Delegate: Your brand is your baby so it always feels very personal and delegating can be difficult. With time, I have learned that finding the right team to support you on daily tasks is essential. Delegating is a big step for growing any brand.
Listen to product reviews and ask your clients for feedback: Listening to reviews of your products is very important. This will be key to keep improving your products and brand. Nothing is always 100% perfect.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bianca and Paola Muns.
MUNS is an independent, family run-business, founded by sister-duo Bianca and Paola Muns. Past experiences and shared interests motivated the sisters to start MUNS as a jewelry line in 2015. Five years later, they expanded the brand by launching their first locally manufactured clothing collection made out of sustainable fabrics. The business goals at MUNS lie in creating the possibility of a responsible and sustainable slow fashion brand. All efforts go into upholding their values and goals that can guide them along the way towards a more sustainable brand and industry
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Hi! Thank you so much for having us, we are really excited to be here.
My name is Bianca Muns and the name of my business partner and sister is Paola Muns.
We were influenced from an early age by fashion and had the privilege of working with our uncle at his jewelry company in the 90s and we learned so much, mostly the do’s and don’ts. We really think this experience was the foundation of what MUNS is today.
As time passed, we knew we wanted to create our own brand: but first, we needed to expand our knowledge. Paola majored in business, independently studied digital design and gained experience in production methods. I studied accounting and gained experience by working in retail, merchandising, web development and product analysis.
Our company is 100% self-funded. We started with an initial investment of 600 dollars and our first year was mostly selling and buying jewelry to raise capital. We have built from that and learned so much along the way.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
For me, the “Aha Moment” was working in the retail industry, having first-hand experience on how it works, and how quantity is valued over quality. I believe that the slow fashion movement should be more recognized and widespread. Building a brand with the opposite values that prioritized quality and responsible consumption all the while still being beautiful is a priority for me. Paola’s entrepreneurial spirit is at the core of who she is as a person, so she always wanted to have her own business. From a young age she was always up to something; selling brownies and other things at school.
In 2015, while having coffee, Paola approached me with the idea of making our own jewelry brand, I said yes! It was perfect timing since Paola had returned from studying abroad and I had just quit my job to focus on finishing my degree. From the start we had a clear vision of what we wanted the company to be but that didn’t happen overnight.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We launched MUNS in our home country; Puerto Rico. The island has gone through many obstacles in the past decades; therefore, it has not been smooth for us and many others. First, we have a failing economy; and in 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico destroying many properties and the islands’ entire electrical grid. We were without power for a few months which paralyzed and ended many businesses. But this did not stop us; on the contrary, it gave us more purpose. People were helping each other and somehow, very slowly, everything started going back into place. On May 2018, we signed the lease for our first brick and mortar store in the heart of San Juan — Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Us, Puerto Ricans are very resilient, and we don’t give up. This has never crossed our minds.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
On June 2018, after we opened our first store, we received a lot of support from other countries, locals and new initiatives. Everyone wanted to help, and I think that prepared us for what we are living today. Currently with the pandemic, everything is more challenging, but we are still fighting and giving 100% to our business. We have seen the results of these efforts with sales increasing by 30% even with a pandemic happening. We are so grateful to our community!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When we first started, we made a few mistakes some of them funny and some not so funny as we lost money. But the funniest mistake that I can think of is when we designed a choker digitally (CAD) and sent it to production, when the sample arrived, it was 4 times the size it was supposed to be. I think the choker could have fit a bear, ha-ha. The ‘takeaway’ for this is to always make samples of your products before producing, a mistake like this can lead to losing a lot of money which can be crucial to a young business. Not only that but the waste created if sent to production without sampling. Always double check everything!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think that as a company we stand out because of who we are at the core; we believe in community, in supporting others, in reducing our carbon footprint to help the environment, in customer relationships, in collaboration. Our store has been the home of other local brands for some time now, we also love to make events to connect with clients and collaborate in product making with other brands that share the same values as us.
But customer relationship is at our core, us, designers/owners, make deliveries to clients’ homes, write dedicated notes, help them at the store, and as a consequence, have built special relationships with many of them. We know about their lives and they know about ours, ultimately, we have become friends. Also, from time to time we host events at the store for customers, so we can connect and get to know them more. We genuinely enjoy all of this. Most of our successful customer relationships are born out of our personalized service.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
One of the tips that we always share with our colleagues is to rest when your body asks for it, exercise, stick to routines and eat healthy. Us, as small business owners have to be on top of so many things and we can easily find ourselves overwhelmed and uninspired. Taking care of yourself is a top priority for a thriving business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would have to say that there are many people who have helped us along the way, but the most important is my boyfriend/best friend. He believed in us from the first moment, showed us the possibilities of digital design and helped us with our first collection before Paola took the digital design course. He also helped us design our store and built the furniture, all while starting his own business. He is amazing!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
When the pandemic started, the first thing we did was join a local same day delivery business/app. This is a great partnership, and especially so during the months when we all were on lockdown when stores were closed. Also, we are more focused on social media and creating value content for our clients, collaborating with clients/muses and email marketing. Through our content and work we want to connect with our clients, that is our primary goal. In June when we re-opened our store, we included curbside pick-up.
Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
I think that selling value is important and creating a product that you believe in and other people can identify with. When I talk about value, I mean a high-quality product with a story behind it. We have seen a slow shift in consumer behavior, they want a story, a maker, a community, a product to connect and relate to.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think that common mistakes that CEOs & founders make when they first start an e-commerce business are: not creating unique product and not investing in well-designed branding/website experience. Many companies tend to copy what others are doing instead of creating something unique.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
In my experience as a small business owner overall, we are very underestimated. People tend to think it is an easy job and we have control of our time, I used to think this too. This perception is wrong, we work 7 days a week and manage all departments of the company at first. This is why taking care of yourself is super important.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
An example of software or tools than in my experience have dramatically empowered my e-commerce business since the beginning is definitely Shopify and Instagram. Shopify is an e-commerce software where you can have one or several point of sales, see analytics, manage inventory, create and manage your website and ship orders, it is a very complete software for small and big brands. It is simple to navigate too, and the initial investment is very low. Instagram is great to create a community, share your brand and product and engage with old/new customers.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
- Abandoned cart emails.
- Discounts from time to time.
- Having messenger connected to your website to answer questions about the product.
- Product credibility.
- 10% discount on first emails.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
I think this takes time, you launch a product and hope that your target market loves it, but it does not happen overnight or even with a purchase. Customers need to experience and try the product. Their level of satisfaction with the piece of clothing or jewelry, may turn into more purchases and product recommendations. Also, another thing that has helped us through the years is that we offer repair services for our pieces, we always help the client extend the lifespan of their purchase.
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
In my experience; we recommend that brands manage negative reviews by responding to them as quickly as possible and to try to work with the client by acknowledging and solving the issue at hand. Letting them know that we care, and we are listening. This has worked well so far! We live in an unfair world so from time to time there will be someone that wants to hurt you and your brand. We answer it as fairly as we can, but it really depends on the issue. We tend to handle these types of situations individually.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
At the start there will be days with no sales, maybe a week, don’t let this get to you. This will happen and even more so when you start from nothing. Things take time, keep working. Grow your business slowly, there is no rush. Enjoy the little steps!
2. Target Market:
You have to know what you are selling and to whom you are selling it to. Know your audience.
Your brand is your baby so it always feels very personal and delegating can be difficult. With time, I have learned that finding the right team to support you on daily tasks is essential. Delegating is a big step for growing any brand.
4. Listen to product reviews and ask your clients for feedback:
Listening to reviews of your products is very important. This will be key to keep improving your products and brand. Nothing is always 100% perfect.
Find time for yourself, you will need it. Stick to routines.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love for all individuals, brands and companies to join the sustainable movement. This is super important; global warming is real; worker exploitation is real. As part of a society, in which all actions have an impact, we should all feel heed the call to include more responsible and sustainable practices in our daily life for a better future. This should be the norm.
When buying a product be aware of what you are buying, ask yourself: “Do I really need this?” It is all about consciously spending your money, taking into consideration how ethically a product was brought to life. Change will happen when there is a major shift in consumer behavior.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can follow our journey through our Instagram @munsthebrand and shop our products at www.munsthebrand.com
Thank you so much for having us!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!