KNOW BETTER, BE BETTER | Episode two is here.
We hope everyone enjoyed our very first episode that we released last week that delved into the founders story; how Miann & Co came to be and why we decided to create our very own business!
This second episode allows you to gain an insight more specifically into our business journey. "We had been looking for a niche for a very long time and we noticed that there was a gap in the market for natural products. Finding that niche and finding a unique production set up was something we were really passionate about. 10 years ago there certainly wasn't any options for handmade soft toys that could be handed down as a keepsake and that is what we really wanted to focus in on. 9 years later and we have evolved over and over to the business we are today."
From our decision processes, to design, development and production methods, and overall journey along the way, you will hear it all here! Tune in to discover Miann & Co's business story. We would love to know if you have any more questions or would like any more advice, leave us a message or comment as we absolutely LOVE to answer it for you!
Listen to Know Better, Be Better Episode Two here |
A snippet of our wonderful journey in images |
Renovating our shop space in the early days, with our very own little helper!
Having the best time at multiple different markets! (Terry having LOTS of fun!) And our gorgeous team in the early days working hard packing away orders.
Styling from our very first store!
Images from Shelter 7, our very first shop front!
Images from Shelter 7, our very first shop front!
Some of our very first photoshoots, featuring our handmade natural softies.
Images from one of our first Winter photoshoots, featuring our handmade crochet items.
Rebecca: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Know Better, Be Better. Today we are going to be delving into our business journey.
Terence: And we will be telling you a little bit more about some of the early on systems and procedures and how it all kicked off.
Rebecca: Yeah, we just want to walk you through our journey, which I guess is a lot about what this podcast is about. It is about the journey. Our journey has been nine years.
Terence: By no means has it been an easy nine years, but it's a nine years that I look back on and there is so many memories that we will have forever. It has been a great time and we shared it with our family along the way as well.
Rebecca: Writing the outline for this episode, it's probably going to end up being two episodes. Cramming nine years of business into a 30-minute podcast is quite tricky. So this will probably be a two part series.
Terence: We won't be delving into too much detail, but we will certainly be outlining a lot of the processes and procedures that we sort of undertook during the initial stages and then be delving into those a bit deeper in further episodes. If there is something interesting that you want some more information on, feel free to just let us know.
Rebecca: We would love to hear your feedback, either email or DM us and we are happy to cover off topics. We do get DMs quite often asking us business questions. There probably are most asked things on direct messages. We thought a podcast would be a great way to start that off and share a lot of our business journey. So we will start from the beginning. The beginning, that's tricky, but we actually started the business in 2011 when I gave birth to our second child.
Terence: We saw that there was a gap in the market for natural products. As such, we had a son who suffered from eczema and just finding a toy for him was quite hard.
Rebecca: We had been looking into this for some time prior to our second son being born and had the idea for a niche. Obviously, working in the fashion industry, I was turned off by going into clothing, knowing everything that could happen and also funding a clothing label would be quite substantial. At that stage we had just bought a house. We weren't in any financial predicament to be able to put a load of money into the business, but we were willing to put our time into the business.
Terence: We had an idea and I think leveraging off Rebecca's background in terms of manufacturing and all the processes that certainly came in handy. The excitement of having that idea and trying to turn that into a dream and reality was certainly very present for us.
Rebecca: Yeah. I guess it was really exciting finding that niche. We had been looking for a niche for a very long time to be honest. Discovering that there weren't a lot of natural fibre products, remember we are talking nearly 10 years ago, the market since has exploded, which is amazing that that's happening, but there were no natural fibre toys and my kids were very toy orientated or Teddy orientated. They slept with a Teddy. They used them as comforters. They suffered from a lot of ear infections and eczema and our oldest son also had a lot of colic, so he was a very Teddy orientated boy.
Terence: I think remembering, going back to almost now, 10 years, back then, there certainly wasn't much options unless you wanted the standard sort of plush toy. There certainly weren’t many options for handmade soft toys that could be handed down as a keepsake. And that's something that we really wanted to focus in on and start the brand that way and get that awareness out there.
Rebecca: Ethical wasn't even being thrown around a lot back then. It was not a trendy word like it is today. People weren't aware of ethical and I guess back then, 10 years ago in the industry, we really wanted to start in the industry with something different. I had worked in the manufacturing industry for 10 years prior to that and worked in companies both locally and overseas. So finding a niche and finding a unique set up, production set up was something that we really felt passionate about.
Terence: Yeah. And so our business was born and we started off with a few little hand rattles. I think at that stage we had three or four hand rattles. We had three or four toys. That's where our business dream was started and certainly, we got a lot of exposure in the beginning days because there was nothing else like it around in Australia.
Rebecca: Yeah, we definitely were one of the first to be doing hand crocheted toys here in Australia. We quite often got asked our competitors and when researching, there were no competitors in the market in Australia. We started off with handmade toys. We were also sampling a lot of this stuff here with our machine, doing Calico towels and doing little mock-ups here locally, which led us into finding a manufacturer. A lot of questions get asked about finding manufacturers. I guess that is a whole other episode which we will touch on in future episodes, but finding a manufacturer is actually probably one of the biggest things for your business and so integral to the success of your business as well.
Terence: I think nowadays there are so many different avenues and streams where you can find a manufacturer, but it's still having the knowledge as well, because just because it's easy to find doesn't necessarily mean that that manufacturer is the kind of person that you want to be working with. So still doing your research, still doing your homework is a very, very big deal.
Rebecca: Yeah. We set out from the beginning in meeting our manufacturers. We sourced them through a trade show, so we met our suppliers before we even started work with them. I think there is nothing like a face to face meeting. I think it's crucial. So many times I see that people can't meet their manufacturers and I think it is such an integral part of your business. In some instances, it's your whole business. They are like a business partner and I think it's really important to meet the people that you are going into business with and see where they are producing.
Terence: It so easy to find, not just suppliers, but also product online, but along with that comes a whole lot of different issues. Apart from it being easy, you've got the issue of not knowing who you are buying from, number one. You are not knowing what you are buying. You don't know whether it's a product that's actually from someone else, as such. Until you receive the product, you have no idea who you dealing with and what you are actually buying. That's why we play so much importance on visiting our suppliers, knowing who they are and where they manufacture from.
Rebecca: From the outset, our production setup was quite a unique set up. I can honestly hand on heart say that because I had visited so many factories before and so I knew what I was looking for. But we were working with a group of men and women that worked from home in China, so it enabled…Then, there was a lot of the one child policy, so that production set up enabled a lot of the farmers to work from home around their family needs. So it was quite a unique setup. Our lead times were really long compared to a normal production cycle.
We would work on our designs nearly 12 months ahead and then head out to China, work in a sampling room with people that would then sample our products, write the patterns into Chinese and then we would confirm samples. From that step, we would then get our yarns dyed up. All our cotton yarns were dyed up in a dye house that had been going for about 10 years and all our yarns were dyed in the same dye house. So we would make sure that they are all colour-fast and safety to washing and water. Colour-fast was a thing that was really important and a safety aspect with kids' toys. Finding a supplier that also understood safety and labelling and everything that came with toys was actually quite a really big task, particularly when it was being handmade in people's houses to start with.
Terence: And then after one of those processes, you have your product, but it was then also about getting the product out into the marketplace. Also coming up with how you are going to market and sell this product because you've got a handmade product, you are working with natural fibres, you are product is safety tested, but that all comes at a cost as well. That certainly is also a part of businesses, having to try and work out, how much do you sell this product for?
Rebecca: I guess the next step from there was getting the product to market and we had just had a baby so it was tricky juggling all of the balls in the air. My husband worked in Melbourne so that was the main reason we came into the business. I guess when I started maternity leave we wanted to give it a red hot go to try and get more of a work life balance, which we probably ended up with less.
Terence: Yes. The whole reason we started the business, as we mentioned before was to have more time with the family and a bit more flexibility, but I remember in the initial days we started doing market as well in terms of testing the market. We did a few boutique markets and I would finish work late at nights, five, six o'clock and then we had to drive to Adelaide or to Canberra as such. So you've got about a seven-hour drive ahead of you and you are only leaving Geelong at six or seven o'clock at night and you've got two kids in the back seat and a boot full of stock. But looking back at it now, we made the best of it and certainly there are some really good memories that we have that we carry along with us from that.
Rebecca: Absolutely. As we've mentioned before, we didn't have family around so our kids have come along on the journey from the very beginning. We had a new-born and a two-and-a-half-year-old that we were dragging around the country to markets and it was an adventure. I remember driving to Queensland for one market and it was such an adventure. That first year we tried to do as many markets as possible. We started our first one in Bendigo and we had a lady called Jody who asked us for our first wholesale order.
I remember looking at over at Terry when she first asked us, that she wanted to take all of it, which means that she was going to take all our stock and we were all doing really small quantities at that stage and sampling the market and testing the market. So we were like, how are we going to fulfill these orders? It kind of snowballed from there, really. It gave us the confidence, that first market. We also got feedback from consumers, which was invaluable to our business. We spent the next year going and applying for as many markets as we possibly could to get feedback from consumers and ideas on what other products and what other gaps in the market there were.
Terence: I think from there we saw that the business had legs and we saw that we can certainly do something with this, but there was still the uncertainty, so I stayed in a full time job. I think I had just moved or I was in the process of moving from Melbourne to Geelong. Rebecca was working in the business full time with the two kids at home. I would do a little bit at night and during the day if I could. But from there we also tried to apply for trade fairs to try and get some wholesale business. After we did our first wholesale order, we saw that there was potential there as well and another way to get the brand out there.
Rebecca: After that first year of really testing the market, I resigned from my job. I was due to go back to Cotton On and I made the leap to resign, which I remember feeling physically ill from resigning from that job. It was a well-paid...
Terence: You weren't the only one.
Rebecca: It was a well-paid job and I really enjoyed it there. And so it was leaving the security of that to chase our dreams, basically. I felt physically sick that day. It was really such a big step in the business. I still think back to that day.
Terence: There was also a sense of excitement. I remember going to work thinking, I really want to be back home and I want to be working on the business. You've got all these ideas that you want to put in place and all these things that you want to work on and it's just, your creative juices are flowing in terms of how you can get this business in escalate. It was really, really exciting times.
Rebecca: After that first year, we decided to throw it all in. We had managed to save a little bit of money from T working another job. We were really living on a very, very tight budget, which I guess led us on to live off a budget for many years to come after that. I guess we said in that first five years that we knew that there wasn't going to be a salary that we could take from the business. That first five years we signed up from going from two paid jobs to only surviving on one salary. It was scary and also we were buying all the stocks. That second year we did our first trade fair in Sydney. I flew up to Sydney. I had finished breastfeeding by that stage and it was my first time away from the kids. So I flew up to Sydney to do the trade fair. From that trade fair, it just exploded. We had so many new customers after that first trade fair.
Terence: Yes, and I'm thinking back now, I don't even think we had any systems set up to fully manage wholesale as such. I think a lot of our orders were still being sent out on Excel. It was only after that that we invested into accounting software, et cetera, et cetera. During this whole process, our accountant was also detrimental to our business. He helped us set it all up, but he also had the patience to go through all of those manual orders with us.
Rebecca: Absolutely. Our accountant was amazing in those initial days and we relied heavily on him for advice. We were going to him for business advice which we probably didn't need or probably needed.
Terence: A lot of it was silly questions. When you don't know everything needs to be addressed.
Rebecca: I guess we had some people that were quite integral to the start of our business as well and also believed in our business. Our local post office was amazing, Australia Post. As we got orders in, he would open early and close late for us. Our accountant was amazing. I guess back then there weren’t as many business resources as there are today. There were books back then, but there weren't podcasts. There wasn't the explosion of information that there is now.
Terence: That's right. It wasn't so readily available. I feel like there was podcasts and information, but it was very hard to try and find any information that you were after in terms of what you needed.
Rebecca: After that first trade show, we were thrown in the deep end and we were manually, as T said, we were manually doing a lot of the invoicing. We were doing all the emailing. We were doing all the designing and still at that time T was working in Geelong actually, at that stage.
Terence: Yeah, I was back in Geelong, but then we entered a different phase of the business where we were starting to outgrow the house and we noticed that working and living at home isn't always the best option. We needed our own office space. We ventured out and found a place in Geelong, which was really good, our first ever office slash little shop which I think was in 2013.
Rebecca: We quickly outgrew the house. We lived in a tiny three bedroom house. We had two children at this stage. Boxes were overflowing. I remember out freight, FADA rocking up and it was just me and the two children to unload large truckloads and he would throw them off into our yard and our whole yard would be covered in boxes. I would then stack them into our shed and our shed started overflying. Because we were dealing with bulky product as opposed to clothing that we are now into, we outgrew very quickly because of the bulk of the product.
Terence: Yes. And I think we faced different issues back then in terms of the bulky product also when you are freighting or posting it around Australia and you are not working on an actual weight as such. So a product that only weighs 200 grams could cube out at 700 grams, which means it puts you in the higher bracket for postage. So we certainly had our challenges as well and trying to get that pricing right for how much do we charge for postage, should we be charging for postage as such, and just coming to terms with all of that.
Rebecca: Yes. Neither of us had any business background, but our manufacturing background definitely helped a lot, particularly with labeling. I remember we had me something off a label once and we had to add it. We had to put a sticker on. I remember the shipping company coming out and they wanted to come out to our warehouse. Well, we had to lay, I think it was 10 or 12 cartons out in our tiny three bedroom house for the customs to come and inspect at our house.
Terence: We are talking about hand rattles. We are not talking about soft toys. We are talking about a little hand rattles that we had to lay out throughout the whole house so that they could come and inspect the labeling. Yeah, those were certainly challenging, but fun times.
Rebecca: Yeah. It has been a big learning curve. There is a lot that we didn't know, particularly with logistics. I think we found logistics of things one of the toughest areas in starting up the business and I still would say even 10 years later, it's still quite challenging, the logistic side of things and a cost that I guess many people don't see as a cost. As we are a small business, it is quite a big cost for us.
Terence: Certainly one of those factors that has a massive influence on our day to day runnings as a business. You are competing in an online marketplace where the landscape is constantly changing and if you don't have your pricing set up correctly, you quite often find yourself having to meet a free postage threshold to be able to sell your product because that's how the market is moving and that's what the competitors are doing. But as a small business, it's sometimes very hard to compete on those fronts.
Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely. It's very challenging. After two years at home, we were exploding at the seams and an opportunity... We had been looking for storage. We had been looking at other opportunities to move the business out of home, but obviously cash was tight as per normal, because we were constantly reinvesting back into stock and once we got into wholesale, anyone that has gone into wholesale knows that that changes the landscape of your business from very small to bigger quantities and bigger outlays.
Terence: Yes, definitely. So you are dealing with big orders, you've got to get your costs, et cetera, right because you selling at lower margins. For us, being able to take that out of the house was certainly good. We had a bit more space as well where we could work better with our stock and get it all set up properly.
Rebecca: Our first office out of home was actually a warehouse that came on the market. It was super cheap, but needed a lot of work. We probably like a lot of things, under estimated the amount of work that this building needed.
Terence: Yeah. There was a lot of 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM finishes. I think we certainly didn't know what we were in for. We saw the space, we had the idea, we had the vision for it, but when we started working on it, we realized what a big job it was. We had no idea that there was lino under the carpet. So we tried to get the floorboards exposed, which turned into an even bigger job.
Rebecca: Yeah. It was right in the central of Geelong, which was an amazing opportunity. It had stairs, which we didn't think that through, unloading containers with stairs, which later proved to be dire. But we had this opportunity, we had a massive space and we were offered it at super cheap rent if we renovated it. So we took on the renovation and we thought we could do a lot of it ourselves, but it ended up taking two or three months.
Terence: Yes, around about there. But at the end of the day, we ended up with a space we really, really enjoy it. I still remember now the feeling I got just walking in there every morning knowing we did all of this and it was such a nice comfortable area as well.
Rebecca: Yeah, I remember many days we were sanding the floor with two small children. Again, we didn't have family around, so it was quite challenging juggling a renovation and deadlines. We had another container coming in and we knew we had no space for that container to go. So we had a deadline that we were trying to meet. That also led us onto a retail space. The space that we took over was quite large. We never intended on having a retail space, but there was an opportunity to have a retail space, so we took it.
Terence: Yes. I remember setting it all up and seeing all the products in there. I think we started working with some other brands as well and along with doing some markets, et cetera, you get to know people within the industry and we formed some really nice and really good relationships there as well.
Rebecca: We moved out of home in 2013. We opened a shop, which we named Shelter 7. At that stage, I'm not sure we haven't mentioned this, but we were La De Dah Kids. So that was the name of our brand La De Dah Kids.
Terence: At that stage we had been in business for three years. We were in our own little office and shop. I was still working, full time at that stage and it was time for us to employ our first employee part time, on a part time basis.
Rebecca: We hired our first part time person, happened by accident. They were looking for a job. They walked into our shop slash…
Rebecca: Slash office, slash warehouse space and were looking for a job and we took that opportunity to start the journey into getting some help finally after three years.
Terence: And what a relief it was. I can remember the first few days. I think Bec and I were on our way to Melbourne and we came back and she had pretty much rearrange the whole office for us. Something that we just didn't have time to get to, sorted some of the stock out for us. I think we were actually doing an event in Melbourne and I went back to get some more stock and she had rearranged it all, made it a lot easier to find. That's when we realized the benefits of not just having employees, but having employees that can help you out where you need it most.
Rebecca: Yeah. It was a big step for us. At that stage she was on the casual and then the following year we made her a permanent part time person on our team. It was our first ever employee to help with the business and it was a breath of fresh air. We had been working until 2:00 am/3:00 am. Some days we were living off two hours sleep. We were driving to markets, we were doing trade shows. Terence was working a full time job. It was tricky juggling all the balls without family help around. It was brutal.
Terence: Yeah. I think it wasn't long after that where we saw that the money was starting to come in for the business and it was probably time for me to spend some more time on the business. I started looking for some part time work where I could spend a few more hours in the business, but still bring in a little bit of money as an extra income just to have that safety net.
Rebecca: 2014 saw us higher first full time staff member and she was with us until the beginning of this year when she left to go to London. But she was amazing. She was a graduate and she was an amazing part of our business journey,
Terence: That's something else we are quite passionate about, also giving people the chance and the opportunity, so hiring graduates and having them grow within your business as such, because we are all learners at the end of the day. I look at our business and I think we are still a new business and we are learning too. And having somebody in there that can grow with you is really beneficial.
Rebecca: Absolutely. We are super passionate about hiring graduates and working them. It's an amazing thing that we have been doing. After our first full time employee, we got onto a little tool called Instagram.
Terence: The old Instagram.
Rebecca: Yeah. And we quickly realized that this new platform was gold.
Terence: It exploded.
Rebecca: Yeah. We were very early adapters of this platform and it was huge to our business growth, I think. At that stage there was a big push towards kids’ rooms and toys and styling things. And so we took that opportunity in the very early days and we would style rooms, take photos, pop them on the gram and by the end of that day we would have an order for a lot of those things that were in those rooms.
Terence: Yes, certainly, our engagement was through the roof. It was one of those things that... We were on Facebook as well, but Instagram, because it was such a visual platform at that stage, we got so much traction through that.
Rebecca: Absolutely. I remember having so many conversations with people where they were really focused on Facebook and for us, Instagram was such an amazing tool. I love the old Instagram where it was about pretty pictures. I am still a pretty picture person. I'm that girl that loved the magazine, so I love a pretty picture. I don't see it transforming to be something to be envious of or make people feel bad. I just loved the escapism of a beautiful image. After we exploded on Instagram, that was really integral to the growth of our company and also the international side of our company, Instagram brought us onto the international platform quite quickly after that.
Terence: Which is a totally different ball game altogether. All of a sudden we had to try and find international freight forwarders that can do, you know, some rates to send the product to overseas. It wasn't just online orders, but we were being approached by retailers internationally to do wholesale orders, et cetera. And there was a lot there that we had to learn as well in terms of tax regulations, et cetera, et cetera.
Rebecca: Also safety regulations. So that was one of our biggest challenges with toys. Each toy needed to have different labeling and different testing. Each country required different testing on the products. So it was a minefield trying to navigate all those different testings. It was also quite expensive. We learned a lot in that period. We started doing international trade shows, which was a great way to meet other people. Again, we took our kids on that realm of going with us, because we didn't have people to look after our kids. So we dragged our kids along to trade fairs internationally. We did Tokyo, Paris, and we did New York by ourselves.
Terence: We were getting to about 2015 and this was a very big year for us. It was the year where I stepped into the business on a full time basis. So that little safety net of the casual work or any kind of other income was no longer. It was a big year for us in terms of the business as well where we moved into warehousing. Our current landlord had an opportunity for us to take over another shop that he had as well. So there were a lot of decisions we had to make. This was the first sort of standalone shop that we were considering as well and add onto that warehousing, which is quite daunting too. That's all we have time for this week. We hope that you've enjoyed part one of our business journey. We certainly have more to say.
Rebecca: It's a long one. So we've split this episode into two episodes, trying to cram our journey into 30 minutes, nine years’ worth of business journey into 30 minutes has been in difficult task. So we've split it over two episodes. So don't forget to tune in next week for the next chapter of La De Dah Kids slash Miann and Co.
Terence: Thanks guys.
Rebecca:Thanks guys. See you next week.