PsychoBaby Store Celebrates 7th Anniversary

Congratulations to Marlo Hoffman and Lisa Starbuck, co-founders of PsychoBaby in Chicago that celebrated its seventh anniversary earlier this May! This one-of-a-kinda-crazy brick and mortar kids’ store also now counts the Internet as its worldwide territory. The store is fun, funky, wild, original and a celebration of all things that are hipper, cooler, trendier, edgier and as unique as children’s individual personalities and creative outlooks.

Marlo recently shared with The Giggle Guide® how PsychoBaby keeps Lisa and her thinking crazy, while staying sane as busy, involved and mompreneurial parents.

How did you get started in children’s retail?

I had actually been contemplating entering the retail field since my eldest son was born. Psychobaby was born out of simple necessity. As new parents, we couldn’t find stuff without duckies or bunnies on it! After my second son was born, my partner Lisa and I were discussing our neighborhood (Bucktown/Wicker Park) and a void we saw in the retail market for a “cool” one-stop shop that could be enjoyed by both parents and gifters looking for unique selections for kids. This concept isn’t new to the adult world, but was sorely lacking in the children’s market. It was the drive to fulfill this vacancy and really let parents know we understand their joyous chaos, their time-constraints, and their wanting of specialty choices that drove us to open Psychobaby in 2003.

What was your background prior to this business?

Both my partner and I are parents (3 boys and 2 girls between us), and the experience of parenthood informs all of our style choices for Psychobaby, whether that means sharing a laugh with clients about sleep deprivation or finding them the coolest toy that our kids went wild over. My business background lies in high-end styling, while Lisa was a sales representative for major footwear lines. It is the combination of these three backgrounds that makes Psychobaby what it is today.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting up?

Slowing ourselves down! We do not lack ideas, but we believe in adhering to giving something our all, and really following through to ensure success. While we had always envisioned psychobabyonline, we didn’t launch on the Web for 2 years. We really wanted to figure out our place in the market first, and have our rubber ducks in a row before we launched. I feel that this approach really helped us create an e-commerce site that feels the closest to the brick-and-mortar experience.

What is one thing you would have done differently?

Lisa and I would have entered the custom market earlier than we did. Inherently, we knew this area of the business would be successful, although we would never have predicted it would be as successful as it is! We had purchased custom gifts for others, our kids had received them, and we knew how special they were to our children. The custom offerings go hand in hand with our original vision, “To celebrate individuality rather than conformity, creativity rather than convention.” To quote my 10-year old, not launching the Custom Shop years ago was our “Big Duh,” and why we have custom 20/20 vision tees to remind us to always take that bold, risky step when you know it is right!

What do you feel are the three biggest keys to your success?

  1. Our constant devotion to making our clients’ experiences unique, fun and easy.
  2. Our love for offering the most unique and unexpected merchandise all in one place, and 24/7 online.
  3. The fact that we know how to see the world from 3-feet high. This informs all we do. Children are treated with the utmost respect and intelligence, and they inspire us daily to be more joyful, passionate and relentlessly curious.

How do you evaluate and choose new product lines to pick up?

Psychobaby is its own individual entity - it is Lisa and I, the sales teams, and more importantly, our clients big and small. Basically, we have a WWPD (What Would Psychobaby Do?) method to evaluating and picking up new lines. That said, we pride ourselves on not only the mixing of high and low fashion and price points, but that a client can come in and find the products that go together to build a gift that they, and the recipient, are super excited about. This speaks to theme, age groups, interest and price point (all under the specialty umbrella) that makes Psychobaby the most complicated, yet simple, and truly enjoyable store

What types of marketing are most effective for your business?

Cross-channel e-mail marketing has been very successful for us in terms of getting the word out about new arrivals and informing people about our product lines and events. That said, what we feel has really brought us closer to our clients in the online space really is social media. At the brick and mortar, there is always this excitement and connection as two or more people meet and find the coolest present for a little one. In the online world, a disconnect is built into the process, and social media is where that wall is torn down and everyone can get together as a community. It is a wonderful, spirited adventure, and we are very thankful that so many people choose to share their lives with us daily.

How do “green” or eco-friendly concerns weigh into your business decisions?

We try our best every day to choose the most unique and interesting products for all the Psychobabies out there, and we always try to do this with the greater good in mind. We sought out environmentally friendly inks for our Custom Shop, have recycled wrapping supplies, and carry recycled toys and environmentally-friendly options for babies and kids. As we grow, this is on our minds, and we will continue to improve our effort in these areas.

What is one trend you’re currently seeing with customers?

I’m going to use the “R” word, so get ready! Since the recession, clients have bought gifts and made selections differently. What was interesting, is Lisa and I had purchased this past season in this same manner. There are articles and shows constantly in the media talking about the extinguishing of excess . . . While I would say many people weren’t financially capable of the excess to begin with, I think a big, scary event such as the recession made people stop and think about consumption and what they wanted to bring into their house, and who they wanted to support with their hard-earned dollars. It made everyone more aware of their spending habits, it brought people together, and it united them in their search for quality. Our goal has always been to present the public with interesting quality goods that will bring delight, and we are very humbled, proud and inspired by clients’ decision to choose Psychobaby during those tough times. We think this is the new normal, and are going to move forward and keep producing and choosing quality goods we can all stand behind.

How does your business make use of the Internet?

Psychobaby is online at where we can bring our cool, crazy kids’ stuff to parts of the nation we haven’t opened a brick and mortar in (yet!). We have a hilarious and wonderfully active community on our Facebook Fan Page, a living newspaper on our blog, and two Twitter accounts.

What is one change/addition that’s had a positive impact for your business?

We started providing custom products.

If you had one piece of advice for someone entering children’s retail today, what would it be?

Believe in your idea, and what you have to bring to the table from your individual point of view. And buy a pair of rollerskates for when you get busy!

More About PsychoBaby

We are known for having the most interesting stuff for the most free-thinking kids, all in a fun and knowledgeable environment,” Hoffman says. The store overflows with band tees, clothing, footwear, toys, accessories, books and jewelry. Parents, kids and those that know parents with kids all enjoy looking at everything PsychoBaby has to offer kids.

In addition to its own brand of fashions and custom gifts, PsychoBaby carries many brands that bring out a modern, contemporary, hip vibe for families, including the companies listed on the sidebar at right.

1630 North Damen Avenue

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