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Interview with the Nina Cullen Owner of NiNi Bambini

DollarDays Please us give an overview of what your business is.

Nina Cullen I own a maternal wellness center called, NiNi Bambini, in Bedford, NH. We offer support, information, education and products to women and families from pregnancy through preschool. I am the owner, but I also do a myriad of jobs from facilitating groups, teaching classes, overseeing daily operations, running a counseling practice within the center and running the vacuum cleaner at the end of the day. I have four part-time employees, and we have a customer data base of 1,500 clients, 700 of whom are on our monthly newsletter list.

DD Where did the idea for NiNi Bambini come from?

NC I was a childbirth educator and doula for many years; doulas are people who are trained to support women through childbirth. I saw many pregnant couples and new parents who were in need of support and education beyond what they were finding through their hospital, obstetricians and pediatricians. Often women worked, gave birth and then returned to work within eight weeks. Often women were physically far away from extended family, and although they knew people from their work life, they really knew no other mothers with young children. I saw a need for a place where women, children and families could come to learn to be better parents.

DD Where did you come up with the name ‘Nini Bambini’?

NC Originally I had a partner, a woman named, Nicole, who was going to open the center with me. We took the first two letters from our names and made NiNi (hence the two upper case N’s). Unfortunately, Nicole has small children and soon realized that this was not the right time in her life to open a business. I liked the name and it stuck.

DD What need or niche in the market do you fill?

NC There are four million babies born in the US each year, and despite the economy, people continue to reproduce. There is a constant stream of new customers and a virtually never-ending supply of new babies!

DD Based on what I’ve heard and seen on your Web site, your approach seems somewhat unique in that it has a holistic approach, dealing with the health of the mother and child, from pregnancy to birth to early childhood. Talk a little about that is important.

NC A woman traditionally sees an obstetrician for the nine months of her pregnancy, and then for a follow-up visit six weeks after birth. After that, they are on their own. We are removed from the concept of “it takes a village,” women often don’t even know their neighbors, yet they continue to need the support of a community to help them navigate the waters of pregnancy and early parenting.

DD Who are your competitors, if any?

NC We really don’t have a direct competitor – although there are other infant specialty stores in the area, they definitely do not offer the kind of customer service that we do. There are other places to find playgroups or music classes, but not with the kind of atmosphere we offer. There are prenatal classes at most hospitals, but they are held in conference rooms with uncomfortable chairs, while we offer leather couches with ottomans.

DD What’s your client demographic?

NC Our typical client is a first-time mother, but that is mostly due to the fact that we’ve only been open for two years. We are now seeing returning customers who are pregnant with their second or third baby. Our women span the age range from early 20′s to early 40′s. We also have a fair number of grandparents and nannies who come to our classes. Most of our clients are in the upper-middle income bracket.

DD How has your business been affected by the recession?

NC The recession has had an impact on our business: people don’t spend as much, and some have had to opt out of classes for financial reasons. The recession really began as we were about 10 months into our first year, and while we feel a the hit, it hasn’t been as bad as it could have been. We instituted a “membership” program that helps us to gain income and helps keep costs lower for our customers. They pay $60 per year to become a member, and that gives them a discount on classes and access to “member Saturday” once a month when all purchases in the store are discounted 15 percent. Since Saturdays were traditionally a slow day for us, member Saturdays has helped with foot traffic as well as sales.

DD Does anything like NiNi Bambini exist in New Hampshire or elsewhere? If not, have you thought about franchising?

NC There is a similar business called Isis Maternity in the Boston area – they have three stores, and sell much higher end products than we do. The main income for Isis is from their retail sales, our income is distributed evenly between classes and retail sales.

DD What are some lessons you have learned about starting and running a business from your experience with NiNi Bambini?

NC I never anticipated how much work it would take to open a business! I have tried to surround myself with capable staff and a knowledgeable support team of friends, family and professionals. I’ve had to stop micro-managing every aspect of the business and trust that my staff knows exactly what to do!

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