Mothercare; learning from past mistakes

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When my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, there was one store we repeatedly visited to buy baby products; Mothercare (note the use of the word “we”, it is relevant). I think the same could once have been said for many couples, it being such a well-known name on the high street.

Mothercare, Mylene Klass, Gary Kibble
Long-time Mothercare collaborator Mylene Klass with some of her autumn / winter 2016 range of children’s clothes. More about the range below.

Over time, however, we drifted apart from Mothercare. I know we’re not alone as I’ve heard similar stories time and again from other people who have children of a similar age.

What went wrong?

The company suffered from an image problem related both to the quality of its merchandise and the name which, in the age of shared parental leave and same sex marriage, looks a little dated. These are not state secrets; a simple Googlewhack of the Mothercare name brings up numerous press cuttings in the business pages about the struggles the company has had.

My family was among those that had some bad experiences. We once had a cot bed delivered. When unpackaged, one of the headboards had a huge split in it. There were two pairs of trousers that developed holes the first time my daughter wore them.

There was also an exasperating experience with the customer service team that was never resolved. It involved an expensive pushchair that developed a debilitating fault in one of the wheels almost as soon as it was removed from the box. After a year of gathering dust in the garage, it ended its days at the local recycling centre having hardly been touched.

I wouldn’t normally write quite so candidly about my negative experiences with a retailer. I prefer behind the scenes diplomacy. As will become apparent in a moment, the situation I find myself in on this occasion is a bit different.

An interesting choice of language

Having had some poor experiences with the company, I then became a stay at home father and the Mothercare name began to bother me. I would have overlooked the name, but at the time it’s corporate mission statement rubbed salt in the wounds by stating the company was; “designed to meet the needs of mothers-to-be, babies and children up to the age of eight.”

That may seem anodyne to many mums, but such words alienate any involved, caring father. The retailer does, after all, sell gender neutral items used by fathers such as; blankets, baby baths, baby bottles, nappies, pushchairs, car seats etc. With such a background, other retail alternatives looked more appealing and we simply went elsewhere. As, it seems, did many other parents of our generation.

That was all in the past. Let’s bring you up to date.

An inspired response from Mothercare

A short while ago I was invited to view Mothercare’s autumn / winter range of clothes. I politely turned down the invite highlighting the issues I had with Mothercare. Mothercare’s response took me quite by surprise.

I’ll paraphrase, but I received an email that said, in effect; “Yeah, we can see why you don’t have a great impression of us. We maybe didn’t cover ourselves in glory in the past. We are, however, a brand in transition. Would you like to view our autumn / winter range and meet with Gary Kibble, our Global Brand and Marketing Director who can update you on changes at the company?” Needless to say, I accepted.

A hot, spring evening in Soho

One hot, spring evening I found myself in an art gallery in London’s Soho, surrounded by Mothercare’s latest clothes ranges. Big names are now producing collections for the company including Julien Macdonald and Jools Oliver in addition to Mylene Klass, a long-time Mothercare collaborator.

Moterhcare, Gary Kibble.
Gary Kibble, Mothercare Global Brand and Marketing Director. Kibble explained to me how the brand is changing to meet the needs of modern families.

Almost as soon as I was through the door, I was introduced to Kibble, a very affable and approachable individual who joined the company a year ago. He gave me a history of the company explaining that it was founded by a chap called Selim Zikha in 1961. Zikha is now 89 years of age and lives in Los Angeles. Despite his age and having had no formal interest in Mothercare for some time, he travelled to the UK to offer Kibble and his team advice on what Mothercare should do to meet the needs of 21st century parents.

Welcome to the club

So what has changed at the company? First of all, that Edwardian-era mission statement has been replaced. Mothercare’s new vision is; “To be the leading global retailer for parents and young children.”

Kibble also explained the company has adopted a “brand agenda” called “welcome to the club”.

The club, he elaborates; “could be IVF families, same sex families, single parent families.”

Credit where it’s due, Mothercare seems to be making an effort to be more inclusive and understanding of its customers. It was also fascinating to hear a brand like Mothercare acknowledge same sex couples. I personally feel they are frequently overlooked by the parenting industry.

Kibble also elaborates on the welcome to the club agenda. He likens it to Tesco’s every little helps; “It could be you were at Tesco and in a queue at the till. Another till was opened because every little helps.”

It’s early days, but the aim is to ensure the inclusive welcome to the club theme is adopted throughout the whole organisation. So what about the Mothercare name? Younger rivals have gender neutral names such as Mamas & Papas and Kiddicare.

Kibble volunteers a response without being asked; “The Mothercare name is staying.”

The name, he says, is too well established. It would be difficult to change.

The name may remain, but Mothercare is going through a huge period of change. Customers will notice some more obvious changes in October. Kibble is cagey on details. They are, after all, commercially sensitive.

Nonetheless, the company has quizzed 3,500 customers to get a feel for what needs updating. You won’t be surprised to hear the brand is seeking to increase its online presence, and this will feature online tailored content and advice directed at both mums and dads. Kibble goes out of his way to stress content will be inclusive of fathers.

Mothercare is not, however, leaving the high street. Yes, some store closures have been announced but a number of new stores are also in the pipeline, as is a wide-ranging refurbishment programme of existing outlets. In addition to this, the bigger stores will feature cafes next to soft play areas (already in place in a few destinations).

It’s all very well making these changes, but product quality has been an issue. Customers won’t visit Mothercare simply because it has a café. Purchases must withstand reasonable wear and tear.

Kibble is careful what he says on this point. He makes clear he doesn’t wish to be disrespectful to staff. Even so, he acknowledges there have been issues in the past;
“Because of Mothercare’s dominance, certain decisions were made in the past that affected quality.”

He believes the company has improved its product range and the quality of what it sells. I can’t really comment on this, I haven’t shopped at Mothercare for some time. I would, however, certainly hope improvements have been made.

The autumn / winter 2016 range of clothes

I wasn’t just in Soho to meet Kibble. I was also invited to explore the new range of clothes. I was suitably impressed by the designer products on show. Julien Macdonald’s Smile range for children under six months is, I have to say, stunning. I loved it and having two daughters, I was particularly impressed by the girls’ range.

Mothercare, Julien Macdonald
On display; some of the new Julien Macdonald’s Smile collection.

Jools Oliver’s Little Bird range was very colourful and retro-inspired. The shoes had a timeless style and looked very hard wearing. I could imagine my kids wearing some of these outfits.

Jools Oliver, Mothercare, retail, shopping
A pair of shoes from Jools Oliver’s range. Classic style and they look very hard wearing.

Mylene Klass’ MK range was for slightly older children. Most items were in silver/grey and black. These items were a bit more glitzy that the other designer ranges. I think they’d make for great party wear.

Mothercare, Mylene Klass, MK
Mylene Klass showing off a couple of items from her MK collection.

Mothercare’s own range was full of great basics. There were more vibrant colours and some great signature pieces that I could see my youngest daughter wearing. To my great surprise, Kibble said the designer ranges were only about 10% more expensive than Mothercare own-brand products.

The final word

With the sun having set on Soho and having had the chance to explore the autumn / winter clothes range, I had to ask Kibble one last question. What is his message to fathers out there?

“We genuinely acknowledge the central role fathers have in the upbringing of children. We are focused on dads and mums.”

Having been invited into the Mothercare Machine, it was obvious to me the organisation is changing to better reflect the customers it serves. There seemed to be recognition of previous quality issues and the fact it hadn’t always been inclusive or father-friendly.

I’m not going to tell you it’s a love-in, but I may have warmed to Mothercare a bit. Above anything else, I’m delighted to see that outdated mission statement has changed. I shall be watching what happens between now and October very closely indeed.

What’s your experience of Mothercare? Have you noticed positive changes? If you’re a dad, have you it warmed to it slightly? Do you like the new range of clothes?

21 thoughts on “Mothercare; learning from past mistakes”

    1. That is quite a story. You would hope that customers in such circumstances would be treated sensitively.

  1. It’s great that they’ve been listening and acting upon it! I’ve never really shopped at Mothercare – our local store closed a few years ago, back when I was baby free, and my impression has always been that it’s quite expensive compared to IKEA, etc. I love the Little Bird range though and have bought lots of pieces from the range on ebay. 🙂 #thetruthabout

    1. I thinkyours is quite a commons story Jess. Competitors came along and trounced Mothercare while it believed it had market dominance. Time will tell if it can regain its place on the high street. Thanks for commenting.

  2. So many aspects you mention, I’m ashamed to say, never even occurred to me – not least the connotations of the name. Good on you for going and getting answers to some of your questions. Such an interesting post to read.

    1. Thanks Tara for taking the time to comment. I appreciate that these issues wouldn’t resonate with everyone, but in the age of shared parental leave and same sex unions, you have to be inclusive of all types of parents. Oh, yeah, and your product range has to be able to survive the abuse children throw at it!

    1. I think it took Mothercare a bit of a while to catch up with modern times but the indications are that it wants to go in the correct direction. More work to do in my opinion but the desire seems to be there.

  3. I’ve had no issues with the merchandise, and I recognise the perils of messing with a long-established brand and can forgive the name. They fell out of favour with me when there wasn’t any baby changing facilities in the men’s toilets at our nearest superstore.

    1. Eeeek. That’s quite an embarrassing fail. Maybe this is something that will be rectified in the refit programme?

  4. Carol Cameleon

    We’ve been very fortunate to have mainly had hand-me-downs for our little girl over the years, saving a small fortune! However, she is now 6 and clearly getting a feel for her own image, which we are going with. When we next need something for her, instead of delving into the bags of seconds, we are going to take her shopping and I think she’d find something in the Mothercare range. As you say, time will tell on the quality side of the items, which I have to say possibly gets less of an issue with the washing as the clothes don’t get food-splattered/dribbled on with age!

    1. Well, you say that, but kids do like a bit of rough play. I would hope the new ranges would last longer than we previously experienced. To secure the future of Mothercare I think they have to!

  5. I’m not a Mothercare shopper but I have to be honest not for the reasons you have written (hangs head). Mainly as I always found it overpriced. There is some lovely stuff but not worth it. This was a very interesting read to know the history and recent issues. I was aware of problems in the Mothercare name but not the company’s original “moto”. I’m glad they are listening and moving along with the times! x #thetruthabout

    1. No need to hang your head. Such issues simply wouldn’t occour to everyone. I think, however, they do explain some of the issues the company has had in recent years.

  6. We visited Mothercare fairly regularly when Tilly was younger. We didn’t have any issues with the service but we haven’t shopped there for some time. In part this is due to having moved and our nearest store is much smaller but there’s something about how we view Mothercare’s offering. I feel we perceive it as a largely baby-based store. As Tilly has got older (she’s 3 now) we’ve looked instead at appealing outfits from John Lewis, Next and others or budget clothing from supermarkets.

    1. I hadn’t appreciated that Mothercare has clothing ranges up to the age of eight (or is 10, I forget). That said, if you only have the young child you’re quite right, you are probably going ot drift to another retailer that sells items for older kids.

  7. We once bought a travel system from Mothercare (Xcursion I think it was called) and it was all fine except the bar that fits across the front of the pushchair bit was faulty and wouldn’t lock into place. I called them and I have to say they were great – I was expecting just a replacement part but they sent an entire new travel system and told us to keep the first one for spare parts. I don’t shop their for clothes any more mind you as I just don’t think of them as a destination for clothes for older children. I’m really pleased to read that they are updating their mission statement though – I guess it was too much to ask for them to change the name – it is a very recognisable brand. Thanks for keeping tabs on this for the rest of us John! And thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout

    1. Glad you had a better experience. I believe Mothercare is now selling clothes for kids up to the age of 10 (or is it 8?). Anyway, it’s older than you realise. Just hope the quality has improved.

  8. I have to admit I have not shopped there in a long time after also having some less than satisfactory experiences. I was never that impressed with the quality of the clothes considering the price. That said the introduction of new ranges would tempt to drop back in and have a look xxx #thetruthabout

    1. If you do return, I hope you find the quality has improved. I think the company knew it had to improve things.

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