This is not your father’s diaper bag.
The dreaded purple diaper bag has gone camo — and macho — and the rowdy concept landed two 32-year-old guys from the Hilton Head Island High School class of 2003 on the front page of the Wall Street Journal last week.
Tactical Baby Gear was founded on Hilton Head about five years ago by Stephen “Beav” Brodie. He quickly partnered with Alex Kristoff, chief operating officer, in a bootstrap, online-only business they say is tripling or quadrupling in sales year-over-year.
The Wall Street Journal reported there are “at least a half dozen companies specializing in military-style baby gear” in the booming world of baby products — “estimated this year to produce more than $11 billion in revenue world-wide.”
Brodie was building custom cars for a living, and Kristoff had a company specializing in disposable flasks that he started when he was a student at the College of Charleston. Then the boys who were in the same second-grade class picture combined skills to gun down the frilly diaper bags that yesterday’s uninvolved dad was asked to hold.
“She’s the reason all this exists,” Brodie says, waving an armed jammed with tattoos toward the odd portrait wrapped around a Suburban.
“She” is Kendall, the second girl born to Brodie and his wife, Brandy Bartlett. In the portrait, he’s a grim-faced soldier with a stroller slung over one shoulder and a baby girl in his arm. “Ditch the Girly Diaper Bag,” it says.
Brodie knew the minute he heard that Kendall would be joining older sister Cameron that he’d be asked to hold the girly diaper bag again.
“There’s got to be something else out there,” he said. He found nothing. He turned to his lifelong interest in guns and tactical gear, and the sewing skills used on his cars, to produce the beginnings of a 21st century business in a saturated, global market.
This is not your father’s business.
When Brodie knew he was onto something, he jumped on the computer and started nailing down domain names at GoDaddy.com. He clicked over to LegalZoom.com for legal papers. He created Facebook and Instagram accounts.
In this century, a whim at 8 p.m. can be a business in two weeks.
Around that time, Kristoff posted a picture on Facebook. It showed one of his disposable flasks on a shelf at the Target in Bluffton.
“I reached out to Alex,” Brodie said. Brodie knew he couldn’t sew enough military-style baby products, or get them from here to there if someone else made them. “I just knew I had a good idea,” he said.
Kristoff’s good idea came at a concert with his future wife, Emily. Today, they have 18-month-old twins, Max and Nico, with a third baby due in March. But at that carefree concert tailgate, Kristoff noticed a group of guys in their 50s trying to pour booze into Ziploc bags.
“That’s aggressive,” he thought.
And that’s when his company was born, selling disposable flasks.
He has sold that company to work full-time on Tactical Baby Gear. Its line of 10 core products are designed here, made overseas, mailed to customers from a “fulfillment center” in Durham, N.C., and aggressively marketed through social media and the company website. They stress personal customer service.
“It’s branding, and the ability to control sales channels in the online marketplace,” Kristoff said.
They don’t sell through brick-and-mortar stores, or wholesalers.
“The internet is our distributor,” Kristoff said. “This model may cost us a bit now, but it is my belief that it is better for our long-term future.”
‘Interrupt the pattern’
This is not your father’s branding.
The brand is a rugged, military-style, “practical is tactical,” total departure from the Gerber baby image. It’s heavy on the gun culture.
“Brodie is a life-long Second Amendment devotee and proud gun owner,” the company website says. “Obviously, a frilly pink diaper bag poses a pretty serious compromise to a reputation like that.”
If you think the created video image of a gun-toting guy in military gear walking a little boy in a playground is jarring, it was meant to be.
Brodie, the branding, social-media force, said, “Dad is an involved parent, and he’s proud of it, and he has a diaper bag he thinks is cool. That’s our brand. How do you say that in 3 seconds?”
A video of dad sitting on a park bench isn’t going to get the job done, he said.
A more jarring video, on the other hand, can get north of 1 million views.
“Crazy stuff. Weird stuff. Funny stuff. Stuff that interrupts the pattern,” Brodie said. “That’s what we do.
“We’re basically a media company that sells a product.”
The world seems so different, just a generation after Glenn and Phyllis Brodie and Mike and Patty Kristoff raised the boys on Hilton Head.
Both sets of parents are supportive, and entrepreneurial themselves.
Even if they didn’t have a camo “Tactical Teddy” bear, or a coyote brown “Dump Pouch 2.0,” or a changing mat with a crosshair “drop zone” warning “Stand Clear.”