By ELLEN ZIEGLER
"I was there for three days and in my final half hour I was still running around," McLaughlin said. "I basically wanted to see the big stroller rollout of the 2005 models, the designs, colors and fabrics." McLaughlin said she tends to choose different strollers based on different situations under which she might use them. This year, she searched the lines she knows and trusts for colorful, vibrant designs. "Every year we hope new manufacturers will come," she said. "This year I saw quite a few that had changes that were consumer driven, which is good. Manufacturers finally seem to be being responsive to what the customer wants. I've had 90 strollers at this point switch around depending on weather, usage, what I'm wearing, my mood." But her main criteria is always use, and she hopes to have a stroller for all occasions. "I have different stroller for every conceivable situation I find myself in," she said. "I'm kind of like the guy what has the right tool kit and has a screwdriver for every type of situation. I used to think why does he have to have a different tool for everything, and now with these strollers I understand." Some of the lines McLaughlin could be seen testing at the convention were Inglesina, i'coo, and traxx, products manufactured by the Germany-based Hauck company. One of the items that truly impressed her was a remote-controlled model that retails for around $1,300. "You push a button and the seat back raises and lowers," she said. After her kids are too old to ride in strollers, McLaughlin said she'll probably either have another baby, or continue to test strollers for other kids in her neighborhood. But for now she'll continue to test hundreds of strollers per year to determine if she needs yet another one for her collection. "You can't look at hundreds of models for a minute a piece and have a good idea of how good it is," she said. "What I do is test drive strollers, (back) in Santa Monica at what I call the stroller queen obstacle course. It's exactly the same route, so they all are tested the same way, and I mimic real life situations. I'll steer them with a latte in the other hand, to see how well they maneuver, and I run them over cracks, gravel, puddles. I run them sideways up a hill to see if they'll tip ... for me strollers mean freedom."
Some women obsess over handbags. Janet McLaughlin's retail obsession serves a more functional purpose. Known as the Stroller Queen, McLaughlin has owned more than 90 strollers for her two children, ages 3 and 6. McLaughlin made a recent appearance at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas and was seen literally running around testing strollers...
|from the CBS Early Show, Dave Price:|
|September 8, 2003 PAGE ONE|
TELL ME A STORY
Where the Rubber
Meets the Sidewalk,
By SUEIN HWANG
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Janet McLaughlin's eyes narrowed as she spied a neighbor strolling a baby across the street. "That's a dreamer!" she exclaimed. Ms. McLaughlin jammed her jeweled slipper onto the accelerator of her lipstick-red Mercedes and shot down the block for a closer look.
The dreamer wasn't the neighbor. It wasn't the child. It was their stroller -- more precisely, their Dreamer Design Ditto double jogging stroller, which boasts 16-inch-wheels, a no-rust aluminum frame and a striking purple fabric. "I know all the strollers in my neighborhood," explained Ms. McLaughlin.
Actually, she knows all the strollers on several continents. Ms. McLaughlin knows by heart when Britain-based Maclaren started switching its stroller-production line to China, the weight of the Emmaljunga Husky stroller and the history of fabric choices on Peg Perego Pliko strollers. She chases down strangers to grill them about a new brand, trades buggies like baseball cards and deploys her fans on nationwide hunts for hard-to-find limited editions. Her stroller collecting has been through a holiday phase (strollers to match various holiday colors) and a countries-of-the-world phase.
A part-time television writer and mother of two in her mid-30s, Ms. McLaughlin says she uses her own money to pay for the 52 strollers she's bought in the past five years. She says her husband, an engineer, doesn't even try to keep track of her collection, which is stashed about their two-bedroom apartment and garage. "Other people count sheep," she says. "I count strollers."
While she doesn't earn a dime for her efforts, Ms. McLaughlin -- better known to her followers as Strollerqueen -- has attained celebrity status in the underground world of stroller watchers and gained outsize influence on new buyers. Shoppers around the globe seek her counsel with Internet postings titled "Wise strollerqueen give us your expertise!!", "ALL HAIL THE STROLLERQUEEN!" and "Stroller queen: thanks for making me look normal." She has referred so many customers to two West Coast stroller stores that they both periodically offer "Strollerqueen discounts."
Just two years after creating her online handle, Strollerqueen is shaking up the fast-growing high-end stroller market. She's testament to how quickly the Internet can create unofficial gurus who wield considerable power in narrow markets.
Take a then-unknown New Zealand all-terrain stroller called Mountain Buggy, which sells today for $329 to $699. One of Mountain Buggy's first U.S. customers, Ms. McLaughlin purchased the brands' pricey double stroller two years ago and posted her praise online. She raved about the swiveling front wheel, seats that fully recline, and the 28.5-inch-wide frame, which makes the stroller narrow enough to fit through most doorways.
"In the first year and a half of operation every third or fourth customer who called told me Strollerqueen was raving about my product," recounts Alan Jurysta, Mountain Buggy's U.S. distributor. "That's how I know what she meant to us." Mr. Jurysta declines to provide sales figures but says sales growth has been so strong that Mountain Buggy was just picked up by baby retailer The Right Start and will now be sold in 220 stores nationwide.
Strollerqueen's curses carry weight as well. Her online attacks complaining that the handlebars on the double strollers of Combi International Corp. break too easily prompted a company representative to lambaste her on the phone, she says, accusing her of exaggerating the problem. Pamela Pratt, customer-service manager for Combi, says the company has no record of such a conversation but confirms that Combi offered some refunds and fixed a defect in the handlebars of its Twin Savvy double stroller for 2002.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, Ms. McLaughlin worked as a television reporter in Laredo, Texas, where she says she tangled with the Mexican mafia, and spent a year doing news radio in Turkey. Returning to California, she began writing for local news shows, which she continues to do part-time while caring for her two children, ages 2 and 5.
When she had her daughter, Ms. McLaughlin says, she became a moderate stroller collector, amassing nine different models. Her interest really blossomed 2½ years later, she says, when her son was born and she couldn't find a stroller she really liked for the two children.
"I began a quest for a double stroller that fully reclined and folded up, and there was nothing out there," Ms. McLaughlin says. I started searching the world."
In March 2002, she saw a Web posting asking why so many parents buy so many strollers. Her reply grew into a popular 12-part series of essays. Dubbed "Adventures in Strollerland," the series is a stroller-centric soap opera with chapters titled "As the Wheels (don't) Turn," and "PRAM-MANIA!!!"
In part eight, Ms. McLaughlin describes the trying task of unfolding a jogging stroller on a blistering hot day. "I quickly pull the stroller out of the trunk, then try to unfold it. Ugh. Try again. Ugh. It won't budge. Ugh. Still stuck. By now, someone has come over to hold the baby, who's crying to get out of his car seat," she writes.
Aficionados say such incidents explain why they're so consumed by strollers. The right stroller, they say, is more than a gadget: It represents a momentary respite from the travails of motherhood. "It's about freedom," says Katherine Kelly, a Lubby, Md., collector who goes by the online handle "MamaKath."
At her apartment, Ms. McLaughlin recently showed off some of her latest acquisitions. Nestled next to a bookshelf is a plaid Peg Perego Pliko, an Italian midsize stroller. While never used, the stroller is circa 2001; Ms. McLaughlin believes Plikos made then are superior to those made today, which she considers more "plasticky." Ken Maxwell, marketing vice president at Peg Perego SPA's U.S. unit, confirms the fabric change and says plastic was added because consumers wanted the Pliko to have a more stylish look.
Her other new score is a never-used Maclaren double stroller made in 2000. Model years are critical to Ms. McLaughlin, who isn't as fond of Maclarens produced after the company switched its manufacturing to China. "Look at that," she says proudly, pointing to the words "Made in England" stamped on the stroller's frame. "This is worth its weight in gold."
Bahman Kia, president of Maclaren USA, says the move had no effect on quality. He concedes, however, that observations on the online stroller boards are generally "very accurate." The company monitors the boards about once a month, he says.
At the moment, what worries Ms. McLaughlin's fans most are the ages of her children. At 2 and 5 years old, they're starting to outgrow strollers completely. "I'm thinking that maybe you need to consider having a 3rd child so that you can continue with your present need for strollers," posted "Dcclerk" a few months back.
"Yeah, you and me BOTH are worrying about that!" she replied.
Strollerqueen has been called "The world's premier authority on strollers". She has been featured in several media outlets, including the BBC London, "New Yorker" magazine, CBS News "Early Show", The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and several other publications.
"The influence of effective bloggers transcends technology. In the world of baby strollers, a southern California woman named Janet McLaughlin moves markets.117 “While she doesn’t earn a dime for her efforts,” The Wall Street Journal reported on September 2003, “Ms. McLaughlin—better known to her followers as Strollerqueen—has attained celebrity status in the underground world of stroller watchers and gained outsize influence on new buyers. Shoppers around the globe seek her counsel with Internet postings titled ‘Wise strollerqueen give us your expertise!!,’ ‘ALL HAIL THE STROLLERQUEEN!,’ and ‘Stroller queen: thanks for making me look normal.’ She has referred so many customers to two West Coast stroller stores that they both periodically offer ‘Strollerqueen discounts.’”118
From the IAOC:
(1) Mavens are people who collect information and knowledge and are socially motivated to share this information. Being an expert in a field does not make a person a maven; being an expert and being motivated to share expertise with others is what makes a maven. In Todd's communications model, mavens are information hubs.
One of the best examples of an online maven is Stroller Queen (www.strollerqueen.com). Stroller Queen is an LA housewife with small kids. Over the last few years she has established herself through her website, her message boards, and her posts on other message boards (she doesn't blog yet) as the most influential reviewer of baby strollers in the world.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk with Stroller Queen on several occasions and her stroller industry knowledge is truly amazing. But what makes Stroller Queen so powerful a player in the stroller industry is her strong motivation to help others in their search for baby strollers.
Excerpt from the NY Times, September 7, 2003