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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

21 January 2015

JoJo Maman Bébé: Over 20 years of brand success

Contributor Sarah Ditty

JoJo Maman Bébé breton tops

In this case study, we speak to Laura Tenison MBE, the founder / MD of JoJo Maman Bébé, the foremost maternity and children's wear brand in the UK. Get the insider's view on how the brand has grown from a one person start-up to international success, while working to minimise its environmental impact.

JoJo Maman Bébé has become one of Britain’s most successful and well-loved independent brands for mothers and children. With annual gross turnover of over £44 million, the brand has been growing at an average 20% per annum for many years, adding 6 to 8 stores each year and with like-for-like sales of around 6% last year.

SOURCE Intelligence’s Editor-in-Chief speaks with JoJo Maman Bébé founder and MD Laura Tenison MBE about the brand’s journey from its humble beginnings in the early 1990’s to today’s impending international expansion.

Laura shares with us how the brand has gone from strength to strength, even during global financial crises and how they’ve strived to be environmentally responsible even before “sustainabilty” became a buzzword.

In this case study, we look at JoJo Maman Bébé‘s business with a holistic lens – from business model to building a supplier base to marketing / sales and of course, sustainability. Laura also offers up some advise for brands just getting started or on the first rungs of business growth.

From start-up to international commercial success

JoJo Maman Bébé started as a mail-order brand in 1993 with about £50,000 of start-up investment. It began very organically: just Laura, the founder, and her sewing machine. She found success by tapping into a market that in the UK was rather underdeveloped: good quality, well-designed maternity and baby clothing.

The brand remained mail-order for the first five years and then launched a website, something that was way ahead of the competition. After 10 years of business, JoJo Maman Bébé launched its first bricks-and-mortar boutique in Battersea and shortly after its second one in Chiswick, West London. Opening a physical shop was quite a gamble, even before the recession and well before consumers began buying things online en masse. Margins are typically low for bricks-and-mortar shops but JoJo Maman Bébé proved a huge success on the high street.

The key to this success has been two-fold. One, the brand has never tried to compete with big international high-street retail brands or supermarket retailers. Instead, they’ve focused on carving out a particular niche (one that was quite big and untapped). Second, they were very strategic about location of their physical stores. Laura and her team chose areas where her customers predominantly lived, so that they could walk or take a short drive. When you have a toddler, you tend to walk a lot of places and dread long car rides.

JoJo Maman Bébé founder & MD, Laura Tenison MBE

10 years of business helped them to deeply understand who their customers were, where they lived and what they spent their time and money doing. They focused on finding local shopping streets with a good variety of places to browse and spend time – mid market ladies fashion stores, coffee shops, child-friendly restaurants, etc.

The focus has also been on ensuring an old-fashioned type of friendly customer service and a beautifully designed retail experience. Laura says, “We are not running JoJo to make a fortune, we do it because we want to offer the best mother and baby collections in the UK, with the best customer service and the friendliest teams.”

Today, JoJo Maman Bébé has a 90,000 sq.ft head office and distribution centre in Newport, Wales with the buying, design and marketing teams based in Battersea, London and employing over 550 staff domestically and 2000 indirectly across the world. Its products are available online, in 67 of its own stores (mostly in the UK) and by mail-order catalogue.

Watch this video to learn more about this brand, JoJo Maman Bébé

Building a strong, long-term supplier base

JoJo Maman Bébé works with around 150 suppliers and factories from Europe and all over the world. Laura counts loyalty to her suppliers as a huge factor of the brand’s wider success.

“It would be easy to reduce cost prices by putting styles out to tender each season, but to ensure consistently high levels of manufacturing we consider long term relationships as well worth building up. Visiting and making personal relationships helps to establish the trust levels hard to find via email, especially when language is an added barrier. Mutual respect is another important factor, we pay them on time – they rely on the orders and make our products on time; we get our spec sheets and designs or orders correct and in by the agreed dates – with luck they will ship on time as well.”

Finding a good supplier base has been something that has taken years and a lot of hands-on research.

Laura told easyspace.com last year: “The first factories I worked with took pity on me – I was young and very enthusiastic, which helps! A lovely man called Barry from a factory in Leicester showed me how to give him the gradings and spec sheets he needed to make up the first samples on my first factory forage. After his encouragement I was never shy to tell people I needed and wanted to learn and ask for help.”

From the outset, the strategy has been to try out a couple of styles with a new factory first and if after a few seasons have gone smoothly, her team feels confident enough to expand their order. Now they have suppliers that they’ve worked with for over 20 years who really understand the brand.

JoJo Maman Bébé still works with a handful of factories in Europe, but the vast majority of its manufacturing happens in India, China and Turkey.

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.”

Sustainability as the ethos for doing business

Although the brand does not shout much about it’s sustainability-related activities, Laura and her team have focused on using sustainable materials, recycling and minimising the brand’s environmental impact since before “sustainability” become popular terminology across the business world.

Laura tells us that she “was brought up in a large family as the youngest of five children and my mother’s frugal ethos was passed down. When you start a business from scratch without a large financial investment you need to learn to work on a shoestring. We have kept company overheads to a minimum, spending on quality fabrics and good staff and saving on unnecessary trophy items like flashy company cars, offices and unnecessary packaging. We recycle our packaging but still ensure the deliveries look fresh and exciting; we have lovely offices but they are based in Newport, South Wales and in Battersea London and ensure they are run on a sensible level of energy with an ethos of recycling from our environmental champions.”

Working in a more sustainable way than conventional brands hasn’t been an accident nor has it been a deliberate policy for JoJo Maman Bébé; it’s been more of business ethos and a personal commitment for Laura.

Laura is very conscious of using their efforts to be more sustainable as a marketing ploy, which she feels probably a lot of companies do. Perhaps this is one reason you won’t find much about what they do behind the scenes on their website / brand blog.

“At JoJo we do target our teams with recycling, we naturally adopt the policy to always look for the environmentally sustainable alternative where sensible. However, the ethical and environmental ethos is endemic across the whole company and team and not something we dictate via targets and policies,” explains Laura.

“Our efforts need to be commercially viable and our customer base is not coming to JoJo because of our environmental credentials, so we are unable to add a surcharge to our retail prices to cover additional costs.” JoJo customers shop with the brand because it offers good quality clothing and great design first and foremost.

“Where we have used a specifically sustainably friendly fabric, such as our recycled fibres polar-fleece, we have needed to cut our margins to ensure the retail price points remain competitive. We took on this fabric in order to offset our good quality plastics production out of the Far East, it was personal choice made by the directors and not one which was commercially driven,” explains Laura.

JoJo Maman Bébé tries to work with natural fabrics, uses a lot of cotton and has a range of outerwear which is made from 100% recycled fibres, predominantly derived from plastic bottles. Laura and her team worked closely with a manufacturer to develop this fabric, taking several years to get it right. She felt that “whilst the material was of a higher price point than a fleece made from non-recycled fibres, it was important that we attempted to offset our plastics production.”

In the past JoJo has worked with organic cottons and bamboo fabrics but moved away from these fibres because they tend to require a large amount of water to process them.

Pixie Hat, retail price £14

“Doing well whilst doing good”

JoJo Maman Bébé does a lot of extra philanthropic work. They are significant donors to Nema, a charity working in rural Mozambique to relieve child poverty and enable local communities. They also provide charitable support to dozens of local literacy organisations, schools and children’s health groups.

Their support for Nema was borne from a holiday trip that Laura took with her sons to Guludo Beach Lodge on the northern coast of Mozambique. Jojo had been supporting another project in Tanzania that couldn’t efficiently deal with the amount of money the brand was raising on its behalf, so Laura teamed up with Amy Carter, the founder of the beach lodge and her charity Nema. Laura is now a trustee and JoJo has taken over the bookkeeping, accounts, fundraising and marketing. JoJo employs the charity manager and eight local employees. Nema has achieved considerable positive impact including: reduced infant mortality rates in the local area, two new school buildings and two new motorcycle ambulances.

This month, JoJo Maman Bébé will also launch a brand new charitable initiative in the UK called From a Mother to Another in partnership with Hubbub UK and Barnardo’s.

The idea is that over 6 weeks in the lead up to Mother’s Day, JoJo Maman Bébé is asking people to gift good quality unwanted baby and children’s clothing, dropping them off at one of their stores across the UK.

Garments will then be sorted, beautifully gift-wrapped and distributed through Barnardo’s to families in need on Mother’s Day 2015, as a gift ‘from a mother to another.’ Laura has three reasons for launching this initiative:

  • To help reduce landfill – 1 million tonnes of good quality clothing is put into landfill in the UK each year.
  • To highlight the fact that many charity shops sell clothing donations to Africa – decimating local economies by flooding markets with cheap clothing that has been ‘donated’.
  • To help those in need in the UK – by encouraging British mums to make ‘hand-me-down’ gift packs to give to people who really need them via Barnardo’s. (A sort of clothing version of ‘Love-in-a-Box’).

Again this is just part of the ethos of the brand, driven by Laura’s own personal commitment. “We support a lot of charities because that is who we are.”

Building brand awareness and driving sales

JoJo Maman Bébé uses many different channels and tactics for building brand awareness, engaging customers and driving sales. This ranges from social media to events to pay-per-click advertising, SEO and an affiliate marketing scheme.

In the beginning, the opening of physical shops acted as a huge billboard for the mail-order catalogue business. This helped to build brand awareness amongst purchasing family members (grandparents, aunts/uncles, godparents) who wouldn’t have been reached via other marketing channels.

Since online selling has become so important in the past several years, their marketing efforts have also moved more online. Laura explains, “Our PPC campaigns and search engine optimisation is an important route to market and we still mail catalogues, although not in the volume we used to. Website reviews, Facebook and other social media has really helped to get the company name known by almost all pregnant women and families with young children and we cannot recommend it highly enough.”

JoJo Maman Bébé SS15 collection preview

Laura told easyspace.com last year that their active Facebook following is more about customer interaction than selling, and that they use Twitter for business news such as promotions and new store openings. JoJo also has a community part of their website where its customers can go to find local child-friendly events and other promotions and activities. Jojo’s weekly e-newsletters are also a key tool and contain product-related info; these bring in large numbers of sales.

The affiliate scheme is not a commonly used tools for fashion brands, but one that Laura says they are generally happy with its performance. She advises that if other brands are to go this route make sure that “all orders are tracked effectively. The commission should always be based on a percentage of sales rather on clicks. We test everything very carefully before committing.”

However, JoJo’s best route to market will always be word-of-mouth. Laura says that “customer get customers …good old fashioned word of mouth recommendations.”

Although online sales are increasingly important for the brand, 60% of sales still happen in-store and about 40% from both webshop and mail-order catalogue.

2015 plans for growth & expansion

This season JoJo will open in Truro, Aberdeen, Witney and another location, to be announced. JoJo’s growth strategy continues to be an organic self funded expansion in the UK.

But the the big exciting news is that JoJo will be launching in the USA. Their team has spent the past three years brand-building through representative showrooms and has seen compound annual growth in their U.S. market by 400%.

Because JoJo remains an independent business, they’re testing out new markets fully and over time before investing in roll-out. Expansion is obviously a huge risk and one that requires a very strategic approach and thorough testing.

This American expansion will include the opening of a stateside distribution centre, which ensures that their factories only need to ship products once. And this means they can pass on the savings to their customers, offering a more competitive price point.

Laura’s top 3 tips for start-up and growing brands

1. There are always people who know more about some areas of business than you know yourself, so whilst you may try to do it all in the early years make sure you take plenty of advice.

2. In this age of multi-channel retail it is vital that you offer brand consistency across all routes to market. Make sure that your website, retail stores and printed material all scream brand consistency and interlink on a marketing level.

3. PR is worth far more than advertising. Good customer service speaks volumes. Customers get customers especially in today’s world of social media and reviews.

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