Kiwi nappy brand Rascal + Friends takes on the world

Founded by a mother of four and her brother, Rascal + Friends was borne out of the simple need for better nappies that were safe on sensitive skin. Hannah Morris, Rascal + Friends’ Marketing Manager shares the story behind the brands’ journey from D2C to flying off retailers’ shelves all over the world.

Struggling to find a product that suited her children’s skin, and with a child suffering from eczema, Rascal + Friends’ Co-Founder (who has since left the business) gave up on trying to find the perfect nappy and instead, in a decidedly Kiwi fashion, decided to do it herself.

Partnering with her brother, who had been looking for a recession-proof business idea for a while, the pair set out in 2015 designing a product that suited her children’s needs.

In 2017, Nick Mowbray, founder of toy company Zuru was brought onboard to help the siblings take the business to the next level. It was then that they moved beyond being a small e-commerce business to being stocked by retailers.

Marketing Manager Hannah Morris says this shift to focus on physical retailers was a game changer for Rascal + Friends and the nappy category in New Zealand, which up until that moment had been “pretty stagnant” and dominated by a duopoly for decades.

Soon after this move, Rascal + Friends partnered exclusively with Foodstuffs and within eight weeks of the launch, became the retailer’s number two best-selling brand.

“Straight off the bat, once we had that distribution piece, the brand went incredibly well, and honestly it’s just continued the momentum since then,” Hannah says.

Encouraged by this success, the brand went on to launch in Australia, Canada, U.K., and Ireland over the next two years. With the brand continuing to go from strength to strength, in 2020, a year not usually known for its business successes, Rascal + Friends launched in 13 more markets across the globe.

So what is the secret to the nappy brands success? Hannah puts it down to a combination of entering a previously stagnant market, having a genuinely quality product, and clever marketing strategies.

“We always call ourselves a digital-first brand. Particularly when we launched and in our category, a lot of the key competitors weren’t leveraging social and digital media. They didn’t really need to try new things, disrupt, innovate, or be agile because they had a strong hold on the customer base.

“So we came in and leveraged all of the efficiencies and targeting capabilities that you can get with a social and digital strategy, and really ensured that we were reaching our key customers and that everything we were doing was working hard.”

As a growing business, Hannah says they knew they weren’t able to compete with their competitor’s budgets, so instead they had to ensure “that everything we did was driving impact and shifting the needle”.

“We can be super dynamic with our marketing strategy and always innovate or try new things. Sometimes when you get to the size of our key competitors, doing new things can be so much harder, so our ability to be agile is an advantage.”

Another key part of the marketing strategy was having a deep understanding of the international markets they were entering, and tailoring their strategy accordingly. Rascal + Friends always partner with
a retailer exclusively as this allows
the brand to drive customers to the retailer, and in turn the retailer is heavily invested in the brand and
its success.

“[The retailers] often provide great support in the early stages to help guide product assortment, claims, positioning, and pricing, and ensure each element is optimised for the market,” which is a key part of the brand’s success, Hannah says.

From a marketing and comms perspective, the team also have regional team members which are the “eyes and ears on the market”.

“They are integral to make sure that everything we do fits the market because there are so many nuances. Each market will have more affinity with certain elements of the brand or our proposition, so we adjust or amplify certain aspects to best resonate with the customer.”

An example of this is what different markets call the product. While they are nappies in New Zealand, they become diapers in Canada and the U.S. It’s these small nuances the Rascal + Friends team are conscious of to ensure customers are connecting with the brand no matter where they are.

Recently the nappy brand has partnered with kids entertainment giant, CoComelon, to launch a limited edition range.

This collaboration came about organically with it becoming quickly apparent that there was “a big synergy” between the two brands in how they were disrupting their respective categories, and licensing being a key strategy in both.  

“CoComelon was also a really great opportunity and platform for us to build the business in the U.S. as well as globally,” Hannah says.

“And in other markets like New Zealand, it was an opportunity to launch something new for the brand. We’d been in market in New Zealand for five years, so it was something fresh and fun.”

Work to make the collaboration a reality happened quickly and 12 months after the first meetings were had, the limited edition range was live in market and had launched globally.

“It was a mammoth effort from the team, but it’s been pretty incredible to see the results and the response from our customers as well,” says Hannah.

With the business growing so quickly there were of course  some growing pains particularly around trying to keep up with the growth and ensuring that the business could sustain operating at that level.

“In a lot of ways it was a new brand and a new business so there was a lot of work we had to do setting up the team, resources, and structure to support growth, and ensure that we were streamlining all of our processes.”

Competing with the large legacy brands such as Huggies and Pampers, was also challenging, especially where, in some markets, nappies are referred to as Pampers, Hannah says.

“Trying to create awareness and affinity with our brand and compete against them and their budgets is a challenge. But I think it just forces us to work smarter and ensure that everything we are doing has a purpose and is driving value. It’s a fun challenge that one.

“Sometimes when you see the scale and their budget numbers come through, it’s like, ‘Ooh, they’re the big dogs.’ But we just focus on what we know works – a social and digital-first approach, quality product, and building a community around the brand. We want to turn every person that tries [Rascal + Friends] into a loyalist and an advocate, particularly because we know word of mouth is so important for parents.”

As for other companies aiming to achieve similar success, future proofing, a deep understanding of the market and customers, plus investing in quality products are the keys to growing a global brand Hannah says as well as the ability to “stay agile, adaptable, and don’t be afraid to ‘fail fast’”.

“That’s really how we’ve been able to stay ahead of the competition and grow at the rate we have – driven by innovation and disruption, and not being afraid to try things.” 

This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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