Lessons Learned: Stylish Maternity Wear Sells

Like many working women yet to become moms, Tania Tan was blissfully unaware how unfashionable and costly maternity clothing might be.

Tan was raised in Sydney, Australia by her father and Singaporean mother, and her grandfather was a retail entrepreneur.

“He came to Australia from the 1950s knocking on the doors of the large retailers such as David Jones and Grace Bros (currently Myers) to buy his goods. I feel it was very tricky for him,” Tan explained.

She studied graphic design at Hornsby College and, after graduating, worked on different publications in the U.K. and Australia, including Famous, a gossip magazine, before proceeding into the Pacific Magazines’ marketing department.

Tania Tan

She had her first baby in 2008 in Sydney and, after maternity leave, returned to work.

“When I became pregnant with my second baby in March 2010 I could not find affordable, trendy maternity work wear whilst everyone was dressed to the nines. I didn’t need wear dresses that made me feel like a frumpy mother who suddenly looked 20 years old,” Tan explained.

Additionally, they were pricey.

“An entire work wardrobe for those few months could have easily cost well over $1,000,” Tan explained.

Consistently with a fascination with fashion, Tan had taught herself to sew her own clothes since she was 12 years old.

After exploring the maternity wear market during mid-2010, Tan decided to set up her own clothing manufacturer — Eve of Eden — to market online, together with her husband Rob as the site programmer.

“This was my first foray into company and we started mid-December 2010, two weeks before I gave birth to my son,” Tan explained.

MaternitySale.com.au started in January 2011, instantly achieving monthly net sales of approximately A$3,000, which have risen to about A$40,000 a month as of November 2013.

Shopping Cart and Order Management

After some study, the Tans chose to use the free, open source osCommerce shopping cart system.

Aside from being liberated, they enjoyed the add-ons, like the delivery modules and picture zoom add-ons that was made by the osCommerce community.

“But it has a couple of U.S.-specific bugs, like the delivery module, so unless you’ve got a developer on tap like I do, it might be costly making these add-ons work inside your ecommerce installment,” Tan explained.

Order management is controlled by the osCommerce backend.

“We finally have a couple brick-and-mortar retailers that are selling our clothing range and we utilize the osCommerce backend to track inventory,” Tan explained.

Web Design

Tan designed Maternity Sale’s site and is always tweaking and split-testing it. She has made two key design updates so far.

“We discovered that making cosmetic changes to backgrounds resulted in a slightly higher conversion rate and higher average spend per customer. When we offered free shipping, we flagged this in a large bubble on each page,” Tan explained.

Credit Card Payments

ANZ, an Australian bank, procedures Maternity Sale’s credit card payments.

“It certainly pays to shop around and negotiate if possible, and I would definitely encourage other retailers to incorporate PayPal. Some customers are burnt previously by credit card fraud and believe that PayPal is more secure,” Tan explained.

Hosting

Digital Pacific hosts Maternity Sale, which Tan stated has been cost-effective at $14.90 per month and provided excellent support when required.

Employees

Tan hired her initial part-timer in December 2011 to help process orders, refunds, and warehouse re-stocking for four hours per week to start with and has since hired a second worker.

“As we operate Maternity Sale from our home office, we prefer to employ somebody who’s suggested to us as they’re often around our kids,” Tan explained.

Search Engine Optimization

Like most online retailers, Tan has attempted several search engine optimization companies and has found it hard to find one that’s sustainable and ethical.

“Before Google introduced its Penguin and Panda upgrades, we’d worked our way to number one for a number of the significant search terms,” Tan explained.

However, Google shortly penalized Maternity Sale for a few of the suspicious backlinks obtained through SEO companies, making their positions sink.

The Tans have started a brand-new contract with an Australian firm that they hope will enhance the site’s organic position during the next year.

“We really have to bring our advertising costs down, which raised 100-fold after we arrived off our high Google rankings,” Tan explained.

The Tans learned the hard way that they should always interview SEO companies carefully and ask for several references from long-term customers.

Shipping

Tan uses Australia Post, and sometimes other couriers, for transport.

“It is hard getting cheap shipping in Australia because it is such a huge country; we offer free delivery Australia-wide,” Tan explained.

Maternity Sale home page.

Product Sourcing

While she shares international brands’ maternity bras, which are too complicated to create, Tan designs roughly 100 product lines for Maternity Sale’s own brand, which offers the Tans with an adequate mark-up on their merchandise. The clothes are produced in China, from Tan’s layouts.

“Many brands did not have the look we wanted or were too costly,” Tan explained.

Tan keenly watches abroad fashion styles, and waits nine months from sending her designs to her production representative in China to receipt of goods.

Tan clearly enjoys designing her company’s maternity wear.

“When I am in the photo shoot and the clothes look so great on our models, I’m really happy with what I have achieved. But, production concerns can often keep me awake at night.”

Accounting

Tan records costs through Excel but is contemplating having a hosted accounting system, for example Xero.

“We’re still in the phase of assessing ease of use versus costs,” Tan explained.

Social Media

Tan focuses solely on Facebook, where she strives to add interesting information regarding pregnancy, infants, and children, instead of”flog product at every opportunity.”

Pressed for time, she does not use Twitter, and somewhat surprisingly for an image-heavy fashion site, does not keep a Pinterest board.

Tan outsourced Maternity Sale’s Facebook content temporarily in 2012 but the material was not right for her viewers.

“I enjoy being connected to our customers and getting their feedback. Individuals are often eager to find out about discounts and calling me about new products that I’ve posted,” Tan explained.

Expenses

The Tans have three key expenses: manufacturing, advertising and transport.

Tan had to pay cash up front to fulfill the minimum purchase quantities of manufacturing in China and, like other retailers, has arranged surplus inventory of styles, which do not sell well. With inflation rising at close to 10 percent in China, she said it has not been easy.

“Our advertising costs will need to be reined in but that is a matter of waiting for our positions to alter in Google,” Tan explained.

“We are still in a very young stage of our company so we’re still putting all of the money it brings back into the business,” Tan explained.

Customer Service

Tan believes that online retailers need to take the view that the clients are always perfect.

“Pregnant women can get upset more easily, so it is a fantastic idea to be as accommodating as possible. We often get calls asking for information on sizing and it is worthwhile spending the time trying to find the most acceptable clothing for the client,” Tan explained.

She’s contemplating adding a live chat support to her site.

Biggest Mistakes

Among the Tans’ biggest mistakes was to prepare the business as a trust, as signaled by their initial accountant.

“We made a large reduction during our initial year; losses from a trust are not transferable from year to year so that was lots of money down the drain,” Tan explained.

They’ve swapped to a corporate structure as recommended by their current accountancy firm, F H Lim & Co..

Biggest Successes

Tan enjoys the daily comments from her clients how much they like her maternity wear.

“We have also begun selling our range to stalls in Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, which was something that I never foresaw happening. I began having firms contacting me to market goods, which got me thinking that there was a marketplace out there,” Tan explained.

She’d tried using sales representatives but has not found them to be as successful as coping with her clients.

“A friend who is in business growth verified that the best people to boost business would be the owners, since they are the people who are the most enthusiastic and understand their merchandise inside-out,” Tan explained.