**Please remember to rate and review the podcast – it really helps others to find it.**

Sophie is the owner of Munchkin & Bear in Europe. The brand was the brainchild of a great friend of hers, Alana. Alana created Munchkin & Bear in 2016 in Australia when she couldn’t find a play mat for her kids which was both practical but also stylish meaning she didn’t have to sacrifice her beautiful home! Lots of R&D later and the first luxury padded play mat globally was launched. Sophie, decided not to return to her day job after maternity leave and kicked off the business in the UK in late 2018 with 1 year old twins literally playing on her play mat alongside her! 

Listen in to hear Sophie share:

  • Her business and what Munchkin and Bear sell (2:05)
  • How she got involved with the business (2:45)
  • Launching the business and brand in the UK (3:34)
  • The difference between the UK and Australian markets (4:41)
  • How the business is set up in the UK (5:27)
  • The benefits of outsourcing your logistics (6:30)
  • How she went about finding a fulfilment company – and her advice for you (7:50)
  • The channels Munchkin and Bear use in the UK (11:10)
  • The main challenges she faced and how she overcame them (13:40)
  • The areas of the business she outsources and why outsourcing is importance (15:40)
  • The things she loves about her business (19:56)
  • Her experience of being in business with a friend and how to make it work (21:00)
  • Attending the Baby Show and the benefits of actually seeing your customers (23:30)
  • Her number one piece of advice for other product creators (28:41)

USEFUL RESOURCES:

Visit the Munchkin and Bear shop

Follow us on instagram 

Like our page on Facebook 

LET’S CONNECT

Find me on Instagram

Work with me

Transcript

Going into business with a friend - with Sophie Lilley, Munchkin & Bear

INTRO (:

Welcome to the, bring your product ideas to life podcast, practical advice, and inspiration to help you create and sell your own physical products. Here's your host Vicki Weinberg.

Vicki Weinberg (:created Munchkin and Bear in:Vicki Weinberg (:

So this is a great story. It's a really unique start into product development and selling physical products. As, as I say, because Sophie rather than create the product from scratch, took a product that her friends had created, that she believed in and that she felt passionate about and decided to be the sole seller of that product in the UK. So we talk a lot about working in partnership with a friend and we spoke about the difference between how the business runs here and how the business runs in Australia, or do you know? I think it's really fascinating conversation as all of these interviews are, and I really hope you enjoy it. Here's Sophie. Okay. Say, hi Sophie. Thank you for being here.

Sophie Lilley (:

Oh, hi.

Vicki Weinberg (:

Hi. Could you tell Us about yourself, your business and what Is the ESL please?

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah, of course. So I am Sophie and the business kind of came about from one of my great mates who was actually a neighbor living in Barstow years ago, who got her second child, tried to find a playmat and couldn't find one that she likes and you know, beautiful house. And she was like, I really don't want multi-colored pixel horrific in my house. So she was like, I've got to find something really nice. That's kind of style plus practical. And so the playmate was kind of born from that and yeah, and so I was staying with her in Brisbane at the time. And so it was like, what do you think of this concept?

Sophie Lilley (:

And I was like, it's flipping brilliant. And I can't see that moms wouldn't want that because actually most

people that wants to kind of live in a playroom. And so when I got to the end of my mat, leave with my twins, cause I used to work in communications and advising and things. I said, listen, what about me? You're watching Europe and the UK for you. Cause she's based in Australia. So that's where much number for me was born. So yeah. So playmates that kind of meet the kind of play and style piece, I guess.

Vicki Weinberg (:

Okay. Thank you. So when you, when you launched products in the UK, were they already established in Australia? Had she already launched over there?

Sophie Lilley (:so she launched in Australia:Sophie Lilley (:

So we looked for different options and things here. So, but yeah, the brand was there, but it was an unknown brand over here.

Vicki Weinberg (:

Yeah. And you like, as he had the products, which was good, but you were starting to essentially from scratch out of interest because I honestly don't know this. What is the difference between the UK and the Australia market? Cause I really don't know in Australia they are much more used to buying online. So buying products online is really well-established over there. Whereas over here online retail is actually still a growing sector. So they are much more likely to buy something online that they've never seen or touched. Whereas we, up until this year and I think this year is going to be quite a big transformation year, obviously for many things. But up until this year, the UK has been quite a significant way behind in terms of e-commerce purchasing behavior basically from a customer.

Vicki Weinberg (:

So it sounds like you had lots of logistics and things to get in place. So you mentioned that in the, in Australia they have a warehouse and a team. So what do you have? What sort of set up do you have over here?

Sophie Lilley (:

We use a third party warehouse. So we found effectively the same structure, but run by somebody else.

Because when I launched the business, my twins were just over a year old. And so the kind of practical basis of taking a number of maps, which are kind of a hung, you know, nearly a meter and a half long, Down's the post office with two tiny people into just wasn't going to work. So we kind of looked at it differently and also from a growth perspective, having somebody that is set up and structured to just take stuff to the post office, because it's a large item, it's, it's not easy as kind of a piece of jewelry that you can put into an envelope and you might be able to take 20 or 30 off to the post office.

Sophie Lilley (:

So looking at the Pratt school, so we have an outsourced logistics house effectively, so they can pick up all the orders I send them all through and then they process that and that goes straight out the door. And also from a negotiation perspective, they're able to work with the shippers and get better rights than as a startup. You know, when I was phoning around trying to get a career, they're just like, okay,

Vicki Weinberg (:

That makes sense. And especially when you're looking to scale, I think having that set up initially is a really good idea because when I first started selling my products, which in all fairness, a smaller that I was festival doing the thing of walking to the post office. And it's fine when you're doing a couple of week, but you know, we want to scale and yeah, I think it's, I think you can't do something like that too soon actually let's get just sticks and processes in place. Yeah.

Sophie Lilley (:

And it was, it's a bit, I think when you first start out and you feel like you're losing control of something like that, it can feel a bit scary that you're going to hand something over to somebody else and trust that they're going to put it in the right envelope and posted at the right time and things. So there was a bit of kind of, you know, trying to find the right place to do it mattered and, but they've been great and that they're very tech driven. So they, you know, it's, there's lots of reporting and I can have a look at all the numbers and see everything by the minute on a live system and things which is really helpful.

Vicki Weinberg (:

So about what's of interest. And just because I don't believe I've spoken to anyone about this before, how did you go about finding someone to start your fulfillment? You certainly don't need to mention who it is you use, but are there any, is there any advice you've got for somebody who is looking to do the same thing?

Sophie Lilley (:

Well, for me, it was such a big learning curve. Cause I'd come over from being a kind of consultant in marketing and comms and public affairs and things. So moving into retail, my whole retail piece was purely based on, I've got my brothers in retail and my husband used to run a deli, but it was obviously small, very different. So for me,

the retail piece was a massive learning curve. And I basically tapped into lots of friends and said, who do you use? How do you go about the shipping piece and all of that and went and had lots of

coffees with lots of different people's kind of get their insights. And then really when I was looking for the warehouse, it was trying to work out on Google, what search terms would bring up the right type of pieces literally.

Sophie Lilley (:

So it was like, do I search fulfillment center, which is what they would say in America or is it third party logistics. And, and then just, I started to go through all their websites and short lists. And you start when you soon realize that some people specialize in food and products that need to be chilled. Other people specialize in dangerous goods and eight pieces and other people specialize in smaller racked products. So actually that was for us because it's a large package actually that ruled out quite a lot of people quite quickly. So endless phone calls. Can you deal with a package that's over a meter long? No fine. And, and kind of slowly but surely shortlisted down, but it was, it took longer than I thought it would take to work all of that out, but I'm glad it I'm glad to spend the time.

Vicki Weinberg (:

It's definitely, it's definitely worth taking the time. And I think asking around is very good advice as well, because I think if we have networks, whether it be a formal network or family or friends or whatever, there's nothing better than a word of mouth recommendation. Yeah. For sure. And knowing your criteria as well. I think that was also a really good point because I also switched to using a fulfillment center earlier this year and I'm sort of having a list of criteria. Like, you know, I want to use a certain type of package and I want everyone at all orders to be fulfilled same day or next day. Kind of, as you say, it does rule a lot of people out right at the start because it just seems like, you know, there must be thousands of, I imagine at least hundreds of these places in the UK, for example, and I was thinking, how would, you know, if would you choose one, but actually if you know what it is you're looking for, or like you say, you're not really with that many options.

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah. And actually interestingly, some of them are still quite traditional and quite manual and some of them are much more tech enabled. So depending on your website in a, my guys were able to bolt into the backend of my website and pull all the information they need directly. So I don't actually have to get involved in that. Whereas one of the other guys that I shortlisted was felt much more kind of like they could do personalized goods. And if I had a gifted product that I wanted personalized gift notes and things written to, to every single product, they would have been a better option. So it was kind of depends what you,

Vicki Weinberg (:

So you have a film center that sort of links in with your website, so you don't have to touch anything. Yeah, that's fantastic. So I think that probably leads us on to what channels are you using in the UK. And, and also if you don't mind talking about this, what channels are they using in Australia as in, do you have the same Instagram accounts websites or is it completely separate?

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah, so we have, Instagram is probably our biggest platform and where kind of a significant chunk of time and investment is, is because the product's so visual. And also because our audience is moms predominantly first time either pregnant or early days is the kind of biggest market that's where we'll find them. And then Facebook, probably second to that. And at the moment we run set separate channels and that's partly just because we wanted to be able to do more localized content. So, you know, everything from father's day is a different time of year.

Sophie Lilley (:

Obviously there are big moments like Christmas, which are exactly the same, but also the time difference to Australia is so that, you know, posting time and people watching stuff is very different. So, you know, our evening slot, which is a classic time for moms to be on Instagram and Facebook and engaging around the sort of 7:38 PM is literally the middle of the night for them. So you'd be running content at very different times of day. So for that reason, we kind of chose to be separate, but yeah, as we've gone on, there are certain things that we take from each other and build on to make sure that we're not just doubling up and then some things that we keep separate.

Sophie Lilley (:

So Facebook and Instagram are the biggest channels at the moment. And then Pinterest is another area that is kind of, you know, got to be sorted out. Basically

Vicki Weinberg (:

I could see Pinterest would be good for you because your products, as you say, I've seen your website and it looks beautiful. So yeah, I can see that it would definitely work over there. And do you set on any other platforms as well as your work?

Sophie Lilley (:

So we all by mamma is the other platform. We have one boutique retailer in Southwest London nearby, but beyond that, it's all on our website kind of just more than anything else, just focusing efforts.

Vicki Weinberg (:ompletely lost track of time:Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah, exactly. It's pretty much two years almost to the day and it's kind of incredible. It's just changed in that.

I mean, for me, I think the challenges were just building confidence that I could do it. And, you know, because it was such a big jump from being a consultant in the comms world to running my own online business. And I'd worked with clients like PayPal and LinkedIn and Borderfree who are kind of basically an e-commerce expert as clients. I had quite a lot of understanding of different areas that would matter, but actually doing it for yourself as a whole different ball game and doing it for yourself when you've got two small children under your feet and you haven't actually got chunks of time.

Sophie Lilley (:

So the challenges were learning all the different ropes and making sure you were up to skill. And then I think as you grow working out where you want support, you know, when actually somebody else would be better skills to do it, and that would actually free you up to do other things. So that kind of, as you start to grow kind of when, when you ask for help, when you get counselors involved, you know, on the finances side. But I think probably my biggest thing. And that's like, cause I'm a control freak, but is career and the delivery element because it's such a big part of a customer experience.

Sophie Lilley (:

And yet once your parcel gets handed to your career, you actually can't physically control whether they deliver on time, whether they knock on the door or leave a delivery slip. So just, you know, working out what you can change and what you can't. And for me, it's therefore just about the customer contact point and just making sure that at least you're telling the customer what you know, and that you're in touch with them because you can't actually physically go and knock on their door and hand it over. Although there are times where you wish you could

Vicki Weinberg (:

Yeah. Talking about sort of handing over control. So what are the areas other than the logistics? What are the areas of your business that you have handed over or you sometimes get help with just to give people an idea of what's possible two years old?

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah. So I think support on the finance side for end of year accounts and the proper accountancy piece. So for me, I've been able to use, I use Xero as a platform, but that's been brilliant. It took me a while to really understand how I could utilize it to its best ability. And arguably I could have got somebody else involved to really take over that side of the business. But I quite liked knowing my numbers and understanding what was going on. And in fact, a horror story from years ago, I have another friend who works for a small business, who he relied on one person to do all his finances and they didn't do it properly.

Sophie Lilley (:

And he only discovered a year later that it wasn't done properly. And he didn't know because he trusted them to do it. So I kind of had that in my background to not, not know it. And I think understanding your own

finances is a good thing, but having the accountants on board is just they check what I've done, basically make sure I've not made any errors. And so that's been really helpful. And then, and also they've taught me a few things on Xero that I can do, which I didn't realize I could do like currency. You can put things in, in different currencies and all sorts of bits and pieces, which just saves admin. And then I have worked with another mom who's been helping out on some of the customer service side, just helping me answer emails, just so that I could spend a bit more time on thinking about content and thinking about the growth period.

Sophie Lilley (:

But so far that's been at that. We're kind of looking at what happens in year three and whether I get more support in and where that is best placed. That's actually my current task at the moment trying to work that out.

Vicki Weinberg (:

That's fantastic. And it's good to share that only a few years then, you know, you are in a position where you can get a little bit of help because absolutely from day one, generally, unless you go into a partnership with somebody which I'm going to talk to you a bit more about in a minute, say fee, you are sort of, you know, you do have to wear all of the hats and it can take a while to work out what it is that w you know, what you're comfortable with, what you're competent at and where you would actually be better saying, actually, someone else could manage this much better than me. For me, it is my bookkeeping and accounting. I am, I've outsourced that pretty much from day one or, well, from the first day I realized that actually I just wasn't competent or confident. And actually I'm also not really willing to upskill myself in the area because when you start a business, there's so many areas you need to learn.

Vicki Weinberg (:

That just felt like a bit of a step too far. So I would say it's never too early. Is it to ask for help if you need it and you can afford to DC.

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah. And actually, I think advertising paid for advertising is one of those areas where I think there are vastly different offerings in the market, but that is another area where I do now have support because there are nuances to how Google or Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest change what they're doing. And again, unless you're willing to stay on top of that, you know, you can be throwing good money after bad, really fast, unless you know what you're doing. So that's been an area where I've not worked with somebody who helps with some of that.

Vicki Weinberg (:

I think that's an area of as well, where I don't know if you're trying to do everything else as well personally. I don't see how that's now, but you can possibly keep on top of, because as you say, with SEO, with changing algorithms, if you want to be in a lot of places to kind of keep yourself up to speed on how to best utilize all of

those available platforms, I just, I don't, I honestly don't see how that's something that one candy yourself if you're trying to do everything else as well. Yeah.

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah, exactly. And, and, you know, it's easy to think you can keep covering it all, but the reality is actually you probably spend longer doing certain things than somebody else who's just loves doing that or has been trained in it or, you know, spends their life in it.

Vicki Weinberg (:

Yeah. That's really helpful. And so we've talked a little bit about challenges. What sort of things that you love about your business? What do you really enjoy?

Sophie Lilley (:

That's an easy one, baby. I mean, literally I just, the grin, you know, when you see another baby on a mass and because obviously it's so visual and much of it is on Instagram and things, just somebody sending in a message of a baby on their Plamer. I love it. Here's what we did today, or here's our messy play, or that just makes me smile. And I think it's one of the biggest changes moving into this job. And this role is that the product is a real product. And therefore it gets used because all of my world before was advising people. So it was not tangible. So I love that.

Sophie Lilley (:

I absolutely love that. And also because my babies and our three, I don't have that little squishy thing anymore. So I get to live with like caring sleep.

Vicki Weinberg (:

Yeah. And it is amazing. Isn't it, to see people actually using your products and enjoying your product. Yeah. Nothing better than so, if you don't mind, if we change the topic slightly, I'd like to talk a little bit about the partnership, because obviously you mentioned that your friends are stepping in Australia and you're managing the business here in the UK. And I think going into business with a friend is something that probably is fairly common. So I'm just wondering if you have any bias, any store, just any insight at all about working alongside a friend.

Sophie Lilley (:

So I think it, because we run very different markets, it's being brilliant. I think for, from her perspective, speaking on her behalf, I think it was, it's quite a big thing to it's her brand, but she created so kind of to step outside of home market was quite a big thing, but she kind of knew that she should probably do it because there was demand. And there was an interest from the UK and Europe, but knowing how she would find somebody that she could hand her baby over to was I think quite a big thing. So knowing that we'd known each other also that I'd been over visiting and seeing the concept stage and things, I think that really helps.

Sophie Lilley (:

So there was kind of a trust without having to interview for somebody who's just a business partner. The flip side is thinking, you know how somebody works when you don't, when you're friends, you know, that you actually have to learn each other's kind of working patterns and how you do things, you know? So actually saying things that you would say to somebody that you work with, but you might not say to a friend because you know, friends are all about kind of bugging each other up. So sometimes learning how to kind of say, I shall not so keen on that, or could you do it this way? So kind of the early stage when I was starting out and they were a couple of years down the line where they wanted to kind of feed back and say, look, we love this bit of your Instagram, but a little bit more of this, or a little bit less of that.

Sophie Lilley (:

Or do you want to get in front of the camera a bit more

Vicki Weinberg (:

So as working together changed your friendship at all, Sophie

Sophie Lilley (:

Do you know what it hasn't, it's actually been really fun. And when she came over last year, because we did the baby shelter at Olympia, it was just amazing. Cause it was the first time I'd actually seen her in person for years. And one of the rest of our team, Georgia came with her and Georgia was like, Oh my God, that was just so emotional. So I think actually what's interesting is that when we do chat as moms, as friends kind of memories, the friendship is entirely there, but on a day-to-day basis, we almost don't have time to have that chat. So kind of when we're chatting, normally you almost miss some of that sometimes, and then she'll be on Facebook or like my sister and my mom also follow her because we all knew each other really well.

Sophie Lilley (:

So, you know, they'll comment and be like, Oh my God, that's so exciting. So you kind of celebrate the friendship, but it is a bit that, you know, you don't have as much time for it because you're dealing with the business stuff.

Vicki Weinberg (:

That makes sense. It sounds like the friendship and the business sides almost set for it in a way. I think,

Sophie Lilley (:

I think that's kind of important to keep those two lines going like that. Otherwise you end up having a meeting and you talk children and family and you don't get to the meeting points or vice versa.

Vicki Weinberg (:

That makes sense. And you also just mentioned, and you only said this in passing, cause I hoped it might be asking about it. You're talking about the baby show at Olympia. So I'd love to know a bit more about that because obviously that's a huge show. How was it?

Sophie Lilley (:

Do you know what I've done too? So I did the NEC up at Birmingham was my first one. And then we did a Limpia where Lorna came over from Australia to join. And it is flipping terrifying. The first time you go and set up your stand and you know, you kind of put all your products out and then you just wait for the doors to open and you hope that somebody comes to visit your stand. But it was also amazing. I couldn't recommend it more because the adrenaline of particularly as an online business, the adrenaline of real customers coming in and actually being able to demonstrate and show people the maps and that touch and feel piece kind of nothing beats it. And again, you know, the bit I love about the businesses, seeing babies on claimants, but actually people physically bringing in their babies and hanging out and sitting on the floor and chatting about the product in person.

Sophie Lilley (:

I mean, you know, pretty unbeatable lunch

Vicki Weinberg (:

I can imagine. And I think that's one of the only downsides if an online business is that people don't actually get to see and pick up your products and feel them and all, all of these things are actually quite important when you're buying, as you say, possibly less say now after the, you know, the six months of just hardware shops have been closed and you can't see that, but yeah, I can imagine that's amazing. And to talk to people about your product as well.

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah. And also, I mean, I get emails even now from people saying we met back in October, I've just had my baby, you know, I just wanted to say, we've just bought literally just up the play mass and we love it. And you're just like, Oh, I remember that. And some people, because my daughter came along to help on the stand and things and people were like, actually your daughter was the person that sells me, the plane, suddenly somebody in the family said,

Vicki Weinberg (:

That's great. And do you know what I think it's like you say, meeting people as well, cause I'm sure if they saw your product in October Haber on Instagram, possibly they might have fixed marketing came back and bought it also, possibly not. I think the fact that they met you and they know your name and your face probably does make a huge difference there as well.

Sophie Lilley (:

Well, it differentiates you from the big brand, you know, so, you know, I think that's an important piece to remember that, you know, we are people and people buy from people. It's a, you know, it's an awful catchphrase, but I think there's a lot of truth to it.

Vicki Weinberg (:

There is, I've actually never been to the baby show. So is it mostly small brands of all the big ones there as well?

Sophie Lilley (:

It's both, there's, there's the big brands. And even a lot of the supermarket brands, like little go and do all that big, you know, that baby lines and everything else, and you get all the big pram brands and things are all there. And then there's, I would say there's about 30, between 30 and 40 smaller brands at very different stages. Some of whom are really small and just starting out some of whom who've been doing it for a few years, but there's quite a nice community. And amongst that as well,

Vicki Weinberg (:

It's good to know that each recommends it as well, because I think that it's something that I know I've certainly, and he looks at and I'm sure other people have considered.

Sophie Lilley (:

Yeah. And I think it's a big expense. So you kind of need to know what you want to get back from it, you know, and that, so I was quite clear about what I was trying to do with it and what I was trying to achieve with it and how much you need to actually be directly profitable versus brand awareness and stretch. Cause as I say, some people would be mad at me nearly year on say, we've just fought, you know, you don't necessarily see everything come through straight away, but it was good.

Vicki Weinberg (:

And would you think it's helped with your brand awareness

Sophie Lilley (:

On deathly? Absolutely understood. I mean the first one we did was in Birmingham and I can look at the website, traffic and Birmingham and, and surrounding areas is still one of our highest regions on the website. So, you know, I can't put that down to anything else.

Vicki Weinberg (:

That's amazing. That's really interesting. Thank you. Okay. I just have one final question for you before we wrap up, if that's okay. And that is what would your number one piece of advice be for someone else looking to start selling their own product?

Sophie Lilley (:

I would be really know what problem you're trying to solve and really know who you're doing it for. Cause I think there's, it's very easy and I went through a process before I kind of landed here and approached it on a thinking through different things that I could do. And it's easy to stop from your skillset and go, well, I can make cushions. So I'm going to make cushions. And, and that's definitely a pass of that journey because you want to do something you can do where you feel passionate about. But I think working out what you're selling and who is it for and in what moment in their life really helps you kind of get it.

Sophie Lilley (:

Right. And, and also then the marketing piece becomes a lot easier because you know who you're trying to talk to. Yeah. That would be my tip.

Vicki Weinberg (:

Thank you, Andrew. And yeah. For your products. Yeah. We can definitely see what product, what problem it's trying to solve. And I think, yeah, just notice what articulate that is really good. Well, thank you so much for your time and safety. So if people want to find out more about your products, where is the best place for them to go,

Sophie Lilley (:

Come on over to munchkinandbear.co.uk and you'll see all the stuff about the and how we created them, the range and Keith and I in the next couple of months for new designs,

Vicki Weinberg (:

Exciting. And I will link to your website and all of your social channels, everything else in the show notes as well. So people can get there really easily. Well, thank you so much for your time and stay safe. It was lovely to talk to you and thank you for all that you've shared

Sophie Lilley (:

Absolute pleasure, lovely to chat to you, Vicki,

Vicki Weinberg (:

Thank you so much blessing to Sophie myself today as always. I really hate you enjoys it. We've got lots of these interviews coming up over the next few weeks. I spoke to so many fantastic products, business owners over the last few weeks and months, and lots of great interviews to share with you, which I'm really excited for. If you or anyone, you know, would like to be featured on this podcast. I would love to hear from you. I am always really excited to be introduced to fantastic business owners. I can talk to 'em and share their story. I promise it's nothing to be scared of. Hopefully you can get the sense from this podcast. It's very informal. I just liked talking to people and I'm finding out what they've learned and things that we can share with you.

Vicki Weinberg (:

So if you know anyone that fits that bill, please do get in touch. It's vicki@tinychipmunk.com and as always, please do rate review and subscribe to the show because that really helps us out take care and I'll speak to you next week.