Boy sitting on a tree over sheep herd
On sustainable soles Talk with Baabuk’s Galina Witting
I discovered the woollen shoes by Lausanne startup Baabuk during the semi-lockdown. It fascinated me to see how a local startup could set itself up in the highly competitive shoe market. That’s why I wanted to find out from Galina Witting, co-founder of Baabuk, how they did it.
Can you briefly sum up what Baabuk is all about? How long has the company existed and how has it developed since then?
Baabuk designs and distributes woollen shoes and accessories. In 2011, we – Dan and I who founded Baabuk – received a pair of Valenkis, traditional felt shoes from Siberia. We were amazed by the comfort and warmth of the shoes, and that’s where the idea came from to set up Baabuk: we drew inspiration from this heritage and wanted to make shoes of the same quality, adapted to modern lifestyles. We now have a production facility in Nepal and work together with people in Portugal, and we’ve launched several product lines.
Many online shops sell shoes. What makes Baabuk special compared to rival products?
We’re a small company, so our business performance has a financial impact only on a small number of people. We believe everything we do impacts on society, the environment and the economy. Embracing the notion that doing good and making money are not mutually exclusive, we decided early on to give priority to people and the planet when we started our business. That started with the decision to work with wool, the way we produce it and our partnerships. In 2017, we became a member of the B-Corp community, which uses business as a force for good, helping to tackle social and environmental problems.
The community is active in several markets, in Switzerland, the US and internationally. Do customers in different countries have different expectations and requirements? How do you organize your logistics?
Customer expectations vary greatly depending on the continent, country and time. It’s an impossible task for a company of our size to keep up with and meet all these expectations. That’s why we’ve opted for transparency and sustainable communication. When the bar’s too high, we prefer to accept it and explain the reasons to our customers honestly.
In terms of logistics, the majority of our deliveries are sent out from Lausanne. We’ve entered into a long-term partnership with the Swiss BVA Foundation, an organization that employs people with mental and physical disabilities. Through their work ethic, enthusiasm and dedication, BVA employees have become an integral part of our Baabuk family, bringing character, pride and diversity to our office and lives.
What are you doing in terms of digital and/or physical marketing to make your online shops more visible and attract visitors?
Competition has increased both online and offline since COVID. We have to regularly review our tools and partnerships. For example, we had to stop Facebook advertising completely and turn to Google instead. We’ve renewed our collaboration with communication and press agencies.
We measure our marketing performance in many different ways, but it mostly boils down to return on investment, cost of acquisition or retention, or the customer’s lifetime value.
These key metrics give us a comprehensive view of our environment – from new customer acquisition to long-term customer retention. To achieve steady growth, it’s essential to analyse the entire marketing funnel.
Throughout all these phases, we’ve found that our greatest asset is communicating in a way that’s in line with our values. As greenwashing is becoming more common in marketing messages, presenting our strengths and weaknesses in a transparent and authentic way builds trust with our clientele, and leads to long-term loyalty.
What are the company’s current challenges or projects?
At the end of this year, we’d like to initiate a programme whereby we recycle and repair used Baabuk products. The goal is to close the life cycle of our shoes. Here, too, we are looking for suitable partners and appropriate forms of communication.
Finally, in view of all your different experiences, what advice can you give startups reading this interview that are looking to carve out a niche for themselves in today’s online retail environment?
Try, fail, try again! There are many messages contained in this simple phrase. No one’s going to do the work for you. You can make it happen. Mistakes can be something positive – that’s how we learn. Don’t lose heart – tenacity will pay off.
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