encountered a problem in this arena because our testing standards are above and beyond any of the government-issued ones.”
In 2009, Kids II plans to expand its Hong Kong testing lab to include a chemical testing sector. Once it’s completed, the company will have the ability to conduct all types of product testing inhouse.
Building on Strategic Partnerships
When the Kids II first expanded into new categories, it created a signature brand called Bright Starts. The brand debuted in Toys ‘R’ Us stores in 1992, and within a few years, the company caught the attention of one of the biggest names in toys: Disney.
In 1999, the company began licensing for Disney, which ultimately led to the opportunity to design and manufacture for the Baby Einstein brand. Despite being the master licensee of Baby Einstein, approximately 65% of Kids II’s annual revenue is generated from the Bright Starts brand.
To develop innovative product ideas for both brands, the organization invests heavily in designers and researchers. According to Gunnigle, Kids II has one of the largest staffs of designers in the Southeast. In the past few years, the company has patented upward of 25 products.
Partnerships with Georgia Tech and Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) help Gunnigle recruit young, talented designers. The team at Kids II also sponsors a class at SCAD that enables students to learn about toy designing. “Our designers worked directly with the professors to draw up the course and establish objectives,” Gunnigle said.
In conjunction with the class, Kids II introduced a design contest in December in which students compete for a scholarship. The contest helps the company’s executive team discover young talent, and it gives the students a creative outlet to explore.
“Through these schools, we’ve found creative students with tremendous talent,” Gunnigle said. “It’s not uncommon for students who graduate from these schools to come work at Kids II, whether it be in our Alpharetta office or one of our international locations.”
By sending young designers abroad and bringing employees from other countries to its headquarters, the team at Kids II is well equipped to manufacture products that appeal to consumers in an array of markets—something that’s very important to a company with retailers in more than 25 countries across six continents.
“Because we move designers around, our teams are made up of individuals from different cultures,” Gunnigle said. “This helps stimulate ideas and ensures our products are attractive to people everywhere,” he continued.
Giving Back to a Good Cause
Instead of celebrating its 40th anniversary in a typical fashion, Kids II is using the platform as an opportunity to promote its charitable foundation.
Gunnigle and his team set up the Kids II Foundation three years ago to help raise money for breast cancer research. The company developed a line of toys called The Pretty in Pink Collection under the Bright Starts brand, and a portion of the proceeds generated from the line is given to charity.
Additionally, the company launched an initiative to spotlight breast cancer survivors and other individuals who contribute greatly to the cause. In May of each year, winners are chosen and given a few thousand dollars to donate in their honor to a charity of their choice.
“We bring the winners to our headquarters and give them a makeover and try to make them feel special,” Gunnigle said. “We make sure they’re featured in their local press, to raise awareness. The women we feature are people who are wholly committed to the fight against breast cancer.”
Since it was founded three years ago, the Kids II Foundation has donated more than $300,000 to various charity organizations. “Each year we try to increase the funding for this initiative,” Gunnigle said.