A few months ago, moved by a desire to share a bit of the background of Cherieswood, I published a series of 3 articles explaining how the first few months of operation had gone and what was or was not working. Result: I had dozens of comments and emails with questions and requests after those articles, and thousands of visits.
Today I am coming back to talk about us at Cherieswood because we recently turned one year old! In September 2021 I was finishing working as a consultant in a large Italian consulting firm, and in October 2021 I was officially launching cherieswood.com!
Today I’m telling you about what I really learned from creating a brand like Cherieswood from scratch, bringing it online, and most importantly starting to deal with the world of products for kids and toddlers, a market I did know very little about. And then there’s launching an e-commerce and I could write pages and pages on that alone! Let’s get started!
Cherieswood turns one year old: how we got started 12 months ago
I have already explained on the website how the idea was born and then I also talked about it in the article a few months ago adding a bit of detail. Having an idea, coming up with the name (Cherieswood comes from the fact that my last name is Cerri and friends have nicknamed me Cheriè) and getting carried away by the excitement of “doing something of your own” is easy, and for quite a few weeks this exhilaration carried me to September 2021, when I realized that the time had come and the list of activities seemed endless!
How did we get started?
Designing toys is not easy (also because it is not really my background), so in the months leading up to October 2021 I often had many weekends to try and try again how to improve the design and production of the baby gym (as of October 2021 it was the only product for sale along with the Toy Box). My father helped me so much at this stage: as a great enthusiast he immersed himself heart and soul in cutting wood, designing some of the systems that we use even now for opening and closing the baby gym, and most of all he had the patience to experiment with me on dozens of prototypes, wood types, and colorations.
Manufacturing took away an important part (and still does) of our work to start Cherieswood. In fact, once we reached the right design, we had to figure out how to speed up the production process to get to producing more and more baby gyms – I talked about this in the second article published about the first few months, where I also provide some numbers about it. Having done all that, we were able to start producing the baby gyms with a standard process, using a set of tools that we had learned to use or that we had created ourselves (in order to speed up the process we needed to create as much as possible a kind of assembly line for the various pieces). The result was lots of boxes ready to be sold and especially lots of wooden components ready to be assembled to make new baby gyms.
In parallel, I had completed the six series of launch baby gyms charms for the newborn gyms: the idea I had was to match a story/fairy tale (hence the Goodnight Stories) to each series of charms and tie the series to a specific set of activities. This gave rise to the Adventure Series or the Space Series: each is meant to represent a passion or hobby of the parents that will ideally be passed on to their children. To make these series, I learned machine sewing over the previous months and experimented with a number of solutions such as making the wooden frame so that I could speed up the making of the charms. To this day, the process is still all manual, but I help myself by using a machine (it’s called Cricut) for cutting felt and making different shapes, and the time we need for that has definitely shortened!
Finally, the website: it was made by steps. Writing the copy was definitely the longest and most important part, not so much because of the amount of time required (huge!) but because I wanted to communicate a very specific message to our future customers: Cherieswood is a handcrafted brand, designed for people who want to give an important gift and appreciate quality materials and products. This led me to endless discussions with my partner about how much Cherieswood should present itself as a global brand, how much we should aim from the beginning to look big etc. In the end I think the end result is perfect: Cherieswood is an artisan brand, but we have the ambition to go big and global!
Una delle foto delle prime lavorazioni / sperimentazioni sul legno
Finally, the choice of where to start selling? Italy? World? We opted for a dual-language site, Italian and English, not easy to manage and with twice the effort to maintain it but to date I can say I am happy with this choice: even if our focus today is mainly the Italian market, we have made several sales in multiple countries abroad, including the US and Canada.
Laughing and joking then came October 21, the day cherieswood.com finally went online!
From first customers to challenges: making yourself known online and selling baby products
Since October 21, like everyone else, I have been glued to the screen several hours a day waiting for visits and orders. I knew it wouldn’t all happen right away, and it did. It took four weeks to see the first order, a lady from Bergamo who had decided to give a gift and simply found Cherieswood on Google by searching for a wooden baby gym. It was a very good sign, the kind that, when you become an entrepreneur, gives you a boost to make it to the next month. However, the world of children’s toys is huge, a global market with thousands of competing brands, so immediately scaling Cherieswood seemed difficult.
Una delle prime palestrine prodotte…e fotografate da un fotografo professionale!
As I explained in my article a few months ago, we worked on several fronts in order to start finding customers. Content marketing was our main focus and it’s all about writing content on target for our customers that explained our products and our industry, but we also started advertising on Google Adwords, Facebook and other channels. I tried moving into the physical world by attending a small fair at Christmas 2021, in my hometown, Piacenza: it didn’t work but probably more for a targeting reason than a channel reason, an experience I promised myself to do again.
A typical day at Cherieswood
Let’s get to the “fun” part, what do I actually do during the day?
The answer is so many different things! This is perhaps what I could hardly have imagined before starting this adventure. I find myself having to do anything and everything! And there’s no need to think that tomorrow will be better because that’s the beauty of building your own business: no day is the same as another…and there’s also usually always a new inconvenience to deal with. I am not an early riser but I usually finish late at night reading the latest emails and thinking about things for the next day. Below I try to give you a cross-section of my day by dividing it between the main activities.
Order management, customers and suppliers
Obviously, the part of order management, shipping and restocking is always the most important, and fortunately, the one that has been taking up the most of my time lately. In addition to having to deal with customer inquiries via email and social networks, it involves having to properly manage all the order management and their deadlines (we usually ship our product in 2-3 days at maximum, unless it has to be made from scratch, where we go up to 5 days), coordinating with these also the activity of producing necessary stock for the warehouse and especially restocking from suppliers. As we all know the last two years have been a challenge from this point of view and I have found myself several times having to look for new suppliers who had availability of certified material in a short time.
Marketing and channel management
While it remains something I understand quite well, I am quite lucky with this one. My partner knows about it and gives me tips on how to manage or what to do to make the brand known to as many people as possible. So here I am again managing in my week writing an article like this, posting on social media, and recently also interfacing with agencies that help us with advertising management, all requiring constant attention and work. Lately it happens from time to time that I am overwhelmed with multiple activities and so I slow down writing a blog or planning social but I still try to be consistent and carve out time each week.
This is, of course, one of the most critical parts for Cherieswood. For the past several months we have managed to get this aspect working really well, but of course as orders increase – especially in the last few months – we had to work on small changes in our process in order to continue to have sufficient stock in the warehouse. As mentioned before, production is often heavily influenced by suppliers: if we cannot get enough beech wood, of the quality we need, we have a very serious problem. Therefore, often some days are gone just looking for a supplier with standard delivery times because the main one had delivery delays. This also means that in recent months we have been working on managing a larger supplier list, which is not optimal because it requires more work but certainly a very useful guarantee for the business.
New product development and testing
The most fun part of my day! In addition to the baby gyms, busy board, and other wooden toys you find online, I am constantly looking for new products to produce – the ideas are many and time is short. I have a list of ideas and prototypes in development and choose every two or three months which one to focus on: before the summer we started working on the Wooden Book, which you can find online now. It is a complex product, where first I have to test the effectiveness with children and then move on to the production and testing phase. From materials to production there are really many iterations, and all of them take time. It is a continuous “trial and error” that leads me to disassemble and rethink the product several times before we can get to a first prototype. These months I am realizing that building a new product, and being able to bring them online, takes at least 3-4 months of work with my current workload – surely something to work on so that I can speed up both the testing and production parts.
New product development is key to growing Cherieswood, so the constant question is how to spend more time on that, along with the sales and customer management component.
Bureaucracy and business management
The least fun part of all of Cherieswood, as you can imagine. Despite being a small company for now, I find myself having to spend a few hours on these items at least every week. It may be a chat with the accountant or responding to a request from a specific entity, sometimes it’s having to think about invoicing and paying the many different taxes and fees related to the business. I am sure that as the business grows I will be able to handle this better and ideally delegate it more and more, but for now it remains a concrete aspect in my days and something I had partially underestimated.
What would I do differently 12 months later
An uncomfortable question that I want to share with all of you: knowing all that I know now about Cherieswood, what would I do differently? Lots of things but not all necessarily, I’m very happy with my first year as an entrepreneur because it was impossible for me to think I would be at this point a year ago. We have so many new clients every month (which I am really grateful to) and month after month everything has started to take shape. Of course there are and have been challenges.
These are some things I would do differently:
Marketing and focus: I would avoid trying a thousand channels and only focus on one. Content production is the most challenging part but also the most effective in the long run because it helps to rank on Google and allows a brand like Cherieswood to stand out within thousands of companies in the industry. At the same time, I would plan much earlier for an adequate marketing budget for Facebook/Adwords: these are time-consuming channels that are difficult to manage with budgets of a few hundred euros per month.
More planning in the first few months: especially on marketing activities, where having a clear idea of what you want to do is crucial to be able to execute everything quickly. In the first months we focused on many things but did not have the right consistency on all of them, a symptom that as I said in the point above, we should have had more focus and the courage to say no to some activities and channels. For example, we still have not been able to make Etsy work as well as it could and we have realized that it will not be a go-to channel for us in the short term.
Starting a relationship with offline toy stores: something we are still thinking about doing but could have started earlier in our history. It is definitely a different channel but it would not have taken months to start like the online sales channel and it would have definitely given remarkable feedback for the product. As mentioned, it remains on the to-do list.
Trying to sell in the U.S: This is a market we want to validate; we tried it as soon as we started, and it was simply too early. It remains our most ambitious goal, but for Cherieswood, without customers and without too much validation, it was too complex 7-8 months ago.
And what I would do the same way again 12 months later
There are so many things I have done that I am very proud of. If I was to start over today, these are the key points that I would absolutely keep and do the same way:
Investing in quality, from the product to the packaging: we did this from day one, even when it seemed really unnecessary not having customers ready to buy. However, the results were seen with the very customers who bought and suggested the product to others. Our gift packaging has changed three times in 12 months but always for the better: today the box in which you receive the baby gym is sturdy, elegant and perfect for our product. Sure, it weighs on the final margins, but the experience it gives is unique along with the handwritten card and cloth bags that enclose all the components of the infant gyms.
Telling the story of my business and sharing the behind the scenes: what we are also doing in this article and what I have been doing through social media in previous months. Building a new business is hard, people know that, and sharing it has made them part of how much work is behind Cherieswood. As I have said many times, I will continue to write and give you details of how the company works, for better or worse!
Investing in content and SEO: two critical and fundamental aspects. For months I have been working with an SEO consultant who has really helped me with positioning Cherieswood on Google, and we are starting to see the results almost a year after launch. It takes time and dedication, especially in the practical part of content creation, but it is worth it if you are thinking of launching a new product in the market.
What it means to stay close to customers: one of the things I’ve learned is that customers buy from people, not brands and stores. They want to understand the story behind a brand, the motivations of the founders, and what ideals drive those people. This is to say that one thing I would do again is certainly to talk openly about my journey, who I am and why I am building Cherieswood with such passion. It brought me closer to my first customers (who still often read our story before clicking “order”) and made them part of this journey, which they help with their purchases.
Approaching our products with a unique approach: you know, when you start something new you spend your days looking at your competitors. You compare your product with them and wonder if anyone will ever buy something that is different in your eyes. There are no products quite like our Sensory Panel in the market, yet when I launched it I thought that that educational, all wood-based approach could work, and our customers loved it. Now I’m trying to repeat the same challenge with the Wooden book.
Probably what I would do again most of all in general is to decide to devote myself to Cherieswood full time, although sometimes, I admit, I have sleepless nights. Many people have suggested that I keep my job and start Cherieswood in parallel, being assured of a fixed monthly income. The fact of the matter is that having to work only on Cherieswood allowed me to devote the minimum amount of time needed to start a business and at the same time spurred me to give it my all, due to the lack of a Plan B to rely on. It was not an easy decision because starting a new business not only exposed me to a lack of earnings for several months but more importantly I had to invest a lot of my savings in order to meet the necessary investments, from marketing to production.
If I had not chosen this path today I might have decent results (due to lack of time), such that I might not be convinced to make Cherieswood my business!
Future plans and challenges between now and the coming months
Scaling up production and increasing sales
Let’s start with the fact that as I write this article to you, we had our first “busy” month with many orders. It found us a bit unprepared though happy, and reminded us that we are not yet ready to have dozens and dozens of orders per week, so shortly the challenge is to scale up our production and the processes related to them. This is so that I can continue to devote myself to the other aspects of the business, starting with marketing and new product design.
The challenge in the coming months is also to continue to grow and “stabilize” our monthly sales, so that there is some consistency in the number of orders and allows us to make larger investments in both the marketing component and the rest of the business.
Scaling up our business allows us to invest in new product lines.
Keep working on our brand and content
Part of our strategy starts with creating valuable content for our customers. Over the next 12 months, we want to experiment with new information approaches that will help parents in the early months with ideas and solutions and bring our brand closer to them.
New products and markets
The second goal is to continue to round out our product line. Although Cherieswood now buys a range from 0 to 48 months, I have many ideas for wooden toys that can cover an even wider range and respond to our customers who are now looking for something for their older babies. There are other brands working in this direction, but I think being able to maintain our approach to upcoming products could give us some very good satisfaction.
Finally, getting out of the country. cherieswood.com was born in English, my ambition is to bring our products to the U.S. and I think the next 12 months will see the first experiments for that market. We will start small and from there as always we will try to understand what is expected overseas from this product.
Thank you to all of you, customers and friends of Cherieswood!
Finally, as I blow out the candles on Cherieswood’s first birthday, I would like to thank all the customers who have believed in us over the past 12 months! You have been many, many more than I would have imagined. And then the friends and relatives who have supported this business by choosing us for a gift and so the thousands of people who continue to read me on these pages every day! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!