SMB to Big Business: Interview with Rafi and Tara Bloom, owners of Mintini Baby
SMB to Big Business
It’s not always easy to find the right clothes for babies and small children, and you often have to jump from shop to shop. Mintini Baby hopes to change the game by becoming the one-stop shop for baby clothes and kids aged up to 5. Daniel Brill sat down with owners Rafi and Tara Bloom to hear their story of launching and growing a clothing business in the digital age.
When did you start your business and how did it come about?
Rafi: Mintini started six years ago. It was a business created by my dad. I was just an employee involved in the business. I took over the business about 18 months to two years ago. It’s now under my leadership. Things have changed a lot obviously since COVID and the whole industry got flipped on its head in a very short period of time. It was started six years ago as a family business. Business was good. Then COVID hit, things changed and now we're adjusting the way we're working.
Rafi: Mintini is baby and children's clothing from newborn to five years. Mintini's name came from my sister who's called Montana. My dad calls her Minty and he wanted an Italian sounding name because Italian sounds a bit more exclusive. That's where Mintini was born. So it was as simple as that really.
Tara: At the moment, Mintini wholesales to shops and online retailers across the UK and Europe department stores. We're in 400-plus stores. And over the next year or two, we're going to be developing the direct consumer website whilst keeping the business-to-business side. We'll have a direct consumer part of the website. We're developing the website now.
Was that a natural progression when you took the leadership role or was that a conscious decision over the direction you wanted to go in when you took over?
Rafi: Well, the B2C is huge. Obviously, we are doing well in in our sector, but at the same time the online model is the future of our business. We know it is and that’s Tara’s strength, which is a reason why when Tara joined the business recently, she's very much got a business to consumer head on her shoulders, which is something which I don't have much experience with. I've always been business to business.
Tara: Rafi’s dad's been in industry for 40 plus years, but he obviously has been traditionally wholesale, which Rafi then understands from the last seven years, so Rafi is really good at the wholesale side of the business and growing that side which he took over in the leadership role. And then I am going to be spearheading the e-commerce side of the business based on my experience in my previous job, because we developed and grew in online business in supplements. Obviously, this is baby clothing, but it's the same idea in terms of how you set up and develop your website.
How has your business grown over time?
Tara: We took over the business from Rafi’s dad 18 months ago. So, we're actually still a small team.
Rafi: We’ve actually shrunk the workforce. What we realised, is that you can employee staff very easily. Overheads make or break your business. So, the first thing we did was strip all of that back. We thought about who we needed full time, and who we can have as freelance. We just pay for their time rather than having full-time staff. So now, full time, we actually only have 4 members of staff from 44. We have one freelance designer, who we use and then we also use freelance logistics people to help out.
What would you say is your USP?
Rafi: Our USP is we offer fantastic quality and design, all for a very affordable price. We are very innovative with our designs, and our quality and we also deliver value very well to our shops. We're a one-stop shop. We offer everything from a spring jacket to a baby grow, to a romper, to a short set. We've got a very good collection, where people can buy for all needs, from casual to formal.
Is that the company’s goal – to be that one-stop shop?
Rafi: Correct! Absolutely. One-stop shop online, as well as through our B2B customers. The one brand that people can buy absolutely everything from and cater for all their needs.
What kind of marketing have you been using?
Tara: Social media and our email newsletters for our customers are obviously huge, so we do bi-annual photo shoots of the autumn/winter or the spring/summer range so that we can then provide our customers with assets to use, to sell. So in shop brochures or online adverts, we take really cute photos of kids in clothes because obviously it sells the product better, and then growing our Instagram and social media following.
When we develop the B2C website and when that launches, the marketing site is going to go through the roof. It has to be even more crazy because at the moment we're providing our customers with the assets to use, or just using our social media ourselves, but going forward, we're going to be selling the product ourselves. So we're going to be doing a lot of paid ads, Facebook ads, all that kind of stuff. But right now we don't need to do that, because we're trying to consolidate our customer base to get more customers, but we don't need to go after those. They come to us if they want to open a Mintini account. We're currently in the process of discussing with the biggest online children's retailer to get the brand in there, it’s like an ASOS for baby clothing, so they're already aware of the brand. Obviously, all the imagery and the assets help. So it's social media, email newsletters and then we'll be moving into the paid social space when we launch the B2C side of business.
What are the pros and cons of running a business – what do you like the most and the least?
Rafi: To be honest with you, I can’t really give you any cons. The pros are that we're building year on year, growing our client list on a weekly basis, clients are selling our products really well. So it's been a fantastic year. I have to admit in a very dark place, it has been a fantastic year for pure business, we’ve done really well. It's a credit to the brand and the business. And we are in a really strong place.
Would you say you have grown over the COVID period because it's online?
Rafi: Yeah, we have! We've won some phenomenal accounts. A couple of really exciting customers that I don't want to be quoted on, but really exciting customers we're bringing on board very soon which is amazing primary exposure which I'm really excited about.
Tara: When COVID hit, everything had to be consolidated because everyone was shut for six months plus and we had to consolidate the business. So then when we reopened, we took that time to consolidate and now we're really stronger than ever. As Rafi said, we are gaining more accounts, we're growing year on year, and we are now looking to take that even further by launching the direct consumer part of the business.
Rafi: I want to add to that point. During COVID, what happened to a lot of people that work in so difficult businesses throughout COVID realised, or want to get into a necessity product. More people actually diverted into baby clothes.
A lot of womenswear shops were saying actually we want to add baby clothing into our shops, menswear shops, because there's not much money around, people may not necessarily buy for themselves. Men and women already have so many clothes, whereas for babies there are 7 sizes between newborn and 2 years old, it’s a necessity.
Tara: It's a necessity, isn't it! And we all heard about the COVID pandemic baby boom.
Are there other challenges you can foresee for your business?
Rafi: A challenge for me right now is, I can't travel to see our factories in Thailand and China.
It's very important for me to build relationships with suppliers. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years that's been really difficult because everything's on Zoom, Teams, and emails. It's not the same as face-to-face meetings. Another challenge is that there is a global problem with shipping.
The big problem with shipping is that it’s taking a lot longer than it used to, when you want to ship to this country, and it's also double the price that it used to be. But these are problems that everybody is facing, it's not just our business, it's a global problem. So unfortunately, everyone's got to put their prices up.
Do you have an ideal customer type that you target? Is there such a thing?
Rafi: I wouldn't say an ideal customer because we have a lot of different parts to the collection now. A very traditional customer who’s going to be one type of buyer, and we've got some very trendy parts of the collection that would be another type of buyer. We want to try and cater for every mother or grandmother that wants to buy a present for a baby.
Tara: You’re right, Rafi, there are so many different types of customers. Our son was born prematurely. He was born seven weeks early during COVID. And we had just developed off the back of that because other than Marks and Spencer's. I couldn't find any premature clothes for him. And he was obviously tiny, he weighed four pounds. So, we developed a premature range in Mintini, and Rafi has been selling that to his customers along with the autumn winter stuff. It's been flying!
Rafi: Yeah, things like this premature collection has been phenomenal. We've just launched a new range as part of our collection and it's probably going into about 80 shops to start with. And that's just starting. So, our son has brought a new angle to the business.
Is there something you wish you had known before you entered the world of business?
Rafi: Not really. I’m the sort of person who learns on the job and a few things you get wrong. I enjoy learning on the job and from my mistakes and I'm learning every day.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into business?
Tara: Based on Mintini and also my previous company, Misfits, you need to have a really strong USP for what the products and the brand represent, because then you can sell the story to anyone. So consolidating that and coming up with a unique idea. There are so many of the same things, over and over again. Mintini is actually very traditional. Like Rafi said, we do have trendier stuff, but we have the traditional element at the core, and I think people know us for that.
How important is the tone of voice, branding and logo in terms of recognisablility?
Tara: We have had four re-brandings. You're not necessarily going to get it right the first time. You have to be really precise on the branding. The logo’s really important, the brand narrative, the brand story, the look, the slogan and obviously it's going to evolve and keep developing over time. You just have to be aware that it’s something that's really important and you have to strive to get it right.
Given that you have had a few re-brandings, has the name always been Mintini?
Tara: It's always been Mintini Baby and it was always Misfits. It's taking the logo and the story to the next level. We know what it means, but we have to convey it in the right way.
What's the biggest difference from running a small business, versus a bigger business as it grows?
Tara: Managing different people, and their relationships with one another because obviously increased workload means increased staff, so managing teams of people. The bigger the company, the more responsibility you have.
What would you say has been the hardest marketing challenge to get your brand out there?
Tara: Marketing is expensive, so you have to make sure that you're choosing the right outlets and avenues to get the brand out there. We do a lot of trade shows and exhibitions. They're our most efficient way of getting the brand out there, because you're in front of thousands of people in one go over one weekend. But it’s choosing the right tradeshows.
Is it trial and error in the sense that you need to try different things and see what clicks?
Tara: Generally, we now know which ones we go back to year-on-year, but yeah, it's trial and error. We've tried a couple before that weren’t successful.
Is there something that you feel business owners lack? If so, what should they brush up on?
Tara: I think everyone should have an understanding of how paid social works. We haven't started it yet with Mintini because as I said, we are still wholesale, but we will be doing so, and I have an understanding of it from my previous business, but often you just end up outsourcing it to a company, but it’s good if you take the time to do it and understand it. It's hard because we also need to be able to create content. You need to know what content is actually effective. It’s one thing in making something look pretty, but is it going to sell to the customer? So, you need to know what content is actually going to sell and you go and do that by trying different things.
Has there been one thing that you shouldn't have done and then hit the pivot button? How did you recover from that?
Tara: I'm sure there are loads. Ultimately, we design a collection, we design a range of products. Our designer does it and we base it off of what sold well historically, different styles, embellishments, colour schemes, and colour palettes, but we're still hoping that it is going to sell to shops. We have different stories, in a story you have a romp or a baby grow or a set etc., but what if one of them flops in season, then you wish you hadn't bought it? We generally overcome it by having enough stories. We have 15 per season, so if two of them don’t sell, then it’s ok.
What would you say is the smartest thing you’ve done?
Tara: Building a brand from scratch and seeing it is outperforming household names on the shop floor within department stores. Getting enquiries on the website from Japan, Australia, USA that have come across our brand and want to buy for their shops is a huge vote of confidence in what we are doing.
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