Former Carlson Digital Marketing Exec Purchases Pacifier Baby Boutiques
A former Best Buy and Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group digital marketing exec has purchased Pacifier, the homegrown baby boutique with four Twin Cities locations. Alissa Montbriand says she plans to expand the retailer’s digital presence and broaden product categories.
“With Toys ‘R’ Us closing, there’s opportunity,” Montbriand says. “Buying gifts and cute outfits for babies is something people still like to do in person. I love the art of curating an experience.”
Montbriand recently left Minnetonka-based Carlson, where she was vice president of global integrated marketing for three years. Prior to Carlson, she worked in digital marketing for Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands—owners of Outback Steakhouse and other restaurant chains—as well as Staples in Boston and Best Buy, where she worked on the development of Best Buy Mobile.
When she finished her MBA at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in 2008, Montbriand says she had three goals: lead digital for a company (check), teach a college-level course (check—she’s just wrapping up a semester in the U of M’s marketing department, and third: own a small business.
“I’m not quite brave enough to start from scratch,” Montbriand says. So she went shopping for a small company with omnichannel potential. She says she liked Pacifier’s niche category and the company culture, with full-time employees who receive health benefits and bring their babies to work. Pacifier employs 23 with annual sales north of $2 million. Currently, 10 percent of that is online. Montbriand says it should be 45 percent.
She plans to upgrade the website and invest in digital marketing. She also wants to add new categories including smart electronics for babies, toys for bigger kids, and nursery dÃ©cor.
Pacifier was founded in Northeast Minneapolis 14 years ago by Wing and Jon Witthuhn who saw a void in the market for style-conscious urbanites who didn’t want to sacrifice their modern aesthetic when they became parents. Without prior retail experience, the couple slowly and steadily expanded to 50th and France in Edina, Highland Park in St. Paul, and City Center in downtown Minneapolis. In 2016, they left their original block of East Hennepin for a much larger, higher profile flagship in the heart of the North Loop where they had space to showcase strollers, cribs, add a play area and host events for parents and children.
But after more than a decade of working evenings and weekends, the Witthuhns were ready to do something new. They listed the Highland location for sale last year— the store manager there, Kelsey Cerovac was also a partner who was ready to move on. But Montbriand wanted the entire company.
“We were impressed with her due diligence,” Wing Witthuhn says. Witthuhn has been approached by prospective buyers on a regular basis for years, but Montbriand seemed like the right person to expand the brand. “She’s taking a step back to strategize. I’m more day-to-day—which is why it took us 14 years to get here.”
Montbriand is already a daily presence in the stores, doing everything from selling to sweeping to blowing up balloons for young customers. She’s gearing up for her first buying trip. Expect changes to come gradually, but intentionally, over the coming months, she says.
One constant at the North Loop flagship: Ella Lizgerald, Pacifier’s bearded dragon. She came with the purchase.