First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Tino Hartmann : Thanks a lot – we’re all fine and happy that there’ve been no cases of COVID-19 amoung our families or employees.
Nevermind times have definitely changed and created new challenges for all of us.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Baby Sweets
Tino Hartmann : I’m one out of 2 founders of Baby Sweets GmbH. We founded Baby Sweets in April 2016, looking back to a longer history working together with my partner Tom (see picture below) on several projects.
I’ve studied business economics at Martin-Luther-Universität in Halle (S.) and made my degrees in early 2011. In my first 1 ½ years I’ve been working for an online marketing agency in Leipzig and got in contact with most of the online marketing channels, focusing on affiliate and search engine marketing. From 2012 on I’ve been working at KUPONA GmbH in Munich for 4 ½ years. During this time I’ve been responsible for managing hundreds of retargeting campaigns for big ecommerce companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
In 2014 we started our Facebook community together with Tom and recognized a very fast increase in followers over the years which made us think about possibilities of making money with the community and reach we were able to generate on our posts. During this time first ideas of founding an ecommerce shop for baby fashion and accessories came up, the first business plan was written and from 2016 on we were focusing on our own “baby”.
How does Baby Sweets innovate?
Tino Hartmann : Because ecommerce market for baby products is quite competitive in Germany we decided to focus on a niche (exclusive and cute baby fashion for babies up to 2 years) and a mobile first approach as we noticed that most of the baby online shops weren’t keen on their responsive shops and mobile apps. Together with our community we’ve been able to identify, buy and design our own bestselling items during a very short period. Direct feedback from our customers was extremely precious and helped us reaching a certain market share within our audience very quickly. Besides technical innovation we’re focusing on developing new products under our own label “Baby Sweets” – always working with direct feedback from our customers and identifying their needs.
We’ve set up very smart process lines for product design, evaluation, production and the “getting live” process, including product data management and photos. Smart logistics processes are also a main part of our innovation strategy as we want to keep logistics costs as low as possible, making handling with our products for our employees during fulfillment process very comfortable. Last but not least, there’s a big data driven focus in our company. We try to analyze all steps along the customer journey very intensively to learn more about our customers’ needs and their behaviour during their time in our web shop and apps. Based on this we’re able to make smart decisions and shorten development cycles within our IT infrastructure and along our marketing strategy.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
In the first week before COVID-19 lockdown started in Germany, we had quite a big crash in sales – I suppose it was because of the uncertainty of the whole situation everybody was confronted with. Just a few days later – from 20th of March on – situation changed positively. We suddenly had a dramatic increase in sales from one day to another. For sure this made us quite happy, but having a look at the current structure in our logistics staff we had to make quick decisions in how to handle situation with 3 to 4 times more parcels to be fulfilled. We decided to stock up staff with short time employees as we didn’t have any idea how long this situation would last.
Looking back – this was the right decision. Besides structural topics, there was also the point that we had to handle stock inventory, which decreased very quick due to higher sales volume and was against our weekly purchase planning. This led to a certain zero stocks on parts of our bestselling items, which was really bad as we directly lost revenues due to a continuously high demand from our customers. So processes in this area also had to be adapted to the new situation. Priorities on production had to be changed and we needed to set up a new calculation. We would never have expected such a dramatic increase in sales, but looking left and right, many ecommerce shops are reporting very strong April numbers during times of lockdown – I suppose we’re not the only one being affected.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Tino Hartmann : Yes, besides the topics mentioned before you have to face a completely new situation – but you might compare it with a clairvoyant: What will happen next? Will there be other changes due to COVID-19 that might affect us even more? How shall we adapt our planning to the new circumstances? A lot of (difficult) decisions had to be made during a very short period of time but I think that, in most cases, we were able to react in time and make the right decisions for our business. Looking back on the last 3 months, even with the point that a lot of the restrictions, that have been set up by the government, are resolved meanwhile, the biggest lesson learned is the fact that you and your company should stay as much flexible – at any time – as it is possible – especially on company structures and processes. This affects all parts and process units of a company that need to work together during such crazy times even more than before. I think bigger companies, with more rigid structures, aren’t even able to react and take in effect comprehensive changes in such a short time period.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Baby Sweets in the future?
Tino Hartmann : Setting the base for a digital infrastructure (remote work, cloud based tools etc.) is the most important thing to be able to react on unexpected circumstances without losing control in case that parts of your staff aren’t able to work from one day on another. Basically you need to have a redundancy on all your main processes and employees in order to follow a “plan B” as it is needed. One is never immune against sudden new circumstances, but you are able to do the best to avoid being hidden too hard. The most important thing is having a good financial and structural planning with different scenarios for a mid-time period at least – giving you opportunities and relevant solutions for possible changes.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Tino Hartmann : As we’re working in a niche within the baby products segment we don’t measure with any direct competitors. For sure we might be comparable with Tausendkind, babymarkt.de or windeln.de but as we aren’t focusing on a full product range but on baby fashion and accessories with our own brand and designs – there’s nearly no touchpoint on direct sales competition. What makes us strong is the flexibility in processes, a flat hierarchy and short ways in decisions and task handling – this way we’re able to react on new situations within a short time and adapt to market situations and new trends on short term.
Your final thoughts?
Tino Hartmann : Unless COVID-19 is a serious pandemic, affecting a lot of people, companies and states – in my opinion it’s a chance for everybody to rethink and restructure old ways of thinking in order to adapt to a new situation. Every crisis creates winners and losers – and I’m extremely sorry for all small companies, entrepreneurs and self-employed working people that were hit hard by the restrictions due to the lockdown, hoping that short term relief actions from the governments helped them during this hard times. Anyway, there will be a shift in consumers behaviour which will lead to a more digital world and will definitely help online businesses such as ecommerce to get in touch with new customers. And finally… challenges are meant to be solved!!!