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Yusuf Perens: “Put your customers first but know your boundaries”

Put your customers first but know your boundaries. Without your customers, you wouldn’t be here. Don’t jeopardize your relationship with them by failing to deliver on your promises. If you make a mistake or things are delayed, then apologize. Remain humble, respectful and sincere. But if someone is actuing unreasonable and rude, then still, remain […]

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Put your customers first but know your boundaries. Without your customers, you wouldn’t be here. Don’t jeopardize your relationship with them by failing to deliver on your promises. If you make a mistake or things are delayed, then apologize. Remain humble, respectful and sincere. But if someone is actuing unreasonable and rude, then still, remain humble, respectful and sincere in your communications but know what your boundaries are with such things. We have clear policies and procedures in place for things like shipping and returns, so we can always refer customers to them if need be.


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 Yusuf Perens.

Yusuf oversees the business operations of the popular online leather goods company, Galen Leather, which was originally founded by his late sister, Zeynep. They handcraft unique leather notebook covers, portfolios, wallets, bags and so much more; blending their love for both the analogue and digital.


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?

Zeynep, my late sister, originally started the business after a cancer diagnosis of a rare type of head and neck cancer. Doctors warned the cancer treatment might leave her incapable of speech. This forced her to consider alternatives to her sales job at the time. Following a painful 4 months of treatment, she did infact lose her ability to speak for a whole year. Being no longer able to communicate with customers, she left her sales job and came up with the idea of selling online which didn’t require her to talk over the phone. She launched an etsy store, selling locally made leather goods. I came into the picture later to help out with product development and photography and when we decided to move the business onto Shopify. We were having problems with our supplier at the time being able to match our needs. So we decided to teach ourselves the leather making craft. Naturally, our skills developed rapidly over the years and we became masters at our work. It was when our wooden stationery box sold really well one Christmas that things really began to take off.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

As Turkey’s tourism boomed, Zeynep noticed there was a lot of interest in Turkish products like leather goods and vintage kilims, so that’s what she started selling on the etsy store. When the suppliers at the time could no longer meet our needs, we branched out and started making our own products. This was when Galen Leather the brand really started to take shape.

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?

One of the biggest shake ups to the business was when Paypal ceased operating in Turkey in 2016 which Etsy rellied on at the time as their payment gateway. So we had to consider alternative ways to run our business online. That’s when we came across Shopify. This was a big learning curve for us because it meant we were responsible for every aspect of the business now, including the marketing. So it was an obstacle that ended up working in our favor as our business was able to grow more rapidly and gained momentum.

Over the years, Zeynep’s health was very up and down until it started declined. I ended up stepping up and taking over more and more of the business operations until she had to stand down completely. Sadly, she passed away in 2019 and it was crushing for all of us.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We still mourn for Zeynep to this day, but alongside her husband, we are moving the business forward. We’ve gone from strength to strength and are so grateful for our loyal customers and their support every single day.

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?

Probably some of our original English translations on our website. As non-native speakers selling to a majority of English speaking customers, we had a few gaps in our sales copy. But we remedied this by bringing on an agency to help and it’s proved to help the overall trust of our brand and quality of our content.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We handmake our products and offer unique designs that our customer know us for. We are also very active in forums that relate to our interests so we’re well known in the market. We are very passionate about our products and the niche in general, and I believe that love shows in everything we do. Our packaging is also a real stand out. Customers LOVE receiving our packages and unboxing them slowly to soak up the whole experience. We go out of our way to make it a special moment.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Take time off and when you do, completely remove yourself from the picture. It’s hard to turn-off from your business but by only ‘half tuning-out,’ you’re really only giving yourself half the opportunity to recover and re-energize yourself. Take yourself offline for a whole day. Turn off notifications and leave your phone behind. Do something completely different and your body, and mind, will thank you for it. Your business can’t operate without you and if you don’t take care of yourself, your business will suffer because of it.

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 dedicate everything I do in the business to Zeynep. She lived such an inspirational life and I wouldn’t be here, doing this, had it not been for her.

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?

I’ve certainly seen stores expand their product offerings to cater to a wider audience and the kind of products that are selling like wildfire online during these times. Eg. Fashion boutiques selling face masks and more work-from-home styles and beauty companies selling hand sanitizers. So if there’s a way you can cater to the changing needs in the market place, then do so.

Another thing is being able to remain flexible and adaptive in your business. This is crucial as the rate of change is so much faster these days. One week things could be smooth sailing, the next, a Google algorithm change could leave your organic traffic dwindling.

One thing we’ve done is really worked hard on our online store and making sure it running as optimally as possible. Customers rely on a safe and efficient online experience in order to shop with you, so you had better deliver on that. It’s about making their shopping experience as easy and pleasurable as possible.

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?

Believe it or not, but customers still value connection and love to support brands that mean something to them, even in this modern age of competitive online retail. This is not always something massive offshore dropshipping companies can offer but as a smaller retailer, you can. Get to know your most loyal customers and understand why they choose to shop with you and then really nail down on that. Maybe they love that you are local, or a small family-run business. Or that you handmake your products. What sets you apart? What can you do differently that these other companies can’t? Put a face to your brand. Make it personal. Encourage your customers to care.

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?

Not actually understanding what their customers want. I’ve seen brands come and go within a year because they’ve seen a product do well for someone else but they haven’t actually done the research to see if there’s enough demand for that product, or what competitive edge/new perspective they bring to that niche. It’s challenging to compete against well established brands so if you are going to, you really need to understand the customers you are serving and what unique need you are meeting with your product. Set yourself apart. What makes you unique and why would someone buy from you and not the more established/well known brand?

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

The marketing side of things. Often entrepreneurs will start a business because they have a passion for a product but lack the business savvy to market and grow their brand. You can only know and do so much! The amount of backend work required to simply keep a website running and up to date with the latest in SEO and paid ads, can take a lot of time. Another example of a time-consuming task is just managing customer service. As your brand grows, so do the customer queries, and the more channels you are accessible through (email, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook etc), the more means your customers have to reach out to you. It can really take a lot of time managing all these channels.

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?

We use Shopify and it’s great. Within that, we can recommend Judge.me for product reviews (which we’re big advocates for doing). We are very active on Instagram, so using something like Like2HaveIt Shopable Instagram really helps translate followers into customers who show an interest in a product.

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?

Write detailed and unique product descriptions that not only offer specifications, but also emphasize the benefits to the customer. Address how you are solving their problem with your product. If you have the ability to, offering an incentive like free shipping or time sensitive discount on their first order can also help with conversions.

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?

Collect customer reviews and share them on your product pages or socials. We do this with a lot of YouTube and Instgram unboxings. Customers love getting their content reshared in return! The more people talking about your products, the more interest you’re likely to attract and the more others are likely going to want to be associated with your brand as well.

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?

No one is perfect and sometimes you need to give yourself a little grace that you won’t always get it right 100% of the time. Whether it be a product that gets damaged in transit, a customer being disappointed in shipping times and of course, there are just a few bad apples in the bunch who want to taint your brand name. A lot of the time these things are out of your control but if it is something in your control, then consider it an opportunity to improve. Offer a sincere apology and ask questions. Get to the root of the issue and if you can amend it, then do. If it’s an unfair review, then you can simply say thank you for your feedback and wish them well. You needn’t hang onto this kind of stuff. Just make sure the positive reviews outnumber the negative ones!

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.

  1. Stay true to yourself. It’s easy to get lost in the world of business and spend all your time crunching numbers and growing to the point you can drive yourself to burnout. Staying true to yourself means you’re not willing to cut corners or sacrifice your values just to make a quick sale. We sell our customers high quality handmade leather goods so even though it costs more in production time, this it what we want to deliver to customers, so we stay true to that.
  2. Have a purpose greater than the numbers. Remember why you are in business and have a higher purpose to your work than just the grind of selling products. Are you making people’s lives better? Are you bringing joy to their day? For us, it’s a bit of both but also, we’re carrying on a legacy of a sister/wife/mother who originally started the business with a desire to provide for her family admist the most challenging of times. That can really carry your through even the toughest of days.
  3. Know when it’s time to outsource jobs and bring on the experts. A lot of online businesses start as a one person operation. As time goes on and you grow, it can be hard to let go of that need to control every aspect of your business. But if you want to push the edges and grow, there comes a time you may need to hire employees or outsource marketing to an agency or work with other experts in the field to level up your business. We’ve increased our team size and outsourced some marketing and it’s enabled us to focus on what we do best.
  4. Put your customers first but know your boundaries. Without your customers, you wouldn’t be here. Don’t jeopardize your relationship with them by failing to deliver on your promises. If you make a mistake or things are delayed, then apologize. Remain humble, respectful and sincere. But if someone is actuing unreasonable and rude, then still, remain humble, respectful and sincere in your communications but know what your boundaries are with such things. We have clear policies and procedures in place for things like shipping and returns, so we can always refer customers to them if need be.
  5. Tell your story. Zeynep was always very open with her followers and customers from the early days, and many have followed her on her cancer journey over the years. So we share our story because it’s important to us, and it engages customers in a way that many big corporate brands can’t. There’s an interesting story behind most businesses, ideas or entrepreneurs and I believe they’re often stories worth sharing. It personalizes your brand and can provide customers insight into the why you do what you do.

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. 🙂

It would be an effort to slow life down. We would try to spread the idea so people could be happier and more motivated by living slower.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Website: https://galenleather.com and join our email newsletter

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/galen_leather/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/galenleather

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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