Signature Little Ones
Parents looking for gifts to express the unique personality of their little ones need look no further. Signature Little Ones, an online boutique, has created a shopping platform for that purpose. It provides customized, yet practical gifts for babies, toddlers, and children and a slew of kid-related services for busy parents.
It’s rapidly becoming Canada’s No. 1 online baby boutique.
The Canadian Business Journal interviewed Patricia Mercurio, who co-founded the company with partner, Patricia Iacovantuono. She spoke about how it started as a small vision and grew from there, as well as some challenges and prospects for the future.
In 2011, both women had busy family lives and full-time careers. As parents, they understood the difficulty of balancing careers with childcare. “We wanted to try and make it easier,” she says.
The idea started small: design and sell customized invitations. But as Mercurio explains, it grew into a one-stop shopping experience for parents and caregivers looking for ease and accessibility.
“We wanted to create something that was customizable and different than the average store without the stress and anxiety of having to do all the work,” Mercurio says. “It turned out to be an online piece only, offering services, whether it’s room décor, design, personalized art, custom carpet, photography, or event planning.”
Signature Little Ones offers a range of premium custom-made products; the majority are made in Canada. The items are child-safe and can be embroidered to suit individual little ones. They include children’s décor and artwork adorned with nursery rhymes and quotes. Custom designed and handcrafted knit baby blankets can be personalized with initials, names, or monograms. The blankets are “decorative and practical.” They make the “perfect gift for infants and older children,” according to the website.
The company also offers services such as photography, event planning, in-house painted wall murals, and in-house interior design, too. The services are contracted out to “in-pocket associates,” Mercurio says.
For example, the photography specializes in family photography of babies, family and children, teen, pets, and seasonal photography. The website says it offers a variety of “beautiful props and backgrounds as well as outdoor props to choose from.”
In addition, if parents find decorating their children’s room difficult, Signature Little Ones hires a room designer. The designer comes to the house and works with parents to create an “inviting, warm, nurturing space” for a newborn, or helps with transitioning children into their “big boy or big girl bedroom,” or into a tween space. The in-home artist creates a themed room directly on the wall, with portable elements like lighting, carpets and other accessories while personalizing the furniture.
The website is home to a blog with posts by Iacovantuono. It offers advice on distinctive products for kids, such as the MadPax, a stylish and functional knapsack. Its four models allow a child to express his or her uniqueness based on the model they chose. It also offers advice on childcare, such as tips on how to decorate the nursery and all the necessary furniture and where to place it.
Aside from services requiring specialized professionals, both women do most of the work themselves. During the first couple years, the majority of time was spent securing high-quality wholesalers and distributors.
Patricia Iacovantuono customizes and embroiders the robes, blankets and other items with a high-tech sewing machine. She spent countless hours in class learning embroidery basics and taught herself how to implement the digitizing software. She also gets instruction from the hardworking team at That Sewing Place in Newmarket, a family-run business who has helped her excel in the art of embroidery.
A major challenge, says Mercurio, has been the online component. She hired a web designer to create the website, but both founders do the regular maintenance, such as adding new products and some advertising. Mary Jo Polito is the company’s on-site event planner, interior designer and room décor specialist.
“It’s hard in the sense that there is so much competition out there. We spend a majority of our time and money on advertising,” she says.
In fact, the experience has been a lesson in online advertising. Mercurio explains that the goal is to get a good placement on a webpage when someone types “baby blanket,” or “baby clothes” into the search engine.
“We need to be No. 1, because that’s how people shop. They’re not going to go to page thirteen. They’re going to go to the first page, maybe the end of the first page and the beginning of the second page,” she says and adds that they hired an advertising team to reach that goal. “So we’re really trying to make a landmark in the advertising world.”
Mercurio says receiving customized gift baskets with a parents’ child as the theme makes for a more rewarding experience. “Just imagine getting a basket that has your daughter’s name on it, or a cute soother that says ‘Mute Button,’ or ‘Princess,’ or ‘Established in 2013’ with a matching blanket, or booties, or even a spa-themed basket. We send the mom to the spa with a matching robe for the baby. We really are trying to make it very personal.”
Looking ahead, Signature Little Ones is in the midst of securing corporation relationships where employees can request customized gift baskets. Employees will specify an amount of money they’d like to spend and the company creates a unique package of products.
The founders have already provided baskets to a few companies with pleasing results and are connecting with a law firm.
“We’ve established such a great rapport that people have no problem spending $300 to put something together,” she says. “They’re beautiful baskets, because we customize them specific to the family and age group in that family.”