The French teething toy brand has its presence in 80 countries around the world. Sophie la girafe® has won around 60 awards and it was established in the year 1961 by Mr. Rampeau. Hoya Bella Distribution is responsible for the Import and distribution of the French brand- Sophie la girafe® products in the Indian market. Headquartered in Rumilly (France), Sophie la girafe® manufactures teething toys which are made from 100% natural rubber. Ms. Lola Hicks, Founder & CEO at Hoya Bella Distribution, had a detailed interaction with Mommy & Baby Times (MBT) wherein she outlines on the specifics of Sophie la girafe® products, the key strengths of the brand and the credo with which the brand has charted out its future strategies.
November 11, 2019
MBT: Kindly take us through the business story of Sophie la girafe® and enlighten us on its presence in the Indian market.
Lola Hicks: The story behind Sophie la girafe® is pretty fascinating. We had started manufacturing Sophie la girafe® in France in 1961. It is important to keep in mind that she (little giraffe teething toy) was not born during marketing and digital ages. She only became a “must-have” thanks to word of mouth, parents’ recognition, and mostly babies’ evident pleasure having her around. Sophie la girafe®’s success is due to the fact that she is one of the only infant toys that stimulates the baby’s five senses at an early age. In France each year, we sell more Sophie la girafe® than the number of babies that are born. She is now an iconic and timeless baby product. Sophie la girafe® is simply the one gift you get each time a baby is born within family and friends. The love for Sophie la girafe® keeps replicating no matter the country. We started exporting in 2001, quite unsure of the response as it was such a specific French product. However, it picked up incredibly, first in the US, the UK, Japan, Australia and we are now present in 80 countries; India being our new market. The distribution in India started in July this year and the response has been impressive. We did not expect the products to pick up so quickly. It can be explained by the number of digital moms that are using the Internet to search for high quality products. Right now, our priority is to develop the brand recognition and focus on communication in social media in which we are getting an excellent response. From almost 60 years ago, we have grown quite organically and that is the best recognition we can get.
MBT: What is the range of products offered by the brand?
LH: Sophie la girafe® is considered a specialist in baby products in France and in mature markets (countries in which we have been present for 5 years or more). Therefore, we offer a vast variety of goods including baby teethers, toys, clothes, feeding utensils, birth gifts and more. Typically, our strategy to launch a new market is to focus on our flagship product, Sophie la girafe®. However, with India being such a promising market, we started immediately promoting our worldwide 6 best sellers. As the brand recognition increases, we will expand our product offering and bring revolutionizing baby care items that have been unavailable until now.
“We are now present in 80 countries; India being our new market. The distribution in India started in July this year and the response has been impressive… we have grown quite organically and that is the best recognition we can get.”
MBT: What do you have to say about the strengths of the Sophie la girafe® as a brand?
LH: Our export collections “So’pure” and “Il était une fois…” are made out of 100% pure natural rubber. We use the finest rubber that of which is the same used for surgical gloves. We get it from Malaysia and work with small local producers. The quality of the raw material, paired with almost 60 year of experience in manufacturing, Sophie la girafe® makes our products quite unique. Multi awarded and known as “The Star Toy”, she was adopted by many Hollywood celebrities’ babies and starting to seduce also Bollywood babies. All our products are designed around the character of Sophie la girafe®. In 1961, only pets or farm animals were represented in the world of toys. It wasn’t until Mr. Rampeau, a specialist in transforming the latex from the Hevea tree using the rotational moulding of rubber as a toy making concept, had the idea to design a giraffe. This exotic representation was the first of its kind on the market. The size and shape of the toy remains true to the orginal creation, and are ideally suitable for a baby to grasp. The first Sophie la girafe®, as she is still known today, went in production on May 25th 1961. She was an immediate success. Right from the beginning, young parents recognized something in her that was essential for their babies.
MBT: What are the unique characteristic of these teething toys?
LH: Sophie la girafe® is one of the only infant products that can be given to a baby from 0 month and that stimulate his five senses:
SIGHT: At the age of 3 months, a baby’s eyesight is still limited and he can only perceive high contrasts. The dark and contrasting attention-catching spots over Sophie la girafe®‘s body provide visual stimulation. She soon becomes a familiar and reassuring object for baby who easily recognizes her.
HEARING: Sophie la girafe®‘s squeaker entertains while stimulating baby’s hearing. The funny sound she makes when she is squeezed helps stimulate his hearing which then helps him understand the link between cause and effect.
TASTE: Made of 100% natural rubber and food-grade paint, Sophie la girafe® can be safely nibbled. She is akin to the teat of a feeding bottle. Her soft texture and numerous nibbling parts (ears, horns, snout and legs), makes her ideally suited for soothing baby’s gums during teething.
TOUCH: The sense of touch is a baby’s first means of communication with the outside world. The softness of Sophie la girafe® is reminiscent of a mother’s skin. It reassures baby providing physiological and emotional responses that will soothe baby and favor healthy growth and well-being.
SMELL: The singular smell of natural rubber derived from the Hevea tree (para rubber tree) gives Sophie la girafe® a truly distinctive feature that makes it easy for baby to identify her amongst his other toys.
“Sophie la girafe® is one of the only infant products that can be given to a baby from 0 month… Made of 100% natural rubber and food-grade paint, Sophie la girafe® can be safely nibbled.”
MBT: Share some specifics on the manufacturing of the products.
LH: We use a unique process to create our products. The rubber comes exclusively from the hevea trees growing in Malaysia. To create the little wonder, Sophie la girafe®, we first heat the latex using a special process involving the “rotomoulding” technique and then perform a series of 14 manual operations. First the latex, in its liquid form, is poured into plaster molds, specifically designed to absorb the water. Then comes the Rotomoulding step, during which the molds rotate on two axels allows a uniform distribution of the latex in each footprint. After a few uses, the molds are unable to absorb the water. They are set aside to be recycled in the local plaster industry. The giraffes then enter the maturing process and are placed for a minimum of three months on a shape holder. This allows them to dry while retaining their iconic shape and the important properties of the natural rubber (flexibility, tightness, form memory, etc.). Afterwards, the giraffes are polished using a cloth grinder to smooth out all their contours. Then the whistle is added. Their mouths, cheeks, ears, legs, and eyes are finally hand-painted with natural pigments mixed with latex. All these steps are carried out manually by our craftsmen with the greatest respect for tradition. All of our products sold comply with European and global legislated standards. Regardless of the regulations enforced in each country, the same products are sold worldwide, meeting the most stringent legislation in all areas. In July 2011, we even went one step further enabling full product traceability by placing a individualize lot number on each of our product. Each number corresponds to a batch tested by an approved laboratory and certifies its compliance with European and international standards. We are one of the very few toy manufacturers to offer such a high level of batch traceability and safety.
MBT: What are your marketing and distribution strategies and how do you perceive the competition in the Indian toys industry, especially in the Soft Toys segment?
LH: Being a new brand in India, we mostly focus on building the brand recognition. Many connected parents looking for quality products have heard of us but they don’t always know what makes Sophie la girafe® so special or even that we are now present in India. Therefore, we have put a lot of emphasis in meeting parents directly through exhibitions PAN India. In the past 3 months, we did 4 major B2C and B2B events in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. We are now strongly implanted when it comes to online retail. Sophie la girafe® has had an amazing response in the past 4 months. We have been very surprised to notice that 50% of our business happened in Tier 3 and 4 cities. E-commerce has opened up product accessibility to parents regardless of their geographical situation. Our next goal is to be more present in traditional and modern trade so that parents and their little ones can experience our products in stores. The uniqueness of the lines puts us on a niche market.
MBT: Please outline on the offline/physical as well as online market presence of the company in India.
LH: We work with amazing resellers, mostly online for now, that offer high quality ranges of products. We have met each and every one of them to make sure we had the same understanding and goals when it came to Sophie la girafe®’s development and communication. The ones we have the honor to call our very first resellers were My Baby Babbles, FirstCry, Hopscotch, BabyChakra, MomZJoy, Babble Wrap and Masilo. When it comes to offline retail, we are now present at Green Bell (a historic baby store here in Mumbai), as well as The Baby Shop in Bangalore and Crossword in Pune. We are also very present on Amazon and have our own boutique. We made sure to clean the market place and verify all the products available were genuine and imported as per the rules. At first, it was indeed a jungle with 32 pages of products exported on the grey market or non-genuine. The MRP were not respected as well as the brand guidelines. We must say we were amazed by the efficiency of Amazon in clearing and organizing the Sophie la girafe® offer.
“E-commerce has opened up product accessibility to parents regardless of their geographical situation. Our next goal is to be more present in traditional and modern trade so that parents and their little ones can experience our products in stores.”
MBT: Is there any recent development at Sophie la girafe® that you would like to share? Also, what are your future plans for the company?
LH: We have started just four months ago, so, we are in the middle of many exciting projects. We are presently working on a pop up store project, endorsement of the brand by celebrities and collaboration with hospitals and doctors.
More than the sales, building the brand here in India is our priority for now. Getting the kind of trust relationship that we have all over the world with parents is essential for bringing Sophie la girafe® into the hands of their little ones. To do so, we plan on pursuing the promotion of the flagship product, the iconic and timeless “Sophie la girafe®”.