Written by Jason Gilmer | Photos by Evan Anderson
A fresh look at Asheville’s i play., Inc., award-winning maker of safe, responsible baby products, which, in the five years since we originally profiled its owners, has experienced significant—and inspiring—growth and expansion.
Editor’s Note: In the March/April 2013 issue of Capital at Play we published “Seriously, Playful,” a profile of Becky Cannon and her daughter, Emi Kubota, of Asheville’s i play., Inc., which Becky had started in 1982 when Emi was just a young child. At the time of our feature, Becky had grown her company from an out-of-her-garage mail order operation selling environmentally safe products for babies (such as woolen diaper covers) to a $10 million-in-sales-annually business with more than four dozen employees operating out of a Riverside Drive facility shipping to stores all over the country, including Target and Whole Foods; a year earlier, they had also opened a retail shop on South Liberty Street in downtown Asheville.
In the five years between then and now, i play., Inc. has experienced still more growth and change, with sales reaching $17 million at the end of 2017, significantly expanding the warehouse operation, and opting to shutter the retail location in 2014 in order to focus on order fulfilment and product development; Becky has also published a huge, 800-page book designed as a comprehensive resource for parents. Along the way, Becky and Emi have experienced both highs and lows as businesspersons: On the “up” side, for example, was winning a pair of 2012 Cribsie Awards—the equivalent of the Oscars in the baby product industry—for “Cutest Swim Diaper” (their Ultimate Swim Diaper) and “Most Convenient Way to Store Baby Food” (their Baby Food Storage Cubes); a definite low moment came several years ago when Target, which accounted for nearly 30 percent of their overall sales, decided to drop the i play., Inc. account, which decimated sales and left them scrambling to find fresh accounts in smaller stores and boutiques. (Luckily, in the end this may have served to strengthen the company’s brand and name recognition by getting their products into more places. And i play., Inc. did subsequently return to the Target shelves.)
So we thought now was an appropriate time to revisit the company for our latest “updating the file” feature on prior entrepreneurial profilees, in order to let the readers take a firsthand look at a local success story and get a sense of how it was achieved. To read the original 2013 story, please visit the Capital at Play website – “Seriously, Playful.”
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