What if you get a sample box full of diapers, baby wipes, sanitizers, and other clinically-tested safe products from some of the leading brands of this space for free right after you have a baby? The useful and timely gift is sure to leave a lasting impression, especially if it comes via doctors or other hospital staff whom you already know.
Sampling is a highly effective, tried and loved customer engagement tool in the West. Global brands have been using it for decades. For instance, Bounty in Australia have delivered millions of sample bags directly to new mums in the past 30 years. India too has jumped on the bandwagon with babyBOX, a company that provides a sampling tool for some of the leading brands of this space, including KCL, HUL, Dabur, Mahindra Retail, ICICI Prudential, Aditya Birla Group, etc.
Testimony to its effectiveness is babyBOX's reach of about 1 million parents a year in close to 4000 hospitals across 32 Indian cities. "We did that in less than three years of being in the market. And we are growing fast,” says Deepak Verma, founder of babyBOX.
The birth of an idea
The idea of babyBOX – a gift hamper which contains samples of branded products catering to the needs of parents of new-born babies – was conceived when Deepak became a father. He and his wife were elated and at the same time anxious about what they would need for their daughter. He remembers hunting for the right products, accidentally discovering a good breast-feeding aid in the market and wondering why nobody had recommended it to them earlier.
Deepak had been working in the advertising and marketing departments of leading media houses of India for over 13 years when he decided to become an entrepreneur. He was on the lookout for the right product-market gap to target when he spotted this need for a product discovery/experience platform for new parents. He toyed with the idea and worked on the backend for about two years before launching babyBOX in May, 2011.He knew that hospitals, clinics and maternity centres should be his channels for reaching out to new parents. So his first main challenge was to get hospitals on board. Talk about serendipity. Deepak got an appointment to meet the head of one of the top hospitals in Delhi. It was a long wait and he got talking with nurses and staff at the maternity centre. By the time the big guy came out to greet him, Deepak's babyBOX idea had already found takers. “That made me realise that the staff on ground, doctors and nurses who interact with the new parents, were the best media for babyBOX,” he recalls.
Ground up approach
This realisation shaped the decision to present babyBOX as a complimentary gift from the hospital staff. “The atmosphere is very conducive for deeper customer engagement as well because parents with a newborn baby have an immediate need for these products. Even if they have brought some along already, they are in a frame of mind most open to trying these products. Especially when they come as a gift from the hospital they trust,” Deepak says.
BabyBOX identified hospitals with the highest number of births and those became their primary targets. “Once a few big hospitals were roped in, others were easier to convince.” Gradually, they scaled to other cities and currently, have a team of 40 people managing close to 4000 points of care.
“We have a highly targeted medium, enormous reach, and a system in place to micromanage the distribution and sampling experience,” he says. After parents of a newborn receive the babyBOX, they fill up a registration card as a proof of receiving the hamper. To make sure that it has reached the right hands, someone in the team would give them a confirmation call as well. “This way, we ensure that there is no wastage. All the hospitals we currently work with fall under categories A, B and C catering to those with very high to medium spending capacity – which are of maximum interest to brands,” Deepak explains.
Kalaari Capital and its Managing Director Vani Kola have been with Deepak right from the initial stages of product development. "Vani has been extremely supportive. She understood the sampling tool well, although it is still in a nascent stage in India and a lot of work needs to be done in the domain. She was involved in babyBOX with us from the beginning, guiding us on how to make the sampling model effective for the business and build value for the consumer as well," Deepak recalls.
The growth of babyBOX points to the potential goldmine that sampling represents in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sector in India, the fourth largest sector in the economy with a total market size in excess of $13.1 billion.
Deepak and team have just done a revamp of babyBOX and a crispier avatar of the platform is now online. They are determined to grow faster than before. Having already become a profit-making company, they plan to now provide sampling enabling platforms for other industries like pharmaceuticals, beauty, wellness and so on. To fuel this expansion, they would soon be looking for another round of funding.
What do you think is the potential of sampling, and in which domains will it work best? Tell us in the comments below.