50 years of Helping Parents Through Innovation and Problem-solving
Pansy Ellen Essman’s granddaughter did not like to be bathed and got very wiggly and fussy so that it was difficult to bathe her. To make bathtime safer and more comfortable, 42-year-old Pansy got the idea to create a sponge pillow that would cradle the child in the tub and free the caretaker’s hands to clean the baby. From this idea, The Original Foam Bath Aid was born and parents no longer precariously hold their tiny, slippery, wiggly baby with one hand while carefully washing and rinsing with the other in a nerve-racking balancing act.
As a novice entrepreneur, Pansy worked hard to bring her solution to the market. To make ends meet, she continued working as a parts inspector at an electronics firm, producing the infant “bath aid” evenings and weekends at her mother’s farm. In 1969, Pansy patented her bath design, developed a prototype, and took it to a New York City trade show. She met with a dozen sales representatives who were impressed and began placing orders for Pansy-ette™, the original foam bath aid.
By 1975, at the age of 55, Pansy Ellen Essman was able to leave her $3.50 an hour job with the electronics firm and begin nationwide distribution of her invention. Tom Gunnigle joined her in 1978 to establish the company, which soon expanded from one product into new products and categories, including high chairs, baby food organizers, and nursery lamps.
When Tom moved the headquarters to Atlanta in 1980, there were only 25 employees. In 1984, Tom took over as president. He purchased the company the following year and continued to grow the business in product, sales, and team members.
The company’s passion for giving back started under Tom Gunnigle’s leadership. Kids II partnered with Children’s Miracle Network, children’s hospitals in local communities, and organizations that help teenage mothers in need, just to name a few. Tom led Kids II with a clear vision, a strong head, and compassion for others. Kids II continued to experience growth as Tom led the organization until he was ready to retire in 2004.
A New Era
Ryan Gunnigle, Tom’s son, essentially entered the infant toy and baby gear business as a child when he frequently visited his father’s office, and eventually, he began helping various departments. As a teenager, when many of his friends found employment at fast-food restaurants and grocery stores, Ryan worked at Kids II.
Upon graduating from Emory University in 1990, Ryan joined Kids II as an associate product manager. Inspired by a collaboration with Dr. Susan Luddington-Hoe, author of “How to Have A Smarter Baby,” Ryan oversaw the design of the first black, white, and red toys specifically created to stimulate babies. This helped launch the company into “infant development” toys. These products quickly gained the interest of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, which was a springboard for the company’s Bright Starts™ products to appear on the shelves of other retail giants, including Toys “R” Us in 1992 and Target a few years later.
In 1998, Ryan Gunnigle was named the president of Kids II. Under Ryan’s leadership and vision, the company experienced a period of rapid growth as it opened offices around the world, with Hong Kong as its first international office. Mexico, UK, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, China, and Japan soon followed. Along the way, Kids II entered the Stationary Activity Centers category, grew its brand portfolio and Bright Starts collections, secured licensing agreements with Carter’s, Disney, and Baby Einstein. The company also established the Kids II Foundation—supporting it’s commitment to corporate responsibility.
In 2005, Ryan Gunnigle purchased the company from his father and became President and CEO. Under Ryan’s direction, the company reached $100 million in sales within two years. Operating with an entrepreneurial approach, the company continued to flourish. It moved its headquarters to the thriving Atlanta suburb, Buckhead, with a branded office space complete with a large slide and a beautiful showroom. The new offices were a finalist in the Design category for the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2012 Best in Atlanta Real Estate Awards. Kids II Latin America was opened, along with offices in South Africa and Amsterdam. The company also extended its product line launching the Ingenuity™ brand in 2010, acquiring Rhino Toys™ (now Oball™), the Taggies™ brand, and the Baby Einstein™ brand from Disney®.
During this time, Kids II became one of the fastest-growing infant and toddler companies leveraging the talent of the nearly 450 global employees across 14 offices on 5 continents. Its brands are known and loved worldwide, including Baby Einstein®, Bright Starts®, and Ingenuity®. Kids II has produced hundreds of award-winning products and is continually innovating with more than 70 patents secured.
Realizing the way the world consumes products was rapidly changing Ryan positioned the company to pivot from product-focused to consumer-driven. He brought on a board of advisors in 2014 to help him navigate this transition, expanded his executive team, and rolled out a new company Purpose, Vision and 5-year Growth Agenda in 2017.
Kids II aims to redefine the industry by creating holistic solutions for early-stage parents that transcend borders, categories, and aisles so that bright futures are in reach for every family.
The five-year agenda included major organizational shifts, such as global expansion, growing e-commerce and developing a design studio. Believing culture is central to company success, the company brought together a global, cross-functional group of team members to identify 30 fundamental cultural competencies that exemplify the culture - The Kids II Way.
Celebrating 50 years
In 2019, celebrating 50 years, Kids II became Kids2 signifying the company’s dual responsibility to parents and children to help create tiny wins today, so they can celebrate bright futures tomorrow.
The company also announced Kids2.com, a new direct to consumer site designed to be the “Go2 for up to age 2.” Kids2.com offers new parents curated products, trusted advice, access to new services, and community engagement and is designed to be a vital resource during the early years of parenthood.
Looking to the future, Kids2 is building a new 72,000 square-foot (25kM2) manufacturing facility and four-story, 64,582 square-feet (6KM2) office building near the Jiujiang Port in Central China. By 2021, the project will triple the overall Kids II workforce with the addition of 1,000 employees who will fill management, operations and factory roles at the new location. The project represents the company’s first fully-owned and operated manufacturing facility in its 50-year history and illustrates its commitment to accelerated growth, quality, and innovation.