Informative and fast website: This is important so that customers can easily understand what the product is and how it will benefit the customer. How will this product change the customer’s life? If the website isn’t fast and responsive customers will lose patience during the retail experience before being able to complete the purchase. Our website is very user friendly with easy to find tabs for ‘Shop Now’ where customers can click on any one of our products for a brief overview of the product and it also prompts them to scroll down for additional information on each of the key features. Additionally, we have an ‘FAQ’ section that breaks up frequently asked about topics so we direct the customers to the correct answer. We actually had an issue with the website back in January and we noticed a dip in sales while we worked out the kinks.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mia and Ermin Plakalo. Mia and Ermin are husband and wife and parents of two young children, they both have double degrees in law and business, and they both unanimously decided to be advocates for Australian botanicals and natural skincare.
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?
Mia: “I was in my last year of uni, pregnant with our second child at the time. I had finally suffered enough from my own set of skin issues so I decided to go to a manufacturer pretending that I had my own company in order to get a sample of a product I thought would help my skin. I really liked AND it really worked so Ermin convinced me to start a business out of it and that’s when our very first product, the All-in-One Sleeping mask, was born. To have enough money start the company Ermin decided to sell his dream car that he had wanted for so long, but since it was his car I’ll let him tell that story.”
Ermin: “From my other businesses I had managed to save up for my dream car, which was a 386 AMG. I knew when I bought that car we would make a loss on it forsure (since cars depreciate overtime). So when we decided to start this business I know there were three options: 1) Lose your investment 2) Recoup your investment and be where you started or 3 ) You can start to make money. So that’s how I convinced myself to sell the car. I sold the car for 50,000 dollars and we then used all of that to start the business.”
Mia: “We then started the business as Breeze Body in February of 2018. At this point we were parents to a newborn all while trying to start a successful business. It was one of the most stressful periods of our lives. After struggling for 13 months, we then decided to rebrand the business as Peppy Co in May 2019.”
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?
Mia: “At the beginning we had a lot of issues with packaging and as a result our customers became very frustrated. We wanted packaging to be very unique so we chose a porcelain jar to be packaging for the All-in-One Sleeping Mask and then a round paper box which was like a cylinder box. We wanted it to look very beautiful and seamless. What actually happened with that is that it looked very sturdy, but when we started shipping the products out in the packaging it would fall apart. The customers would receive packages without a top or bottom since there was nothing to hold it in place, which is obviously not good since that would allow for the porcelain jars to break.
We learned the importance of communication and being able to send replacements in a timely manner. From then on, we have always made sure to be responsive and communicative. The customers are always appreciated and happy because even though they have issues our team is there to help them resolve it. Our takeaway from that is how important it is to take responsibility for our actions, even if we’re at fault, it shows the customers that you really care and you’re there for them. Oh! And that the safer option is always best when it comes to packaging.”
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
Mia: “There was one influencer who really helped us. Our first campaign with her didn’t do very well and all of the other influencers campaigns we had done up to that point (while we were still under Breeze Body) were doing poorly and we were losing money. So when her first campaign went live she messaged us asking how it went and when we told her it didn’t go very well she insisted we do another deliverable with her to make up for it. She is very kind like that and cares about all the brands she works with. We were very reluctant, but she told us to trust her since she genuinely does love the product she believed this second campaign could be a success. So we put our last 2,000 dollars we had and went with it. It was that campaign that pretty much made us who we are today.”
Ermin: “Usually, with a lot of influencers, once the campaign goes live you lose contact with them. But with the influencer since she knew our situation and where we were in our struggle, she was there to give us mental support, checking in with us, and making sure everything went well with her campaign. She is the reason why we are here at the moment, because if that second campaign of hers didn’t go well we would’ve given up. We wouldn’t have rebranded into Peppy Co. In the following days after the second campaign, we received such positive feedback from people, had extremely high conversion rates. We knew we needed to continue and rebrand.”
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Mia: “Madam C.J. Walker. I love the movie because it is a great lesson on how you’re never supposed to give up and how perseverance is everything in life in general, but especially in business. You just have to keep going. It definitely inspires and when I am in a difficult position I always remind myself of great movies and books like this one. These lessons stay with you and become part of your personality. It’s something that I can always recognize and apply to my life.
Ermin: “I don’t read books, listen to podcasts, or watch movies. But I do watch a lot of sports. Athletes, they inspire me because they are very dedicated to their sport. They are always pushing themselves by trial and error and that has taught me — You have to try. From a business perspective you have to try. We (Mia and I) come from a legal background where you have a case and you go back to previous cases, then use that as reference to support your current case. But in business you have to try to see if somethings going to work and if not you try something else. You have to be flexible, it’s not like law, you have to mold you mind differently. Need to test and see.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Mia: “I think what makes us stand out is our background and the fact that we are people who struggled with skin issues ourselves (and still do), but also understand customers who feel that way first hand, and our holistic approach to skincare. We believe that skin should never define you and you can hate your skin but you should never let it impact you psychologically. You just need to keep going, just keep living your life (your skin) is just a small part of you. We also train our customer reps to communicate this message as well and to always make people feel good when they are speaking with them. When we (Ermin and I) did customer service as well we would approach it that way and always recognize the struggle customers might be going through but to always talk in a positive manner.
Ermin: “ I think what makes us stand out is our unique product, that is the short answer to it. And that we are the first to advertise it really hard. We have put a lot of focus on our digital platforms and campaigns to increase brand awareness.”
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Mia: “To keep an eye on the big picture. It’s about keeping your priorities right, seeing the big picture, and knowing that it is a long term investment. Nothing is going to happen overnight. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I think that helps you put things in perspective and know how to sort of plan and behave. At least that helps me.”
Ermin: “What I always tell all my friends when they start their business is whatever you do, whatever type of industry you pursue…as long as you love it and do it with passion you will succeed. Because to succeed it requires a lot of time and sacrifice, a big sacrifice. All these successful people sacrificed a lot to be where they are and initially you got to think about your business as a kid. You have to think about it 24/7 and to come up with negotiating or if you have enough inventory. If you love what you do it’s not going to feel like work. A big thing I’ve learned that helps me not to burn out is hire people who can help you out, don’t do it all on your own.”
Mia: “Yes, don’t do it on your own. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or partner to do it with them rather than do it all on your own. We’re sort of blessed to be so passionate about it together and we divide the workload as well. Ya i don’t know if we would be able to be where we are if we were just on our own.”
Ermin: “We are husband and wife, we are also best friends, but we’re also business partners. For us the reason why our business succeeds so well is because Mia does what she loves and I do what I love. They are two very different things, but together that’s what makes Peppy Co whole. You need those two sides of it because we both love different things and when you combine it we have everything you need to succeed.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Mia: “What we have found to be a successful retail tactic is contemporary marketing, like online marketing, being current with the times and the market. For example, speaking to your target audience, use mediums that people spend time on (ie, Instagram) rather than traditional mediums. What works for us, and I think many other retailers, is exposure and to get that exposure nowadays the best way is to go online and go to social media.”
Amazon is 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?
Mia: “ The answer comes back to the marketing efforts and how you’re going to distinguish yourself from the competition. I’m still for originality and I think the originals always win over copies no matter how many dupes they come up with, people would still prefer originality.
They say competition is always good and if there are companies that are coming out with affordable dupes then it must mean the original is doing something well. Dupes are a good indication of success.”
Ermin: “Your product needs to be different than what’s on the market. What can you do to distinguish yourself and your point of differentiation.”
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Mia: “Probably not enough market research and also being fearful to try doing things in a new way. Sometimes people are fearful of trying new things so they just think ‘I am going to copy whatever this other business is doing since they are doing well’ without trying to understand what they are actually selling and what the best way is for them.So I think it is understanding what your business is specifically and testing/trying what works for your business specifically rather than looking at others. This is especially important with online commerce, and we made this mistake. We thought if we do what everyone else is doing we’re going to thrive, but that wasn’t the case. We had to figure out how to position our product and market our product in a way that speaks to people and in a way that people will understand. Especially with the LED masks since it is such a new product on the market so we had to become really smart and understand all the features of the product ourselves. In order to sell it, we had to understand what consumers want from us so we can respond to that.”
Ermin: “Don’t put your eggs in one basket. Try things on a smaller budget so you don’t run out of budget. Know your budget, know how much you’re going to spend on certain campaigns and stand by it.”
Mia: “Accepting that you can’t avoid errors, you’re going to have to be comfortable with making them and the only way to figure stuff out is to make errors in the first place. But maybe on a smaller scale like go and try different things. Obviously some of them will not work but will help you get where you want to be. So try as many things as you can so you can to understand what works the best. Make errors, but make them in a smart way and learn from them .”
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
Mia: “Customers are everything. Without customers you don’t have a business. When companies start growing they sometimes start to neglect that begin getting in the habit of thinking ‘Ok this 1% or 2% of people won’t make much of a difference for me since we’re such a big company.’ For us, it’s about making communication as easy as possible, but what we really really focus on is providing after service. What I think the worst thing you can do to a customer is give them a silent treatment after they contact you to make a purchase. And that’s what we don’t want to do — no matter how big we become, we want to be there for our customers. Even if it’s only a message like “oh i accidentally made this order i want to cancel” — we cancel it for them or “I don’t want to use this product anymore” — we then talk to the customer and allow them to return it. It’s just about keeping that communication alive, leaving things on a positive note, and never leaving a sour taste in the customers mouth after transactions with us. I think that’s essential because in the long term that does have an impact on overall brand image and it could chane the way e-commerce does things. That’s what we wanted to do from the beginning and one thing we’re going to stick to no matter how big we become.”
Ermin: “We believe the after purchase experience is the most important one, it’s not just the before one to close the deal. Even after the customer receives the product, we get a lot of messages from customers asking if they can use it with their current skincare or what is the best way to use the product. That communication gives them peace of mind and we are there for them, which in return allows us to earn their trust.”
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
Ermin: “I think that some companies have a disconnect because they are just too big of a business. When they have a small portion of unhappy customers they don’t think they have an impact on them. But it does. Everyones got a small percentage of customers who are going to complain, but the big businesses view the percentages as very minor so they don’t think it will have an impact on them. At least that’s our theory.”
Mia: “Small businesses can’t afford to have that disconnect because if they did, they wouldn’t exist for a long time. if they have a large percentage of unhappy customers. As a business, you’re going to cease to exist if you are just starting off and not offering great customer service and you have a large percentage of unhappy customers. Customer is your number one, there is no one more important and if you don’t focus on your customer then you’re going to lose. I think that is the main disconnect with large corporations.”
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Ermin: “This is a story from when I was in customer service for Peppy Co during our infancy stage. I had this customer asking about LED Mask, what it does and if she would see the results. She was asking me the same question over and over again over the period of seven days. And I just kept giving different answers trying to appease her, she was very hesitant to buy, but I kept reassuring her that even if you do purchase and it doesn’t meet your satisfaction you’ll offer you a money back guarantee. We were still at the infancy stage of our business.
Mia: “he happened to live on the gold coast and he kept having an issue with the charger. He would tell me that the lights are flickering off and on. I told him that sometimes that happens since our masks are designed to go into the USB port and we found that sometimes if you use old Apple chargers sometimes the lights wouldn’t work properly. So I asked him if he could change the charger to see if it was still happening. So he changed it and it was still happening. I sent him a replacement and then he messaged me again saying he was still experiencing the same issue. Since he was on the Gold Coast near where we live I offered another replacement and he said I would like to bring back the mask to you personally. And since he was on the Gold Coast near where we live, I said of course. So he came to our warehouse and together we tested out the masks to see what was happening and I plugged it in to my Apple charger from my new phone and it worked perfectly. So we had to assume it was his charging dock that was the issue and I decided to give him mine so he would have one that worked properly. He was really happy that I actually gave him my charger to make it work for him.”
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Mia: “Well we always say to our customer service rep that the customer is always right. You always have to ensure that they are happy and that they have a good positive experience with Peppy Co. In terms of a ripple effect from that experience, you never know when people are going to share their positive experience. And we get surprised when people will comment they have a negative experience and then our other customers will refute that complaint saying how that is not true and then share their positive experience. I think the ripple effect is that it is always our goal to provide a positive experience, and that is what we have become known for, so when someone tries to say otherwise it’s almost unbelievable.”
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
Ermin: “Great product, great packaging, and customer service. Just making sure to give the customer what they want and tuning in to that.”
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 fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Social Media Opportunities: We strongly believe in utilizing social media not only as a tool for brand awareness but to make the purchasing experience for our customers that much easier. Many people spend so much time on Instagram and even go to that platform for their shopping inspiration so we include direct purchasing links in each of our posts. It just minimizes the steps for them for a seamless experience.
2. Informative and fast website: This is important so that customers can easily understand what the product is and how it will benefit the customer. How will this product change the customer’s life? If the website isn’t fast and responsive customers will lose patience during the retail experience before being able to complete the purchase. Our website is very user friendly with easy to find tabs for ‘Shop Now’ where customers can click on any one of our products for a brief overview of the product and it also prompts them to scroll down for additional information on each of the key features. Additionally, we have an ‘FAQ’ section that breaks up frequently asked about topics so we direct the customers to the correct answer. We actually had an issue with the website back in January and we noticed a dip in sales while we worked out the kinks.
3. Product quality/ product packaging : Since it is all about the customer, it is important that they are receiving something that looks nice and brings them joy. We want to leave an overall positive impression.
4. Community/ customer reviews: Being able to see reviews of other customers and how they are using it. This helps to build trust in the product and the brand to see everyday consumers using our product and to actually see real results. At the bottom of our website we have a reviews section with REAL results and REAL reviews from Peppy Co customers, which includes Before & After photos and detailed descriptions of how Peppy Co has helped people worldwide with their skin battles.
5. Customer Service/ After Purchase Service: All businesses are going to be attentive to customers before they actually make a purchase because they are trying to get you to complete the transaction, but once you make the purchase they flake on you. It’s the thing that annoys us as consumers the most and that’s why we never want to do that at Peppy Co.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. 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. 🙂
Mia: “A movement for mental state and mental health awareness. I would start a movement to address the depression and mental state of mind. It is important to share love and for people to know they aren’t alone. Here in Australia a big issue we deal with is suicide and I think that often gets overlooked.”
Ermin: “If I had the time and I could allocate the resources to it, I would solve world hunger. There is lots of people dying from hunger so that’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can shop Peppy Co’s products on www.peppyco.com and our social media is @peppycoau.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!