Selling Cloth Diapers Effectively

Photo by Matt Swaggart

Today, there are millions of bumGenius, Flip and Econobum cloth diapers in circulation all over the world… so many individual pieces that we’ve finally lost count. Using numbers from several years ago, we calculated that our brands had already probably prevented the use of at least a billion disposable diapers, assuming only one owner and only one child.

That’s just new diapers, sold once. We can’t even begin to account for the impact of recycled bumGenius diapers. Many of our customers give away or resell their diapers. There’s no way to keep track of the life and the after life and the after after life of a cloth diaper. I regularly hear from families who have used our brands on two, three and four children… and then given them away to a friend. Is it a billion disposable diapers prevented? Or is it much, much more? Does it even matter?

I’ll agree that yes, it matters, but it doesn’t matter to your customers nearly as much as the housing that has to get paid for or the groceries that have to get bought to put dinner on the table tonight. Cloth diapers help real families pay bills and feed hungry kids. Real families deal with these issues. And reaching real families means that you aren’t creating impossible standards or using fear to sell a product. It means that you you’re building bridges and reaching hands over walls to draw those people in.

Cloth diaper retailers, if you want to sell more diapers, don’t use guilt to force the switch. You should never comment on a baby wearing a disposable diaper. Don’t let a mom feel like she has to apologize because her baby isn’t in cloth diapers. Don’t quote crazy, questionable “facts” that you found online. Don’t post pictures of landfills on your walls. Don’t quote questionable statistics about chemicals or testicles (yeah, I said it). Even if your facts and stats are right, your words will leave a parent with a weird sense of guilt if she (or he) ever has to reach for a package of disposables. Why don’t you want this to happen? Well, from a very basic perspective, it isn’t good for sales if your customer is cringing when they drive by your store or walking the other way if they run into you at the grocery store late at night because their child is wearing a disposable diaper.

The other day, someone asked me how they should go about being a cloth diaper evangelist. This person was fairly outgoing (not a retailer), a strong advocate for cloth diapers, and was concerned about alienating her friends by pushing too hard. I suggested that she not even mention her cloth diapers to her friends. Rather than talk about how amazing they were… she should use them in front of her friends and, when asked, share her story. The friend who is really interested will listen and then go home to do her own research… calling later with questions and for advice when she is ready to buy. Believe it or not, this works. This scenario has repeated itself over and over again on the floors of play groups all over the world and can be largely credited for the exponential growth in cloth diapers on at least three continents.

If you’re the retailer receiving that customer, be sure to educate your staff about how to take a positive sales approach. In our stores, our staff isn’t walking around trying to educate moms about the chemicals in the disposable diaper her baby is wearing. We don’t post pictures of landfills on our walls. You’ll hear a statistic about the ton of landfill waste likely generated by a baby in disposable diapers in our classes, but you won’t hear us giving a mom a guilt trip about her carbon impact. We display our products well. We categorize cloth diapers by type. We carry a broad and deep selection of all product lines, including all colors and prints available whenever possible. We carry a broad selection of accessories, but we don’t oversell them (most people don’t need expensive hemp inserts until they call asking about leaks). We talk about the immediately realizable benefits of cloth diapering. We don’t speak to unstudied health benefits. We answer questions when asked. We offer classes in cloth diapering. We acknowledge real life, by supporting the decision process and guiding parents to a product that meets their family’s needs, both financial and time-related (even when it isn’t our own brands).

Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Clement of Rome credits Jesus as saying, “As you are kind, so will you be shown kindness.” Your customers should leave your store knowing that you have their back. And that, my friend, is how you sell a cloth diaper and gain a customer.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals.

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