Seahorse of a different color

Every good invention is born out of necessity.

So when Don Hudson created Seahorses – America’s first and only retail store geared toward fathers – nothing surprised him about the process, his concept and its need. What surprised him was that no one had ever thought of it before.seahorses4.JPG

“That’s what blows my mind,” he said. “That no one has done this before. How am I the first? That no one noticed this huge, gaping market before?”

That huge, gaping market – as Hudson knows all too well – belongs to dads.

“When you market to that dad like he’s a mom, you build up a wall,” said Hudson. “He doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Yet every bit an equal parent who nurtures, raises, feeds, shops and provides for his family, dad remains ignored by marketers who either don’t know how to reach him, or purposely avoid his presence based on habit. Old fashioned stereotypes and labels may die hard in the world of marketing and media, but it’s ancient history at Seahorses in Portland, Ore., where Hudson’s progressive shop has skyrocketed to notoriety since opening in June 2015.seahorses1.JPG

His shop celebrates the unique needs and challenges of parenting as a father in a world that traditionally caters to mothers.

What makes men uncomfortable in stores? Not having products with which they can’t relate as fathers. At Seahorses, you’ll find plenty of baby, child and parental items necessary for raising a family – but with an eye on dads.

So while big box baby stores have nursing equipment, Seahorses offers Leatherman multitools and shaving kits. Traditionally diaper bags are frilly and pink; no dads want to carry those, and some moms don’t either. Hudson curated diaper bags that are masculine and stylish enough for fathers to sport. Other baby stores offer organic clothing, but dads don’t care about that; they want things to last. So, Seahorses offers Carhartt kids clothing. No maternity tops here – try matching dad and child shirts.

seahorses6.jpgA lack of those items meaningful to fathers, combined with a prejudice toward dads, is what drove Hudson to bring his idea to fruition. He experiences a bias all too often while together with his wife, raising their four children.

“Dads are (treated like) a sideline parent, and they are not marketed to,” he said. “And let me tell you, I did all the shopping when I was stay-at-home. When you walk in to these baby stores, they’d say, ‘What did mom send you in for? Where’s her list?’ It’s a turn off. Has no one noticed that dads are being alienated? You’re creating a subconscious culture of bias toward dads.”

His store even reaches beyond tangible products and the overall shopping experience by serving as equal part gathering space. There you’ll find an enclosed play space with seating, free Wi-Fi and a community meeting area for classes, workshops and events. And there’s even free coffee.

“It’s a space for anybody,” Hudson said. “The idea is that it’s more of an atmosphere that’s comfortable for dads. I have darker wood and subdued colors. It’s a masculine and man-cavey kind of feel so you’re like, ‘This is a baby store, but it’s for dads.’”seahorses2.JPG

Hudson assures his store is for both moms and dads, and gets plenty of customers of each, along with some hesitancy. Moms sheepishly ask if they can come in, while dads’ tendency leans toward tentative, mostly due in part to other store experiences, but also because of how they’re treated as second-class parents in stores of any kind.

“(Dads) come in and look around and say, ‘This is really cool; this is my place,’” Hudson said. “You can see this weight melt off of them when they walk halfway through the store.”

Hudson gets a lot of dads and moms who come in to hang out, work on their blog or social media, or just want a simple five-minute break. His intimate, personal community has even helped nurture some lifelong friendships, which he loves to see.seahorses7.jpg

As the business grows and soon-to-be e-commerce takes off, Hudson hopes to expand his concept further:  “I think this kind of resource needs to be available for every community and every parent, where moms and dads are both allowed.”

His store’s name is derived from the sea creature who takes care of its offspring entirely. Male seahorses undergo pregnancy and care for the young as they grow.

“In nature, I think the seahorse is probably the world’s most perfect father,” he said. “If you’re a seahorse, you’re a perfect father.”

Unfortunately, society and commerce tend to alienate dads before they even become one. So, Hudson is just happy to be offering a place to help dads become better dads, because he knows that process is shaped well before the actual birth.

“Moms have plenty of places to go, dads don’t,” he said. “Having dads marketed to properly and involved in the marketing process give them that foundation for being involved with kids.”

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