Two-way communication; the real way to speak to your customers
In today’s fast-paced, round-the-clock retail marketplace, customers have so much choice. They can choose whether to shop in-store, online, through their mobile phone or on their laptop – and with so many international retailers now available in Australia at a click of a button, there’s a never-ending selection of brands, products and platforms consumers can shop from. One key challenge retailers face today is finding the right balance of sales channels for their products without losing control of their pricing, and in-turn the quality of their products.
Melanie McVean, co-founder of No Pong deodorant, knows this challenge all too well, having experienced it firsthand. As an online focused retailer, Melanie is conscious of making sure her wholesalers are not competing against each other and driving the price of the product down. Therefore, being able to maintain sustainable pricing in a world where customers have such a large selection of retailers and a wide range of shopping channels available to them is definitely a challenge that Melanie deals with every day.
Growing up in Canada, Melanie started her retail journey back in high school, working for the body, bath and skin care retailer, Crabtree & Evelyn, after school. Since then, Melanie mostly worked in the food service industry before completing her degree in Neuropsychology and then becoming a Registered Midwife.
Starting up No Pong with her husband Chris in 2015 was definitely a change of pace for Melanie but being committed to their product and their vision has definitely paid off. Learning from their previous start up, the couple focused on the customer side of things, ensuring No Pong communicated with their customers regularly to not only drive the brand forward, but succeed as a viable product.
“We’d put a lot of effort into building a platform on a previous start up but in hindsight didn’t do enough market testing, and it completely failed to get traction,” Melanie said.
“So, we learned the hard way that you’re not actually in business until you’re in business with someone.”
No Pong was created on a surfing trip in Java, where Chris, Melanie’s husband, had run out of his normal deodorant and used Melanie’s simpler version of No Pong (which she had been making for over a year) instead.
“He was wearing the same shirt three days in a row and didn’t smell,” Melanie said, “that’s when we knew we were on to something, and how No Pong was born.”
After putting out a message to their friends through Facebook about their latest invention, the couple instantly received 50 orders – sparking the notion that No Pong was not only a viable product but could potentially be a profitable venture.
“Over the next few weeks we started getting feedback from real customers, and they really loved the product. It was really then that we started to realise that we had something that might get some real traction.”
Soon after, Melanie and Chris launched No Pong in the Australian retail market with a simple website and a Facebook page. Although the product has evolved since then, these two remain their highest engagement sales channels today.
“I believe it’s important to listen to customer feedback, as your consumer’s opinions shape your business,” she said.
“The old adage that the customer is always right may not be always completely true, but customers are the life-blood of a retail business, and without them, you’re not actually in business at all.”
Being new to the industry, and not having an online community to turn to made it hard for Melanie to hit the ground running.
“It is really nerve-wracking starting up a new business, especially online. It would have been really helpful to have a community where you could get tips or ask other online retailers how they do things,” she said.
Having a strong sense of community and connecting with customers has certainly driven No Pong’s customer base as listening and learning from customer feedback is Melanie’s favourite part of this business.
This year, Melanie launched No Pong in Canada and plans to push this product into other international markets, broadening its reach and continuing its exponential growth.
“As the retail landscape is constantly changing, along with customers’ expectations, I believe as a business we need to evolve with it,” Melanie said.
“Ensuring a consistent consumer experience from ordering to shipping and any additional sales – customer service has been our priority.”
While launching in different retail markets can be tricky, Melanie believes sticking with their vision from the start has contributed to their success.
“While our approach to execution has definitely changed in response to customer feedback and learnings along the way, our overall vision has remained the same,” she said.
“We have a really clear vision of making extremely effective, affordable and convenient natural products, and this continues to be our priority and helps drive what we do and how we do it.”
For more information on Melanie and the passion behind the No Pong brand, look out for the Australian Retailers Association’s Women in Retail series or visit retail.org.au/womeninretail