How do you become one of the largest leading multi-channel retailers of maternity and children's clothing in the UK? By flipping the traditional retail distribution model upside down.
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Optimizing Supplier Relationships for Growth
Clothing retail has been around forever. However, the way customers are buying clothes has been changing over time, with trends leaning towards mass production and the ease of access through the internet. JoJo Maman Bébé has capitalized on this shift and staying ahead of competitors by providing easy outlets for new and expecting mothers to buy quality clothing and goods.
Starting with a mail order catalog in 1993 and advancing into the world of eCommerce, JoJo Maman Bébé took the United Kingdom by storm, with revenue surpassing 40 million pounds in 2015. They are expanding rapidly with 78 stores in the UK and a new launch into the US market with a factory being built in New Jersey. With annual growth around 20% per year, JoJo Maman Bébé is quickly becoming a brand that will likely be well-known to all soon.
But how did they get here? How did JoJo Maman Bébé change the way mothers shop?
First, we must start with their story...
JoJo Maman Bébé started in 1993 with founder Laura Tenison. Seeing an unmet need for quality maternity and children’s clothing, she decided to make reliable, well-designed clothes for new mothers. She wanted to minimize the hassle of shopping and searching by bringing the clothes to busy mothers in a more accessible way. Through a mail order catalog, she achieved her dream of providing high quality, fashion forward maternity and children's clothing.
Like most startup stories, Tenison began her business in her garage making clothing with one personal sewing machine. Fast forward a couple years - and many industrial sewing machines later - the one woman startup grew from the initial £50,000 personal investment into a £12,281,621 net worth business in 2016.
The next big move that propelled JoJo Maman Bébé to the successful company it is today required a lot of risk for a high reward. Laura Tenison decided to create an online retail platform in 1998 before most consumers used the internet to buy goods and services. By beating out the competition, JoJo Maman Bébé was one of the first and most successful eCommerce companies. The demand for their internet products was so high that JoJo Maman Bébé bought its first 20,000sq ft warehouse in 1999, and within four years doubled that warehouse space.
Unlike traditional clothing outlets, JoJo Maman Bébé has only recently expanded into brick and mortar stores. Usually most retail businesses start with one physical location and eventually expand to more locations and then online sales. JoJo Maman Bébé’s reversed the process by going from mail order catalog to online sales and then eventually to retail locations. They did this because their main goal was to provide a convenient and easy method for new mothers to buy clothing. Online retail and mail order catalogs proved to be the most efficient and easy access form of distribution to their target market.
Eventually, after ten years of mail order and online sales, the first retail store opened in the United Kingdom in 2002 due to high customer demand for a physical location to view and try on clothing. The retail stores became a success and have now expanded to over 78 stores in the UK, and JoJo Maman Bébé can be bought in over 70 countries across the world via their online website.
Today, JoJo Maman Bébé’s annual gross turnover is over 44 million pounds and is adding 6 to 8 stores each year with like-for-like sales of around 6% last year.
How did JoJo Maman Bébé achieve such success in a long standing, highly competitive market? Take a peek at their formula to success.
Formula to Success
Most traditional retailers start with a store and hope to gain success to eventually open more stores and maybe expand to an online website. JoJo Maman Bébé took this cycle and turned it upside down.
Starting with a mail order catalog and eventually expanding into retail stores, JoJo Maman Bébé stressed the importance of convenience and reliability to their customers. From the beginning, the goal was to make quality goods for their customers while practicing “good business” and always making ethical and honest business decisions. This is proven through their B-Corp status: a certification granted to for-profit companies by the nonprofit B Lab that measures social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. There are a couple key components to make the dream come true.
“This is to be done within the confines of growing a commercially viable business for longevity, whilst respecting the needs of our customers, our teams and our suppliers.“ -JoJo Maman Bébé mission statement
Not many mission statements of companies put an emphasis on suppliers, but for JoJo Maman Bébé, suppliers have been a crucial element to their success. In order to deliver quality goods to their customers, they need to have quality relationships with their suppliers. These relationships have allowed JoJo Maman Bébé to increase profits through becoming a reliable and reputable brand to their customers, providing them with the same experience no matter which outlet was used to buy their products. Suppliers help ensure brand consistency by delivering goods on time and being able to scale production while keeping a uniform quality standard.
JoJo Maman Bébé has an exceptionally high rate of 20% growth, opening at least 6 new stores a year while expanding into new international markets. This requires a need for relationships with existing suppliers that can keep up with increased demand and the ability for JoJo Maman Bébé to develop relationships with new suppliers as more inventory is needed.
This is where JoJo Maman Bébé excels.
Finding the Right Supplier Fit
Founder Laura Tenison recalls from the beginning that factories “took pity on her.” Her enthusiasm and ambition helped form great client-to-supplier relationships; JoJo Maman Bébé has used some of the same suppliers for 20+ years.
The tested theory is that if you treat your suppliers with respect by being on time and professional, they will in turn be on time and deliver professional, quality work to you. This then develops into long lasting, trusting and reliable business relationships. These relationships are imperative for efficiency and brand consistency for your business.
But finding the right suppliers isn’t always so easy. JoJo Maman Bébé goes through a rigorous process to find the right type of suppliers for their business needs. The suppliers need to most importantly be able to produce consistent, high quality goods while also being able to keep up with demand and mass production. This means going through a meticulous process to find the right suppliers and sometimes cutting profit margins to ensure quality- their main suppliers are based out of Europe and are much pricier than other Asian suppliers.
Laura explains: “We have looked at other countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam but tend to reject them on the basis that they are harder to audit or have very large MOQs. We prefer to work with smaller factories who really value our orders and can deliver quality for mid market price points. Our styles have a lot of detail and need to be of a very high standard and large volume manufacturers tend to struggle to make this work. Our European factories work on specific ranges which we can just about still make with them, but this means cutting our margins.”
While JoJo Maman Bébé outsources production, they try to do the majority of their business inhouse - from marketing and design to website and accounting. In fact, Laura Tenison claims that the best business advice she ever received was to do as much as she could inhouse. In the beginning, she only had about 3 employees with the rest outsourced.
“It wasn’t until when we were 9 years old as a business and opened our first store that I realised that I wasn’t ensuring that brand consistency was being communicated through every single channel. You could walk in our store and it was not obvious enough that it was the same company as the mail order catalogue.” - Laura Tenison told Women’s Business Club
She also claims that while your business must be multi-channeled to be a success, brand consistency is the key. To see other examples of excellent execution, check out our business success guide.
JoJo Maman Bébé has three main distribution outlets: mail order catalog, online eCommerce, and brick-and-mortar stores. It might surprise you what JoJo Maman Bébé believes to be the most important: mail order catalogs.
When JoJo Maman Bébé first expanded into the US, they started with a mail order catalog that allowed Americans to purchase JoJo Maman Bébé products in US dollars. Once they started gaining traction, they developed an Americanized website where their products could also be easily bought in US dollars. They have found that using a website allows their brand to be easily discovered by new niche markets, like the American new mother market.
Even though most millennials believe that traditional mail is becoming obsolete, JoJo Maman Bébé views their mail order catalogs as a crucial indicator of new markets.
“A store is a vanity project, so I always wait until we have one million people on our mail order database before I open a store.” - Laura Tenison.
JoJo Maman Bébé uses mail order catalogs as a tester in new markets. This allows JoJo Maman Bébé to see if their brand is being received before spending time and money opening a store in a new location. This reduces the risk of opening new retail locations and ensures success.
Opening a retail store is the last and final step of their distribution outreach. Although they have a high expansion rate with retail stores, JoJo Maman Bébé thoroughly researches how viable a each new location is for their target market. They analyze customer trends and study exactly where their market spends most of their time. The goal is to put a retail store in a perfect location to where their market is already. This detailed, customized process directly reflects the founder’s view on retail stores.
Surprisingly, Laura Tension never envisioned or focused on expanding into brick-and-mortar. However, when her customers clamored for retail stores, Tenison listened, and started to develop a plan for retail distribution.
The first UK retail store in 2002 was a resounding success, and has since been one of many retail JoJo Maman Bébé locations to come into exist since. The high growth rate of retail stores proves JoJo Maman Bébé’s efficiency and perfection at expanding into new markets. Although they do detailed research for each and every store, they are still able to open at least 6 new locations per year.
Because JoJo Maman Bébé uses three different channels, they use a multi-channel retail software to help aid their distribution processes. These types of systems integrate eCommerce, retail, and mail order sales with back office fulfilment operation and inventory management. These management softwares are a crucial tool for large distributors to process and streamline thousands of orders from different channels. JoJo Maman Bébé ensures consistency through all channels through help of softwares like these.
JoJo Maman Bébé has been a great example of how a company can achieve success in a highly competitive industry by implementing some non-traditional business methods. By flipping the retail distribution upside down, JoJo Maman Bébé has managed to scale growth and increase revenues.
A couple things to learn from JoJo Maman Bébé:
- Supplier relationships are crucial. They help build the company’s reputation and achieve brand consistency.
- Don’t be afraid to use unique distribution methods. While mail order catalogs might be viewed as outdated, JoJo Maman Bébé uses them as a key indicator of new markets to expand into. This saves time and money by ensuring retail store success.
- Brand consistency is key. Using multiple channels of distribution is important, but it is essential to keep quality and customer experience consistent through each outlet.
To see how techniques similar to these have been utilized to help small businesses grow their business, check out our business success guide.
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