Rebecca Baylis, owner of Auckland retailer Hatch Baby & Child, opens up about what it was like to be a business owner in lockdown and the biggest lessons she has learnt in business.
What does your business do?
Hatch Baby & Child is a baby retailing business for expectant parents and newborns right up until children of 8 years old. We sell premium nursery furniture, strollers, footwear, clothing and gifts. I took over the business in 2015.
There was just one store in Eastridge, and it had a little bit of an online presence but it wasn't much, so when I took over we began to build its online presence, and in 2017 bought the Mumma Mia's premise in Milford and rebranded it to Hatch.
What was the motivation for buying into the business?
Fear factor, really. I had a 9-month-old baby at the time and was really invested in baby products and researching products and buying, and I just wasn't brave enough to start from the very beginning and I didn't know much about commercial leases or know where to start with sourcing product. So I thought that if I bought an existing business then I could hit the ground running and have cash coming in straight away, and wing it in a way without having too much commercial/financial outlay, and then try and build on that.
I thought it was the easiest option without spending my life savings on trying to build a business - I wanted to take on a business that was struggling and turn it around.
How long did it take to find the right business?
It was a really short period. It all made sense and fell into place. I was at university prior to my maternity leave and I didn't want to go back there. I knew I wanted to do something for myself, and having a baby makes you quite a brave person because it is such a life-changing experience anyway. And I thought the other thing I could do was change my career - I didn't want to go back to working for someone else and when I started looking for businesses it made sense to look for a children's business as I was spending all day every day playing with kids' toys and researching products for my own baby.
The whole process was quite quick once I made the decision. The business wasn't doing very well so it was relatively cheap compared to other businesses on the market.
How big is your team?
We have nine staff members, including myself. I've got two permanent fulltimers and the rest are fill-in part-timers.
How have you turned around the business since you took over?
The business is going really well. In 2017 we started up a second store and last year through Covid we got offered to take on distribution of UppaBaby strollers. That was an incredible opportunity because they are the highest-selling stroller in their field in both America and Australia. They are globally a well-recognised brand, and distribution of these strollers has really taken our business to the next level. It was an amazing silver lining to an otherwise challenging Covid year.
How has your business been affected by Covid-19?
Our sales are 5 to 10 per cent better than what they were pre-Covid but things have changed. The stores are located in two mini-malls so we've always been a destination people will go past rather than actively people to come in-store to see. We would get a lot of traffic by default of being in a mall, but the climate changed when we had to shut down, we had to go online. Fortunately we had an online presence, and that became so much stronger.
When people did come back in to see us, the average spend became a lot higher. The customer count is down but people who do come in spend a lot more. We've noticed people value quality now over quantity. Covid wasn't as bad for us as we had predicted; we've managed to ride the wave.
How has the retail landscape changed compared to this time last year?
Covid-19 has cleaned up the industry. It made businesses refocus on what they were doing and why they were doing it. Sadly we lost some competition, but customers are still there and they are still buying. It takes the same effort to make a sale but now there are definitely less people to make a sale to. People are now used to doing a lot more research on their phones, and if they are coming into store they are generally coming in as a final step to purchase, having done all of their research online. Whereas previously, people would have started their research in-store and then finished it with a bit of online research.
What are your long-term plans?
We definitely want to make UppaBaby a household name throughout New Zealand. It has been here about three years. We want it to be as popular as it is in America and Australia. We want to keep bringing in premium quality products that people want and need rather than supply fast-fashion disposable goods. We want to keep doing what we're doing, keep staying ahead and keep evolving where we need to evolve.
What are you focused on right now?
Getting the right supply and demand mix, because supply is taking so much longer. Taking on the new UppaBaby arm of the business where we are distributing it throughout a lot of other businesses in New Zealand, it is difficult trying to work out the lead times, how much we're needing to pre-order in advance and figuring out how long the delay is going to take. Our immediate focus at the moment is how we are going to get supply. The current wait times are still around four to six weeks - the delays haven't improved at all.
What advice do you give to others who want to buy or start their own business?
Start where you feel comfortable - don't feel that you are failing by picking up [someone] else's business. If you feel comfortable by not starting at the very beginning then start somewhere else on the business' life cycle, such as taking over someone's existing business or start small. You don't have to change the world in a day.