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How this couple grew a pushcart biz into a maternity brand sold in 200+ stores across M’sia

[Written in partnership with Supernewsroom, but the editorial team had full control over the content.]

As graduates from the University of Hertfordshire, UK, Eaugene (Eau) and Fion began careers in a Japanese electronic MNC and a Singaporean jewellery company respectively.

But following grievances in finding nice, affordable shapewear upon Fion’s journey into motherhood, the couple left their jobs to start their own business. In 2010, they launched a pushcart business in malls selling shapewear products, which was mass market-friendly.

Later, they pivoted their business to sell products that were more niche, addressing the needs of women looking for maternity and nursing wear. This came after experiencing a sales drop in their shapewear business due to the growing e-commerce trend and their brand’s lack of new product introduction.

The shift also came in tandem with Fion’s personal need for more affordable maternity and nursing products while pregnant with her third child, who she wanted to exclusively breastfeed.

The pivot paid off, according to Eau and Fion. Between 2017 and 2021, their maternity and nursing brand, Shapee, reached profitability with a compounding annual growth rate (CAGR) of 41.4%. 

Modern solutions for modern mums

From our observations, many maternity brands in the market seem to be aimed at baby products, but not so much at ones to help mothers. In a way, it almost feels like postpartum mother-care is slightly more neglected. 

Even existing maternity brands appear more focused on fashionable maternity clothing, but not on items like postpartum panties, milk storage bags, lactation-helping products, and more. 

Eau agreed, adding that there is no clear market leader in this space. 

“That’s why it is our opportunity to grab the leading position. ‘90s and ‘00s mothers are different from ‘70s and ‘80s mothers,” Eau stated. Namely, they place value on items that are both functional and aesthetic, two criteria that Shapee believes it can fulfill.

Nursing bras can look aesthetic while being functional too / Image Credit: Shapee

Maintaining the lead

The maternity and nursing market in Malaysia has definitely grown over the past decade. This can be seen with the launch of brands like Jae Ko Designs offering classy yet functional diaper bags, and more competitors to Shapee for nursing wear with brands like Boss Mama.

When asked if this competition concerned Eau, he replied that based on historical data, the global baby and mother-care market was forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 6.52% between 2016 and 2021. Compare this to Shapee’s own CAGR of 41.4% within a similar time period, and he’s confident they can stay on this growth trend.

“Moving forward, the same market will continue to maintain a single-digit CAGR, and Shapee’s revenue will definitely beat the market benchmark with double-digit CAGR in the next 5 years,” added Eau.

But simply keeping an eye on their competitors and introducing new products might not be enough to keep Shapee ahead, so the team is trying to do more.

A resourceful place to find parenting guidance / Image Credit: Shapee

Other than focusing on nursing wear, they aim to offer an end-to-end solution by providing a digital learning platform to parents too.

Called Parenting Circle, it will have blogs and articles on pregnancy and childcare along with a directory of maternity and baby-related services and information. It is also linked to a motherhood community on Facebook called SuperMom. 

“We want to empower and educate women on the importance of breastfeeding and our goal is to reach 10 million [people]. It is a journey we want to take with mothers so that the next generation receives the best possible start that nature intended,” Eau shared.

Persistence and passion is key

Shapee has grown from a pushcart business to a nationwide one with a multichannel market presence via e-commerce and over 200 retail stores.

Editor’s Update: Information in the above paragraph has been edited to reflect greater accuracy of statement.

There were no doubt growing pains in the past 10 years but the business still being up and running today must mean the founders found solutions.

The product that kicked it all off / Image Credit: Shapee

There were 3 main challenges Eau recalled. First, they faced tight cashflow issues while expanding the business as they couldn’t access bank facilities, being an early-stage (less than 3 years old) company.

Aside from bootstrapping, other methods that helped them through this were optimising their operational efficiency, monitoring their inventory turnover, customer payment terms, and later, building a close relationship with banks.

Though the pivot was the turning point in their growth, Eau noted that B2B customer acceptance was extremely low in the early days due to being a new brand.

Their products were listed on a consignment basis first, and it took 3-6 months for Shapee to prove its sales and clinch an outright purchase model with B2B customers. Finally, they could get immediate returns.

To achieve the above, Eau and Fion focused on brand building, marketing, and ensuring product quality as well as customer service satisfaction.

For a company like Shapee, a lack of new product introduction can also negatively impact the business. Thus, the team is continuously looking for ways to create a total maternity and nursing product solution.

“One thing to remember about entrepreneurship is that failure is not the end of everything, but the chance at a new beginning. Failure is just another lesson putting you back on the path to success,” Eau concluded.

Funding for growth

Over the past decade of growing the business, Shapee has been fully bootstrapped. Now, the company is looking to raise between RM500,000 and RM1.5 million through an equity crowdfunding (ECF) campaign that will go live in January 2022.

Investors who come on board will gain ordinary shares at RM9 each in the company. Funding will be used for Shapee’s expansion plans to capture a wider market share locally in the near future, and to eventually tap into regional markets.

Did you know: Ordinary shares (also called common shares) of stock represent proportional ownership of a company.

Investopedia

The team’s first order of business will be to increase the company’s sales in the upcoming year, and their expansion into multiple AEON stores in January 2022 will aid in this plan.

To date, Shapee has brought in RM2.57 million in revenue in FY21, over the RM1.7 million generated in its preceding year. 

“The market potential both in Malaysia and regionally is exciting, with our target markets of Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines having a birth rate of between 1.5 and 2.5,” Eau said.

  • Learn more about Shapee here.
  • Read about other Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.

Featured Image Credit: Fion Tan, Chief Operating Officer, and Eaugene Eau, Founder and Managing Director of Shapee

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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