Ready to Roll – Aernout Dijkstra-Hellinga and Max Barenbrug



All-terrain wheels, breezy sun canopies, wheeled boards and adjustable suspension – to the uninitiated, this may sound like a catalog of sports car accessories. Yet, fact is that Max Barenbrug, founder and former Design Director of Bugaboo, and his team did not develop these nifty extras with a car in mind. Instead they were uniquely conceived for the smallest of passengers and have contributed in establishing Bugaboo as the Rolls Royce among strollers.

Since 2002, Bugaboo's logo has consisted of three intertwined rings, but the brand's beginnings date back to the early 1990s with designs that Max Barenbrug created for his graduate project at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Already then the towering Dutchman had set his sights on designing an attractive and practical stroller for the modern parent. His work was highly commended, the idea patented and the cornerstone for the brand laid before Barenbrug was really aware of it. But despite the acclaim, established stroller manufacturers were not interested in the ambitious graduate’s ideas. And so Barenbrug, together with his brother-in-law Eduard Zanen, decided to found their own company.

Seven seconds to success

The logo’s three rings symbolize the brand's core values: movement, energy and dynamism. It was reworked in 2002 when, after a cameo appearance in "Sex and the City," the brand experienced a regular boom. A bubbly employee explains to us how this came about. "A lady from the marketing department watched the series regularly, and when Miranda, one of the main characters, became pregnant, this lady decided to call HBO and ask whether a stroller had already been chosen for the fictional unborn child." Upon hearing that this was not yet the case, Bugaboo immediately sent some pictures of their top-of-the-line model. In no time at all, everything had been arranged and images of Miranda taking her baby for a walk in a Bugaboo stroller flickered across millions of TV screens. Seven seconds that sufficed to corroborate one of Max Barenbrug's favorite maxims:

You don't have to give people what they need. You need to show them what they want.

The consequence? Fashion-conscious parents everywhere wanted to take their babies for a stroll in the same chic and du jour vehicle that the heroine in their favorite series used.

From the inside out

Yet "stylish" is not an attribute family man Barenbrug aspires to at all. The mere word elicits a frown with every mention. "To me, stylish stands for a product that's pretty, but not functional. As a rule I don't approve of stylish products. Except for clothes. That doesn't count because I know I'll only be wearing something for about 3 months, and then it doesn’t bother me."

Fashions don't interest me. Though stunning at times, they are hardly ever practical. And basically, I'm a practical man.

“Functionality and form should always be in sync. A permanent, iterative quest," Barenbrug rocks his upper body from side-to-side in a non-verbal attempt to underscore his explanation – with such vigor that we fear he might overbalance any moment. Barenbrug’s philosophy – along with Bugaboo’s advertising campaigns which focus on young fathers, technical features and strollers displayed in an urban setting, instead of cute babies and delighted mothers – works extremely well. The enterprise has gone from strength to strength, and Barenbrug’s intentions have been successfully established in public awareness. Indeed, Bugaboo has become synonymous with the stroller that offers greatest functionality: a vehicle that can be pushed or pulled according to requirement, even able to cope with sandy and snowy conditions. Easily collapsible, and sporting a reversible seat along with adjustable handlebars as well as excellent suspension, it is small wonder that Bugaboo’s appeal has spread to a far larger target group than just the viewers of "Sex in The City." Ask any man to name the brand of a stroller and, at a guess, nine times out of ten he will come up with the name Bugaboo. Certainly over the years a diehard fan base has developed around the brand, and word of mouth ensures its continuing popularity. Rumor even has it that Bugaboo pilots greet each other with a discreet wave the same way some bikers do. Yet to its creator, the outer trappings are not nearly as important as the product’s interior makeup. There are several reasons for this:

An idea and a brand are similar in certain ways. Both have to develop from the inside out. Never the other way round.

Barenbrug goes on to explain: "If a company continues to grow, its administration grows with it, and more people get involved. Hiring experienced staff can, in a way, even be dangerous for a brand. New mindsets and processes are introduced and, before you know it, the once oh-so-authentic company starts working in a way that does not come from the gut, but that has come about unconsciously.” In a ploy to actively prevent this from happening, Barenbrug has handed his prior position as Design Director over to Aernout Dijkstra-Hellinga. "To have more time for other things," he says with a wink. By this he means maintaining stakeholder relations and overseeing the growth of the company. Barenbrug also plans to continue developing and designing, an intention which he voices several times, but refuses to elaborate on.

I hope we will be able to develop Bugaboo into a consumer brand, and that we will turn out to be as successful in this endeavor as we are now with our strollers.

And, somewhat coyly, he adds: "Two years from now we'll know more." To bridge the gap, Bugaboo's latest master stroke, the "Cameleon 3," has just been released. Though to the untrained eye it's hard to see what makes this stroller stand out significantly from its predecessor – it doesn't really look all that different, we are informed that "nine out of ten parts are new." A further example of the Bugaboo corporate creed: it's the inner values that count.

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Comments (1)

Sämi | 14.06.2012

Hallo Leute von "The Brander"

Ich bin ein begeisterter Leser von The Brander. Ihr bringt es praktisch immer auf den Punkt was Markenführung anbelangt. Dass ihr dabei in erster Linie kleine feine, aber sehr attraktive Marken bevorzugt in Euren Berichten finde ich sehr sympatisch.

Für einmal muss ich aber widersprechen: Als junger Vater bin ich extrem Kinderwagen erprobt. Ich habe x-verschiedene Modelle auf Herz und Nieren in unterschiedlichen (Extrem-)Situationen in der Praxis getestet. Leider schnitt dabei der Bugaboo nicht besonders gut ab. Hat die Schreibende mit dem Bugaboo schon mal eine längere Treppe erklimmt? Wurde das Handling auf unwegsamem Gelände (Wald, Single-Trail-Weg) getestet? Wie verhält sich der Bugaboo in Schnee, Eis und Schneematsch? Wie ist das Handling und die Wendigkeit mit einer Hand (man hat ja schliesslich manchmal ein zweites Kind an der Hand und der Wagen ist mit kleinem Kind, Kleider und viel Einkaufsplunder gefüllt)? Wie praktisch ist er im ÖV (ich denke dabei vor allem an eher ältere Busse, Zug- oder Tramwagen...)?

Um am Quai von Luzern spazieren zu gehen reicht ein einfacher Buggy. Dazu benötige ich keinen Ferrari-Kinderwagen. Aber für unüblichere Situationen benötige ich eben ein Topgerät, das keinen Anlass für Ärger gibt. Und in diesen Situationen haben mich der TFK und Urban Jungle viel mehr überzeugt.

Da ich selber als Markenberater tätig bin weiss ich vor allem eins: das Wichtigste (natürlich lange nicht das einzig wichtige) einer Marke ist immer noch das überragende Leistungsangebot. Lässt dieses zu wünschen übrig, ist für mich eine wichtige Voraussetzung für eine starke und attraktive Marke nicht gegeben. Bugaboo lässt für mich (bin dabei im Moment noch High Involvement Kinderwagen-Kunde) klar zu wünschen übrig.

Ich rate der Schreibenden dies mal selber auszuprobieren (falls dies noch nicht getan wurde, auch in Extrem-Situationen)...

Wünsche trotzdem weiterhin viele spannende und anregende Geschichten über Marken.

Herzlicher Gruss

Sämi Meyer


The Brander is a publication of the Branders Group