The corporate-turned-entrepreneur model is hardly a new pattern these days. But Alma Rusu (42) and Ioana Paun (37) were not necessarily trying to follow a pattern when they quit their corporate careers. Their venture into entrepreneurship led them to start MioBio, the first multi-brand organic beauty shop in Romania which, in the four years since its inception, has been on a continuous upward trend.
Alma Rusu’s entrepreneurial journey started off with a sabbatical. At 38, being an employee seemed to no longer fit in the picture of where she saw her life heading, so she took a break from her job and put a few options on the table. Entrepreneurship was one of them.
Ioana Paun, her friend and ex-colleague, had, too, been tossing around the idea of starting her own business. So, when they finally decided to choose this road, their approach was so overtly personal that they keyed-in on the feel-good factor before delving into market prospecting and business strategies.
“We wanted a business we could feel good about,” says Ioana. “It was important for us to build a business around something we loved and to have a place we really liked coming to every day. Our initial idea was to open a book store, but that was quickly replaced by the prospect of having our own bio-beauty shop.”
Growing a niche
The market segment of organic beauty products had not been fully explored in Romania at the time, so there was clearly a market opportunity. And, since that requireddoing a fair degree of counseling and educating the customers about the benefits of going green with their beauty routine, the implications were substantial: they were not only operating on a local niche, they were, in fact, helping it grow. And that’s where Alma saw a great business potential: not just to sell but to connect with their customers:
“We like the idea of talking to our clients, of telling them about our products and educating them on their benefits. It took us about a year to launch, as we wanted to be fully prepared. So we did plenty of research and went to trainings that were organised by some of our suppliers in Austria and Germany. That’s how we learnt a lot of things about product manufacturing – from choosing and harvesting the right ingredients to transforming them into end-products. For example, when we visited Weleda, we had the chance to see their bio-dynamic crops in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, which they have been harvesting since 1922.”
Ioana admits that the niche itself is on a global upward trend, and that has proven timely and beneficial to their business. Their initial investment of 40.000 euros brought in profit from year one.
The MioBio store in downtown Bucharest. Credit: MioBioOperationally, the business is now structured into three main avenues of income: front-store, distribution and e-commerce. Although initially the focus was on brand-building, their attention and efforts are now divided equally among all three: recently, they opened a second store in downtown Bucharest; their distribution channel has now reached 70 buyers nationwide; and their online store has seen a great operational increase in the past six months, making them re-think their online strategy to better suit the increase in demand.
Bridging a gap towards consolidating a new niche, one would expect a certain degree of risk-taking to make things somewhat difficult but, looking back, Alma says that, in fact, it was not a bumpy ride at all: “Everything went smoothly. We were prepared and, on the plus side, had a lot of our friends’ support. They were there every step of the way – from helping us come up with the name, to designing our logo and spreading the word about our shop. We really felt their support.”
She admits the media, too, had been open and credits this not to the marketing strategies and PR efforts, but in fact to the quality of their products which, by their own admission, are pivotal to the overall strategy. For some of them they hold exclusive distribution rights, for others they don’t, but loved them so much that they simply had to have them in their shops. In time, they’ve seen a steady growth from showcasing a mix of eight brands to currently more than 20, and there is a healthy volume/value balance.
Switching off the “9-to-5”
As with most entrepreneurs, especially those who previously took the corporate detour, the change in lifestyle is part of the package. For Alma and Ioana, the workday starts before opening the shops and sometimes goes beyond closing time, but they never complain about working hours. The inevitable parallel to corporate life predictably touches on time management issue: “The workload is not necessarily lighter, but self-management gives you better control of your time,” says Ioana. And, among the perks of entrepreneurship, she tells me, is the fact that she gets to be more present in her children’s lives, and that’s not something any working mother can take lightly.
MioBio co-founder Ioana Paun. Credit: MioBioAside from this new-found freedom, there’s the obvious give-and-take that goes on with any team. With this particular team, it’s obvious that their communication synergy is what keeps things moving and why Alma says, without an ounce of doubt: “The business would absolutely not function were it not for both of our inputs. There’s obviously a different type of pressure than that of working in a corporation, but our vantage point is that we complete each other and it’s this that makes our team work.”
Having entered a niche that requires strong advocacy for sustainability is nothing short of brave. Part of the well-recognised global movement of “going green”, choosing beauty products that support this lifestyle is one step further down the eco-trend line, along with recycling your plastic bottles and eating whole-foods from local organic farms. But, according to Ioana, it’s hard to tell if their customer base is made up of eco-minded people who choose to use exclusively organic products. But, admittedly, she does recognise a certain trend: “We see a lot of new moms who buy organic baby products because of their high degree of purity and safety, who then end up choosing to use these products themselves. A lot of our customers have become regular users of our brands due to this sort of conversion.”
Putting quality first
Quality of products as well as location and customer relations are key for MioBio. Credit: MioBioAccording to Alma, there was never any truly difficult time in the day-to-day management of the business: “We’ve had certain situations when a few business partners did not stand up to their part of the deal, but those were rather isolated cases and only led us to make small adjustments to our policy. But the business has been running a pretty flawless course since its inception. None of the things we do is, in fact, hard.” While Ioana adds: “We may have the odd syncope in cash-flow when we’re dealing with large transactions, but those can be managed.”
With an annual turnover of 180.000 euros, the business has been, by their own admission, a success from the get-go. Not necessarily ruling out luck, they do credit an array of factors: the upward market trend, their synergistic collaboration and even their friends’ support, but it certainly must be about more than that. Alma feels the need to clarify: “All these things are important, but what’s also crucial is paying attention to the quality of everything we do – from product, to location, to finances and customer relationship. We go to great lengths to abide by the quality rule.”