The business of selling baby products online

Makena Bukusi

What you need to know:

  • Most physical shops close at around the same time you go home from work, not to mention the hassle of looking for parking if you have to go to town.
  • It is very satisfying when parents give us feedback about how we have made their lives easier.

Why an online shop? What triggered this? came about after I identified a gap in the baby shopping industry when I was expecting our first child. Shopping for babies in Kenya can be really tough.

Parents had two choices; go to a physical shop or shop via social media. Most physical shops close at around the same time you go home from work, not to mention the hassle of looking for parking if you have to go to town.

As for Facebook and Instagram shops, the platforms are really not built for shopping, searchability, checkout process, among others. You can’t just log in, place an order and have it delivered.

You always see people online complaining about “DM for prices” — the effectiveness of the shop boils down to how responsive the person on the other side is. We thus felt that a website would be way more convenient.

How possible was it to get to where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?

It has been a lot of hard work. James, my co-founder, has been the biggest blessing — his strengths in business happen to be my weaknesses and vice versa, so we complement each other perfectly. We have also been blessed with wonderful teammates who pour their hearts and souls into the business.

What has been the role of luck in your success?

I am a very lucky person. There are things that have happened and people I have met that I can only attribute to luck. That said, I believe luck favours the brave. You have to be brave enough to take action when serendipity comes along.

For how long have you been in the business and what were you doing before?

Mother and Baby Shop will be turning three this year. Before starting this business, I was a photographer. I had a baby photography studio.

What has been your motivational factor?
I am motivated by the feeling of accomplishment that comes with having happy customers. It is very satisfying when parents give us feedback about how we have made their lives easier.

Is this really what you wanted to do when you were growing up?
E-commerce didn’t exist when I was growing up. However, I always wanted to do business. I thought I would run a business in the creative sector, so it’s not too far-off.

Is it easy or difficult to run an online business?
Being a pioneer online baby shop, we are charting a path where others haven’t been before, so that has its own unique set of challenges. On one hand, online business is just like any other business — the same problems keep us awake at night. On the other hand, we have the advantage of serving customers 24/7 regardless of their location, so it feels good to receive orders past midnight or from a place so far away from Nairobi we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to serve without opening branches all over the country.

Who are your clients?
We cater to parents. Part of our clientele also comes from people buying gifts for mothers or for baby showers.

What is this one change that you have always aspired to have in online business?
Many international manufacturers don’t sell in the African market yet African parents, like any other parent the world over, want to give their children the best they can. We want to be the bridge in giving parents convenient access to the widest variety of genuine brands.

We also want to give a platform to connect parents to home-grown brands with innovative solutions for the local context.

What would be your turning point given a chance?

I wouldn’t change a thing. There have been moments when it felt like the end of the world, but each failure has taught me something that has been the stepping stone to the next level.

What are you most proud of?
The website. People always ask who built our site and if I could build one for them. It was a labour of love. I am always working on it, it is far from finished, as far as I’m concerned.

Take us through your journey. How did you start? Where did you get the first products?

We didn’t aim to start the business … we randomly stumbled on the opportunity. I was pregnant, and we were shopping for baby products. We would see some items on amazon that we couldn’t find locally, so we bought some for ourselves and a few extras. My husband opened a Facebook page and before we knew it, we had sold all the extras. We brought in more items from amazon and other websites, and sold them all. It is then that we realised there was an opportunity. We gathered insight from the parents we knew and decided to start a website.

I had some experience building websites from when I was in photography (from templates, I am not a developer) so I built one and things slowly started taking shape. Before long it had outgrown our house into its own office, then slowly to what it is today.

What has been your greatest challenge?
Logistics. We are constantly trying to see how to bring down the cost of importing goods, and that of getting our products to customers.

What products do you sell and where do you source them from?
We sell a wide range of pregnancy-related and baby products such as feeding items, breast pumps, baby furniture, monitors and many more. We don’t sell knock-offs or imitations.

We are constantly increasing our variety — our goal is to have everything a parent needs from the moment they start trying to conceive to their baby’s fifth birthday. We source our products from a combination of local and international distributors, as well as directly from manufacturers. We also sell a lot of Kenyan brands. There are very many Kenyan parents producing goods to close gaps identified from their own parenting experiences.

What is your day like?
I see my son off to school, head to the office, respond to e-mails then hold meetings. I like to work without any distractions, so I stay on late when everyone leaves to do work that requires concentration, like going through financials and analytics or making changes on the website. When I go home, I play with my son, put him to bed, have dinner with my husband then depending on what I have pending, I either continue working or call it a day.

What do you enjoy doing?
I love dancing. I take a class in Latin dance. I also enjoy reading and spending time with my family and friends.

What are you currently reading?
Talking to strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, it’s a fantastic book. I have also just started How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Andrea Owen.

Where do you want to be in five years?
In five years, I see Mother Baby Shop expanding beyond Kenya. I would also like to build a community around raising wholehearted — not perfect — children.

What mantra do you live by?

Just Do It. Do it especially when you’re in doubt or afraid, do it for the fun of it.