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PODCAST - Peggy and Finn

podcast peggy and finn stories behind the gifts

Welcome to the I Still Call Australia Home podcast - your fortnightly dose of inspiration and joy sparked by the wild splendour of Australia. To see an overview of all podcasts, click here; otherwise sit back, relax, and enjoy the episode below🥰. 


ISCAH Podcast Episode 2 - Australian Business COVID Survival Story - Peggy and Finn

podcast peggy and finn covid survival business story australia
The Peggy and Finn team hard at work - from left to right - Olly Parsons, Jarrod Craven, and Steph Parsons. Click on the image or here to see Peggy and Finn's products. 

 

Have you ever wondered what it's REALLY like to own your own business?

As any business owner will tell you, it's not all unicorns and rainbows.

In this episode, discover how Olly Parsons, CEO and co-founder of Peggy and Finn, survived and thrived during COVID while completely losing his main customer base - the wedding market.

Wow! Imagine!

This episode demonstrates the difference a special combination of ingenuity, guts and hard work can make.

Check out the episode by clicking your favourite podcast player below, or click on the green play button below to listen straight away via your computer or phone.

Alternatively, we've transcribed the shownotes for you below. Scroll down if you'd like to read the full interview.

 

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Shownotes 

Felicia: Welcome Olly to the I Still call Australia Home podcast. Great to have you here today.

Olly: Thanks for having me.

Felicia: For those listeners who don't know you, can you introduce Peggy and Finn and tell us a little bit about yourself and your company?

Olly:  Yeah, sure. So Peggy and Finn is a lifestyle accessories brand. So we focus on using original design prints for our products, which are designed by Australian artists. So we have a range of products, ties, bow ties, pocket squares, socks and underwear. And I'm the CEO and co-founder of Peggy and Finn.

Felicia: Fantastic. So, how long have you been in business?

Olly:   Yeah, so it started back in December, 2014. So it's been about six years now – a little while.

Felicia: Cool…. and what made you decide to start the business?

Olly: It started December 2014 and me and my wife actually Steph, where we got married back in March, 2014, and we were really struggling to find something for our wedding for me to wear that sort of represented my style. So I didn't sorta like the traditional polka dot ties and bow ties. And after, after traveling overseas the year prior, we saw some wooden bow ties and we thought that could be a cool idea for the wedding. So, fortunately Jared, my best man who is very handy on the tools, made a few up with Australian hardwood timber. So, that's kind of where the business idea started from there and got some good feedback at the wedding and we thought maybe we could probably sell a few of these. So that's kind of where it started.

Felicia:

Fantastic. And, have you still got those wooden by ties in your range today?

Olly: Yes, we do. We definitely do. We have expanded, obviously bow ties are quite a niche market, so our customers have told us that yes, they do like the wooden bow ties, but it isn't for everyone. So we have expanded our range to be a bit more inclusive.

Felicia:

Fantastic. And where does the name Peggy and Finn is that come from?

Olly:

Yeah. So it's a little bit of a long story…. I've always sort of wanted to start my own business and family sort of comes from a long range of self-employed businesses. So me and Jared were sort of having a chat a while back and he had just got back from Europe actually. And he saw a lot of people on cruiser bicycles, like the 1930s style bicycle.

And he thought, why don't we just import a couple of those and start our own range and have bicycles and have a male and a female range. And, um, are when we got the bicycles in, we're like, Oh, what's a popular name in the 1930s?  So I think we had a couple of hours one night just going through the top 10 days of the 1930s for men and women. And we kind of found that name, Peggy and Finn. And we thought that that would work. But, uh, once we got the bicycle here and we couldn't actually ride the bicycle because it was that terrible thought, maybe this was a little bit difficult, so we kind of parked that idea and when this other business idea came up, we thought that name kind of suited it as well.

Felicia:

Fantastic. Great. So what I know about Peggy and Finn, besides your fantastic products and anyone looking for lifestyle accessories, you’re the place to go…. But what I notice specifically about your business, because we've known each other a while now is how before COVID last year, your products were really popular with people about to have a wedding.

Can you help us understand just sort of customer base before COVID and how, who you sold to and what was appealing to them?

Olly:

Yeah, sure. I think, like I said, when we started, we had wooden bow ties and then we started doing some cufflinks and tie bars and our customers were asking us, you need to do a range of ties so that we can see what the tie bar looks like on our tie. So we kind of expanded down that path and we really wanted to create products that are complimentary and we were focused really solely on that wedding market. So yeah, pre COVID, like, yeah, the majority of our sales and business were coming from weddings and events and things like that. So we focus on having products that match. So we've got like your tie, pocket square and socks that have the same print, which we thought was something quite unique to the market and yeah, that was kind of our customer base pre COVID

Felicia:

Makes a lot of sense. So do you remember where you were? What happened when COVID hit, you know, there's no weddings. Do you remember what, where you were when you got all the announcements of lockdowns and realizing weddings were not a thing of the, you know, weddings weren't going to happen and were not allowed for some people?

Olly:

Yeah. I mean, the news was coming in pretty thick and fast when we first heard like, Oh, this is sort of bad. And you know, every day or pretty much every day that went by, we're like, Oh, this is kind of a little bit worse than we thought. But I think the point when it was announced that it was going to be, or it was a pandemic was where it really hit home, that this was serious. And for us, with those announcements that there was no weddings and we had customers getting married the next weekend, ringing us up saying, Oh, you bought what I do. Like, can I return this stuff? And things like that. So it sort of hit home pretty quickly. And, um, yeah, that was probably the point that we thought, Oh, we've got to, we've got to really hold on here and how long this is going to go for, we weren't sure. And like a lot of other businesses where we had to think of different ways that we could sort of pivot from that wedding business side of things.

Felicia:

That's that makes sense. And I think for the listeners who don't know you are actually based in Victoria, even though you're just outside of Melbourne, you would have been impacted by all those lockdowns in Victoria, particularly.

Olly:

Yeah, for sure. I think like the first lockdown was probably a bit more Australia wide, but that second lockdown being an hour and a half from Melbourne with a lot of stockists in Melbourne as well that had to close their doors. That, that really hit home how serious it was. And, I think after we got, after the first lockdown, we thought that we might've been on the home straight, but that, that second lockdown definitely hit us in the face for sure.

Felicia:

And then how long did you think it was going to last, when it first hit you?

Olly:

Yeah, probably the first sort of stage we're thinking 12 months…. And then we'll kind of like, ah, if, if it's longer than 12 months, this is going to be really challenging for us to survive, I suppose. So that's kind of what we, we sorta earmarked. If it'd be 12 months, but, um, yeah, it was one of those things. Was this big unknown, I suppose.

Felicia:

Yeah. Well, I know that you responded, it's easy to look back in businesses in hindsight and say how well you did, but when you're operating, how did you respond to the changing environment?

Olly:

Yeah. So I think like there's a couple of days after that pandemic where we had zero sale days and that was pretty heartbreaking to say with all the momentum that we sort of had up leading up to COVID, um, academic. So yeah, how we pivoted, I suppose from that point was that we really looked at our business model and said, Oh, there's no weddings or other events… but we were fortunate that we brought a couple of other products into a range six months prior with men's underwear and socks. And we thought that these items are more essential type items.
So we changed our focus into creating a sort of current video content to promote our underwear and socks. Things like, I think we did a video where we did the daily commute. So it was leaving your bedroom and skateboarding down the hallway, just with your pair of undies and socks into your desks working from home. So we try to keep relevant where we could, and definitely, it wasn't an easy transition to be honest, but within like probably two or three months, we started to get some traction and in the lead up to father's day, we really turned a corner, I suppose, for father's day.

Felicia

Yeah. That's fantastic. Any other new products that you introduced?

Olly:

Yeah, so we were getting asked by our customers a lot, particularly around the second lockdown where the rules around face masks changed and became mandatory for us to produce a range of face masks with our designs on it. I think our customers were saying that they were a bit sick of wearing disposable masks or a mask with no print on it. So we were a little bit sort of reluctant to sort of go down that, that path, especially at the start…  we didn't want to be seen as profiteering from the pandemic, I suppose; but the feedback we sorta got leading up into that second lockdown was just too much to ignore. So, we had my wife's parents sewing face masks for us initially. And I think when we'd launched them around August, we sold about 300 in 24 hours. So, which was great, cause it was, it was something that we weren't overly confident with, but, to have, you know, our mask made in Australia and, you know, quick to market and things like that was something we were proud of.

Felicia:

Definitely. It's fantastic. And you continue those masks in your range now, is that something you're going to keep keeping?

Olly:

So we, we went a little bit harder, I suppose, with the face masks we made them locally to start with. And then, we ended up purchasing a three and a half thousand from our manufacturer overseas and um, yeah, we, ended up going through until about February this year [2021]and then we sort of made the decision that we were going to put the face masks on hold and, and concentrate back on some other parts of our business that we could see an uplift in since then.

Felicia:

Yeah, that sounds sensible. That's like a good decision. Yes. That's fantastic decisions given the stress of the pandemic that can have on your business and all the changes. That's easy to say in hindsight, of course you'd order three and a half thousand last in last year, you know, but actually people, like you said, were thinking it would be over, so

Olly:

That's right. And, and like we did, as soon as our face masks sold out we did get quite a few customers asking us for them again. And then I think, was it Brisbane that went into a lockdown? Um, yeah. And no one had a mask and we had our wholesalers ringing us, please, please, please. And we just didn't have any left and the time it takes us sort of get them to market, it was just not going to be viable for us, but yeah. Who knows how long we may or may not need mass.

Felicia:

Yeah. Who knows? Yeah. Hindsight will say what a good decision that was. And so I like how much of a risk, because what you're doing is changing your whole business model…like how much of a risk did you feel or perceived that you were making in your business model changes at the time? Was it quite scary or confident or what were you feeling?

Olly:

Yeah, it was definitely scary. Like, we probably had a good thing going, I suppose, and we didn't really want to deviate too much from that, but, we didn't really have a choice. Our hand was forced, whereas no events, no work, no wedding. So it was definitely a risk. But, we try to mitigate those recess ways where we could, like, we knew that early on in March, April [2020] that people weren't in that sort of buying sort of state of mind and understandably so. So we thought if we can create relevant content and we know that people had a bit more sort of time on their hands, that we can create relevant content that people have the time to consume, hopefully that will sort of, you know, get our name out there for when the market sort of changed and people were ready to buy. So, yeah, I suppose we weren't overly confident with the risk we're taking, but we didn't really have a choice and we had to take some risks. So we did it anyway,

Felicia:

‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’. And then in terms of, you know, you were very good at your marketing, and obviously that was all targeted towards people getting married and all your photography. And I know you talked earlier about making new video content for the daily commute, but it was frustrating having to learn and find it, find that new market in terms of your advertising strategy.

Olly:

Well, I think initially it wasn't like we, we spent a lot of time creating relevant content and we didn't get the reward for that content, I suppose initially. So, it did feel like we were kind of banging our head against a brick wall a little bit to start with, but, sort of looking back now, it kind of forced us to learn how to sell some of our products that we probably didn't know how to. So yeah, when we look back at it now, I would say that, you know, the, the wedding business was sort of 70, 80% of our business, but it's probably more like 40% of our business now. Every day essentials-type products have really taken over, which in hindsight has been a good result.

Felicia:

That's fantastic. I mean, that's credit to you and your team that's done that. That's absolutely amazing. So in terms of that, then that you've set yourself up for a great business. Cause hopefully we're recording this in April 21. So hopefully the wedding market will come back and then business will be even stronger and better than pre COVID.

Olly:

Yeah. And I mean, that, that's what we have seen over the last few months, to be honest. So, with Valentine's day we sold a lot of underwear and socks and jocks and that kind of thing. But at the same time we had people that had their wedding planned 18 months ago, that, you know, couldn't get married last year. So we've had those weddings, but we've also had people that already had their wedding planned for this time. So we kind of had a, a double wedding season, which has been good, which makes up for a lot.

Felicia:

Yeah, I can imagine there's a lot of making up for lots of businesses now, but yeah, it's amazing that you've been able to change the mix during that time. What's been the biggest challenge. Do you think that you've faced in the last, 12 months?

Olly:

Other than COVID, which is an obvious one? Yeah, I would probably say like, we are a growth sort of business at this stage. So, there's three of us in the business. We all went full time January last year. So pre pandemic, which I would wish I had have known that that was coming before leaving our jobs; but yeah, probably the biggest challenge with the growing businesses, for us is like managing our stock purchasing and things like that. And last year sort of leading up to father's day, it was kind of a very scary time. And we, we did definitely didn't order enough stock, but we were thinking that father's day is going to be still a little bit… a bit of a tricky period. So, uh, it was nice to see that, you know, we, we did really well over father's day and we sold out of a lot of stock and that was really a good lesson, for us to sort of back ourselves in a little bit more, and sort of given us a lot more confidence sort of going forward that we can continue to grow.

Felicia

I guess for our listeners who don't know Olly, is it okay that I mentioned your previous career before?

Olly:

Yeah, no, that's, that's fine. Yep.

Felicia:

Because I think it's relevant to this conversation, you know, cause you're balancing being an entrepreneur and just buy as much as you can and almost selling out isn't almost a failure, but it's not, but yeah. You know, you want to make sure you've got enough stock to feed the supply, but then in your accounting background, (you were previously an accountant), I would imagine you're making sure that you're being sensible with your cashflow and not taking too many risks that would, you know, bankrupt you or cause cashflow problems in the future.

Olly:

Two accountants in the business is 2 out of three people. It's definitely, a good thing and a lot of ways, but we definitely have that risk of this kind of approach. But  it has stood us in good stead to be honest. But, probably that, that thing of, you know, can we sell as much as we think we can. We're probably always a little bit cautious on that, but having sort of gone through last year with all the ups, ups and downs and being able to come out of it sort of better off has given us a lot more confidence that we probably can be a little bit more aggressive than our accounting nature allows us to sometimes

Felicia:

Makes sense, at least, you know, I think it's good. I guess with Steph - what's her view on this sort of risk versus, you know, risk aversion approach?

Olly:

Well last, last year and she's a very creative person. So last year, you know, when we had father's day and other events and Christmas and black Friday where we were selling out of stock, she's like, ‘when are we not going to sell out of stock?’, but it's kind of a question back to me. And, and that was a fair point. So yeah, we were trying to sort of build our stock levels up to a reasonable size now that that doesn't happen. And if that still happens, then that's a good problem.

Felicia:

I think it's a good problem to have that tension in the business that there's yeah, there's both sides equally represented. It's a really great way to run a business.

So, in terms of all that hard work you did last year and all the challenges you've faced, what's been the, what's been the silver lining ?


Olly

There's probably a couple of things. One was this time last year, we were thinking about building a new website in 2021. We brought that forward cause we had a little bit more time up our sleeve. So we're very thankful that we built our website on Shopify. I'm moving from WordPress, which I'm sure a lot of people have had similar challenges, but yourself included, I think. So yeah, I think that was one of the blessings having the time to actually work on bigger projects like that. So to get that sorted and see the real benefits of that when things are picked up that it's definitely been a silver lining. And then, also last year, we sort of like I was saying earlier about having a market for socks and jocks has been a positive one. And then also for father's day and Christmas as well, we collaborated with a lot of other small businesses, which has really helped sort of get our name out there, but also supporting those businesses as well.

Felicia:

That's fantastic. Do you think he would have done that outside? You know, if there hadn’t have been the pandemic?

Olly:

No. No, definitely not. Like we're so wedding focused that what probably what we didn't really understand that our product is also a gifting product, and lends itself to that. So, with a lot of events, like father’s day and Christmas last year with people not being able to see some of their family in person, we definitely saw a massive uplift in that, that gifting side of things and people being able to buy things online and get it delivered straight to their dad or their brother or whatever. We, we definitely saw that.

Felicia:

Fantastic. That’s what I do like about your brand new ways forward thinking and adapting, very positive way you do a great job. So what's next for Peggy and Finn?

Olly:

Yeah. So we're just finalizing a new range of designs actually. So we've been working with an Aboriginal artists, using her designs and our products, which we're launching, to coincide with NAIDOC week in July. So yeah, as non-indigenous Australians, ourselves, we're really keen on supporting indigenous artists and planning to give back as part of this range as well, give back to the Aboriginal community for every item that we sell.

So yeah, something a little bit different for us, but it's something we're really excited about and we were going to launch this this time last year, but we didn't think the timing was ideal. So, yeah, we're really excited to see how it goes and we're actually making our ties pocket squares and bow ties in Australia as part of that range as well. So it would be really, really a lot of feedback we've had is around that people want Australian made products. So it's something that we are taking into account and yeah, really keen to see how that goes as well.

Felicia:

Fantastic. I know a lot of our listeners will care a lot about that. So that's really great to hear that you're doing that - wonderful and we'll, we'll kind of wait to see all these fabulous new designs and products. What products are you putting this design on?

Olly:

Uh, so we'll go across all our range. So, um, underwear men's and women's socks, ties, pocket squares, bow ties, and there's three designs as well that we're doing that are quite different. So I think, it'll be really interesting to see how they go. So we're pretty excited about releasing those things.

Felicia:

Fantastic. Sounds great.

Olly:

Yeah, probably the other thing that we're working on as well, like I think this time last year we were focusing on becoming a more sustainable business… and then with COVID it really sort of hit a dent in our plan. So for us like 2020, it was about being a survivable business. And now that we've survived, 20, 21 is being about a more sustainable business. So there's a lot of things that we're working on that side of things as well, which is exciting.

Felicia:

Fantastic. Can you give us a little hint of what that might be?

Olly:

Yeah. So one of the things that we're working on is to become a carbon neutral business. So we're currently undertaking the assessment of our carbon emissions and our plan is to reduce our emissions where we can and then offset our emissions so we can become carbon neutral. So we're really excited about that. And we're also working on a strategy as well to give back financially to our communities. So that's something that we're working on that we’re really passionate about as well. Now that we have survived, we can have the opportunity to give back where we can.

Felicia:

That's wonderful. Fantastic. Thanks so much Olly, for all your insight. It’s a fantastic story, how you didn't just survive, but obviously thrived during COVID, and not without some risk and trepidation and some big decisions on all your behalfs at Peggy and Finn.

Where can our listeners find out more about you and about Peggy and Finn? 

Olly:

So we have our online store, peggyandfinn.com.au ; and we also have 120 stockists around Australia now, small independent retailers. Also if you jump on through our social channels, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and we actually just started Tik TOK account last week. So go on that when you get a chance.

Felicia

And your handles are just Peggy and Finn? Yes. Fantastic.

Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.  It's been an absolute pleasure having you.

Olly:

No worries. Thanks for having me. It's been fun. Thank you. Awesome.

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