Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
I’m Jonas Forth, managing director at All Things Commerce Helsinki Ltd. Our aim is to help Nordic brands based in art, literature and design reach a global audience through e-commerce and relevant content.
Our most popular products are perhaps our ceramic Moomin mugs, a phenomenon that started in the early 1990s. But, we also have a wide array of over 700 items, ranging from lamps to toys and t-shirts.
On average, we have a monthly turnover of 75.000€ with annual growth of 20%, shipping to more than 50 countries every month. We are now looking at taking on more brands and expanding our operations with an on-demand model.
All Things Commerce Helsinki Ltd is now owned by the parent company Moomin Characters, to which it was sold to in early 2015.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My background is in journalism and online content production, but I have also worked extensively with different companies on developing digital products. This has always given me a good understanding of the combination of content and technology.
My previous experience certainly helped when we originally conceptualised the site and online store. But it has certainly been a learning process as the e-commerce field is quickly growing and practices change.
We came up with the idea of ATC after seeing similar brands struggle with their online presence and decided to see if we could develop it into a service, combining content with commerce.
Nowadays, we mainly work with the global brand Moomin, and after four years with the brand, we have been able to test out different sales models and processes.
In practice, we work as Moomin’s official communications channel, ranging from creating high-level content in-house and managing all marketing efforts.
We’re hoping to be able to serve other brands with a similar content structure, perhaps with a stronger focus on the commercial side.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
Starting out, we spent approximately 100.000 € on the site, shop and logistics.
Half of that went into developing the site and shop, one quarter to initial salaries and one quarter into the setup of our logistics.
When people talk about scaling your business, some forget that flaws in your business scale as well but in a negative way. So make sure that all aspects of the business are working before trying to scale it up.
We also used another 100.000€ to buy inventory, but very little on marketing as we rely on our own content production.
Thinking back, I probably would have chosen a more scalable platform solution early on, as switching systems later requires more work and money.
We now buy items from over 70 different manufacturers, with the one thing in common that they all use the Moomin brand.
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
We didn’t do a traditional launch, we sort of put it out there and let people find it on their own.
We did, however, focus on creating a lot of interesting content such as searchable and shareable posts, and we aimed for a high percentage of automatic turnover.
It took us about six months until we started seeing relevant traffic, and we did quite a lot of competitions, sales and hustling during the first months to get that going. Moomin Characters only had a Flash based site up until 2014 without any data analytics connected to it so we started out blind in terms of what people were searching for and what kinds of posts interested people. We only knew that we would have 50% commercial and 50% non-commercial material to strike a balance, and that is something we stick to to this day.
This is something that I recommend to all brands that I talk to, as so many are putting their emphasis on social media. Your social media accounts can be shut down at any moment leaving you with nothing after years of working on them so make sure that you control your own base.
As the months went by, we analysed our data but also looked at all other existing Moomin sites to see what they had written about. We also did some link and story sharing with the other sites to get the SEO going. It certainly helped that we put out lots and lots of unique content, specifically product information, in three languages at the same time. Google loves structured data and Wordpress with the plugin Yoast helps us do it fairly automatically.
Four years later, we receive some 75% of our turnover from organic search, direct traffic and automatic messaging through follow-up emails and social media retargeting, allowing us to focus on keeping up the positive loop. For social media, we use a low cost tool called AdEspresso, which allows us to set up hundreds of campaigns at once and then up the budgets or turn off campaigns based on how they are performing.
Since launch, what has worked to attract new customers?
Our main focus is on creating content that focuses on the brand and that provides value to virtually anyone to whom the brand Moomin is still unknown.
All our content is SEO optimized, from alt texts, to image naming and search term specification. That has allowed us to rely on traffic from organic search and we believe that it will grow significantly once the brand becomes better known.
It’s very much a long play game and it takes months for you to see results, even with consistent work. Here’s some marketing tips from my experience:
We’re very much landing page driven and we use our official site (moomin.com) and shop (shop.moomin.com) as our spine in all other operations. There are two reasons for this - we can only really convert to sales on our site and we want to build and own our media. This is something that I recommend to all brands that I talk to, as so many are putting their emphasis on social media. Your social media accounts can be shut down at any moment leaving you with nothing after years of working on them so make sure that you control your own base.
Treat paid advertising as something that’s one-off, so once you pay for the views, clicks or conversions, it’s over. This means that you should try to get everything you can out of the paid traffic like Facebook or Google retargeting, email signups or people sharing you content.
Map out what your traffic sources are and what your funnel looks like - where does your traffic come, where should it go and what should happen once it gets there? When it comes to e-commerce, three things matter - the amount of traffic you can generate, the percentage of that you convert, and the value of the conversion.
We’re heavy on building our own media - both on the site but also through emails list and partners who are willing to trade traffic. We post on social media but since it converts poorly for us, we rarely put emphasis on it. We have automatic ads though running 24/7.
How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?
Things are going well, we’re into our fifth year of growth now and we’re looking at opening up a completely new business doing only on-demand items for other brands similar to Moomin.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When people talk about scaling your business, some forget that flaws in your business scale as well but in a negative way. So make sure that all aspects of the business are working before trying to scale it up. We messed up when we tried to open up a similar business in another country without the proper foundation in place for it.
Focus on building a team that’s self driving and automate as much redundant tasks as you can. That gives you more time to focus on the important things.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Platform: Shopify
- Email Communication: Conversio
- Newsletters: Mailchimp
- Publishing: Wordpress
- Social Media Marketing - AdEspresso
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur is great for planning out your business.
I often listen to Shopify’s podcasts as well.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Focus is most often the thing that companies fail to do and it’s even harder while growing the company.
Get a mentor if you can - once crud starts hitting the fan, it’s good to have someone bring you back on track.
Where can we go to learn more?
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.
By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
- Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story