How Smiggle created a love for stationary around the world

From colourful and quirky pencils and highlighters, to fashion-forward backpacks and lunchboxes, Smiggle has successfully captured the imagination of kids and tweens all around the world. Whilst children are drawn to the unique designs and bright colours, parents are drawn to the ability of the products to inspire kids to learn and create. 

Speaking to Ross Greenwood on the Origins Australia podcast series, co-founder of Smiggle Peter Pausewang explains how this specialised children’s stationary brand achieved international success. 

Finding a gap in the market between education and fun

Having three children of his own, Pausewang soon found a gap in the market for specialised lifestyle stationery and gifts for kids.

In 1998, Peter took his concept to a few retail groups who all turned it down. Evidently, Smiggle was far from an “overnight success story”, facing many challenges in the start-up phase of the business. In fact, Pausewang says it took two years to build the range and brand to meet the consumer demand and achieve the right formula. This was the quintessential turning point, as what followed was a strong retail concept capturing an untapped niche, which saw enormous expansion in a relatively short time.

The concept sounds relatively simple in theory; good design, great stationary, affordable and uniquely different to anything on the market. To this day, Peter credits this ‘concept’ as the reason for the success of the business, “it was a mixture of working very smart and having the right business in the right place at the right time and experimenting to get that concept absolutely spot on”.

While businesses were preparing for the digital age with new devices, Smiggle marched to the beat of its own drum; investing in kid’s pencils, lunchboxes and colouring books. It quickly became the alternative to screen time, and uniquely something the whole family could get on board with.

Smiggle

Global appetite for quirky, fashion-forward stationery

Becoming a massive hit with children and parents alike saw it propelled into the New Zealand market, marking its first overseas store. Singapore, the UK, Malaysia and Hong Kong followed shortly after.

Stationery soon became a must-have item and slowly but surely, Smiggle was leading the way both on a local and global playing field. The product mix was cleverly built around colour blocks, encouraging children to build a collection of any one product, which helped drive multiple sales of the same item. The core range was primarily stationery, but it soon diversified beyond the classroom to include accessories like water bottles and watches. 

Whilst the stores covered a small footprint, the purposely chosen location in high foot-traffic areas and the weekly release of new, distinctly unique products helped build Smiggle into an irresistible brand.

As people slowly turn to online retail, Smiggle continues to regard their brick-and-mortar stores as a fundamental component to the success of its business. Smiles and giggles, the very concept behind the “Smiggle” brand and encapsulating fun and quirkiness, “can only be appreciated once you walk into one of their stores and see it bursting with brightly coloured products”.

People working together

Tips from Peter Pausewang on building a successful brand

  • Be prepared to tweak your idea and don’t go into it thinking your first idea is going to be perfect. Be ready for that period of revising, reinventing and finetuning your initial approach
  • Stay true to your values and to your brand
  • Give yourself two years to test and experiment your concept properly
  • Stay absolutely in-tune with your customer: Have a very clear idea of who your customers are and what they want. Then communicate this very clearly and consistently at every touch point

There are many reasons why Smiggle became a favourite amongst parents and children alike. Yet, there are two key points of difference that helped the business garner international recognition. Firstly, it was a consistency in both the brand and design. Secondly, the brand was entirely replicable in other countries, something which few other Australian retailers have been able to match and something which Smiggle are still reaping in the success from today.