Rick Jardiolin and Cookie Jo Carbone are the co-owners of Buri and Beach; an eco-friendly, socially-conscious eCommerce handbag company. In this episode, Kim Piper, Small-to-Medium-Sized Business Marketing Manager, Worldpay, interviews Rick and Cookie Jo about their unique business model, the considerations to take when launching an eCommerce business and more. We hope you enjoy this interview and use this advice to improve your business.
Kim Piper: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Vantiv, Now Worldpay Merchant Advantage Podcast session. I’m Kim Piper, Small-to-Medium-Sized Business Marketing Manager at Worldpay, and today, I’m speaking with Rick Jardiolin and Cookie Jo Carbone. They’re the owners of Buri and Beach, which is a lifestyle brand offering socially-conscious, eco-friendly, and ethically-produced tote bags, and they have a really empowering history and I’m delighted to speak with them today. Rick and Cookie Jo welcome.
Rick Jardiolin: Thank you.
Kim Piper: Thank you for being here. I really love your story and just want to give our listeners an understanding of your background. You are not only co-owners of Buri and Beach, but also brother and sister, which could be fun, and I understand you are based in Columbus, Ohio and Houston, Texas. Is that right?
Cookie Jo Carbone: That’s right. I live in Houston and Rick is in Ohio.
Kim Piper: Okay, great, and from what I know about your business, your bags are created in artisan co-ops run by women in the Philippines, which sounds like a very cool business model. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Rick Jardiolin: Basically, we design our bags here in the US, my sister and I do, and we get them produced in these co-ops in the Philippines. We chose not to get them made in factories, because we wanted to produce something that was sustainable and that would help other people around the world, and by going to the Philippines, there is a huge weaving community there where these co-ops are run by women, for women, providing jobs for these women who have the skill sets that were passed on generation from generation.
So, these co-ops basically provide jobs for women and we thought this was a great model to start a business with helping other people as well along the way.
Cookie Jo Carbone: That’s right, and I have to add, Kim, that when Rick went to go visit in September, he went to go visit some of the villages, one of the villages that he did visit is still recovering from one of the deadliest typhoons in the Philippines, and so his heart went towards them because he felt like he could really make an impact giving these women a way to support their families and rebuild their village.
Kim Piper: Wow. Wow. What big hearts you both have. That’s really amazing. Was there anything that inspired you to go in this direction, whether it be with helping folks with sustainable lifestyles or in regards to the tote bags themselves?
Cookie Jo Carbone: Well, for us, a lot of it was the fact that we do want to contribute positively into the world with eco-friendly designs and helping communities, but a lot of the inspiration, too, came from the fact that here, I think a lot of people, they live in a really busy world and I feel like they just go in these circles and they don’t have time to relax. And so we were thinking, right before Rick took his trip, because we both liked to travel, some of the happiest memories that we have, because we are actually from the Philippines and we left when we were young.
Some of our most fond memories are when we visited the Philippines back for vacation and we would visit these beautiful beaches. Every time I think of those images, I think of the blue waters and just the white sands, the pick sands, and our mom walking down the beach with her straw totes, and it just brings back that comfortable, that simple, relaxed vibe that I think people are looking for when they just want to go on vacation. So, we figured we could share our culture, and our arts, and try to bring back that lifestyle so people can have that feeling of being able to get away and that relaxed vibe, even if it’s just going here to the beaches or going to lunch with a friend.
Kim Piper: Nice. You’ve already made me feel like going to the beach and grabbing my favorite bag.
Cookie Jo Carbone: I’m with you.
Kim Piper: It sounds wonderful. Okay, what a great story, and that leads me to my next question which is about marketing. There’s a lot of talk in the marketing world about content marketing and the importance of having a story behind your product and behind your mission, and it sounds like you have a beautiful story and something that most people would like to hold on to, keeping that vacation with you on a daily basis. How do you go about marketing your business and building brand awareness? And actually, even before you answer that, if you wouldn’t mind telling our listeners how long have you been in business? It’s been pretty recent.
Rick Jardiolin: Yes, so we opened our online shop in January. We really started the business back in July, so when we started doing the research, we started looking at what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go get the goods produced at, took the trip to the Philippines since September, we met with different co-ops, and then selected the ones we wanted to work with. Currently, we’re working with three different co-ops and they’re in different villages, so that’s how we positioned our brand.
Cookie Jo Carbone: Yes, and even though we just launched in January, we try to split up our responsibilities so we can both carry the same amount of weight, but I have to give credit to Ricky, he has really learned his way around Instagram and Facebook and I’m trying to get there.
Rick Jardiolin: Yeah, this leads to your initial question is a lot of our marketing is around the social media platform and it’s basically keeping content that’s relevant and having fresh content basically every day, ’cause the minute that you take a break, people lose interest, so you have to keep your brand awareness out there, especially being only around for three months. We’ve done a lot in three months and a lot had to do with our social media activity. We launched in January. We had a fashion show and a popup shop in March and we’re about to do another popup shop in a week.
We’ve been really interviewing a lot of people and cross-marketing with different brands out there, so we’ve done some cross-marketing opportunities with Bra Lab, which is a startup company in Chicago, with Escapada Living, which is a resort wear apparel company in South Carolina. We’ve done cross-marketing opportunity with a boutique here in Columbus, Ohio, called Vernacular. We’ve done all these different cross-marketing events with these different companies which allows us to create new content and also bring some awareness to the public about our brand along with other people’s brands.
On top of that, we use our blog pretty aggressively. We interview different influencers and different women entrepreneurs, women leaders, and women influencers, and Cookie, you can speak to that a little bit more ’cause you’re about to interview someone who is a friend. She did an interview with a radio host yesterday, but in turn, we’re interviewing her as well.
Cookie Jo Carbone: Yes. She’s actually somebody that I knew in college and she’s just one of those strong women who knows how to network, so she and I have been networking, and that’s another thing is aside from social media, I really believe you have to get out there and network, network, whether it’s going to network meetings or just wherever you go, a chance that you can have an opportunity just to talk about your product and to get the word out there, which is what I did, and sponsorships. I was asked to sponsor a pageant which we said yes to and that led to a radio interview and led to a few sales right after that.
So, I think the more you talk about it, whether it’s social media or reaching out and just networking here to other businesses and really just helping others because when you help others, somehow it just comes right back around and it has a cycle.
Kim Piper: Right. That’s awesome. You’ve been talking about the fact that you sell online, but a lot of what you do from a marketing perspective is traditional marketing or network marketing, so you’re selling online but you’re getting your name out by getting in contact with folks around you, people that you know and then some of these partnerships with other retailers and experts in that field.
Rick, you had mentioned popup locations. How is that working for you? Maybe you can explain to our listeners what that is.
Rick Jardiolin: Yeah, so a popup event, and that seems to be the new trend right now as far as marketing goes, especially for online retailers. It’s not enough to just have your presence on the website because people want to experience it physically. They want to see what that store is like if it were a brick-and-mortar, and we’re seeing a lot of that not just with what we’re doing, but with people that we follow. There’s a lot of activity out there and a lot of curiosity from the marketplace. People want to see everything live and people want to see what that experience looks like.
So, we did our first popup event during the fashion show. We had a booth and we were able to talk about our products, meet our customers, and surprisingly, well, not surprisingly, actually, a lot of customers were, “Wow. Your bags look better in person. They feel really different.” So, having the ability to meet the customer face-to-face and to show them a product physically, that’s really a huge thing.
In about a week, we are also popping up in a mall here in Columbus, Ohio. I’m actually collaborating with another brand called Kind Style Shop, which is a vegan handbag company. Kind Style Shop and Buri and Beach, which is an eco-friendly/vegan-friendly handbag company, we’re in the same space together. We took over 1,500 square feet of space in a mall. We’re gonna be there for five days and it’s gonna be just a typical shop when you walk in. the difference is that we’re only there for five days, and at the same time, while we’re there, we’re doing a handbag drive for Dress for Success Columbus, so we’re trying to make this event kind of a big deal ’cause we’re only there for a short time, and again, it’s part of collaborating and trying to get our presence out there.
But for five days, we’ll be at the Shops at Worthington, where Sunday’s gonna be our blogger day where we invited influencers around Columbus to show up and be there for the event.
Kim Piper: Wow. As a popup event, I know you said this is a good opportunity for folks who are selling online like you are primarily, but also a very interesting opportunity for maybe another business owner who has a single location and is looking to expand and possibly test a particular market for their goods, or something like that, so that’s a really neat idea.
I want to talk a little bit about your online sales. There are a lot of other business owners who could benefit from taking their products, and putting them online, and making them available. Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided that was the best channel for you and what some of the either benefits and/or challenges have been in selling online?
Cookie Jo Carbone: Benefits definitely go towards the fact that we don’t have to have a high overhead, but we do have a few challenges. For instance, we were supposed to have a free ship promotion with the promotion that was going for this weekend, but I think what happened was she ended up getting charged for it so she contacted us and it was something we weren’t familiar with. We don’t know the ways around that, so we had to scramble so we could give her the refund. So, you almost have to know your way around before and do some testing with the system and your website before you actually put it out there, because now we’re having to deal with it live, so that’s definitely one of the challenges that we just encountered.
Rick Jardiolin: As far as challenges go, Cookie’s right. Sometimes the experience for one user isn’t the same for another user. Just understanding how the functionality works technically can be the challenge because you would want the experience to be the same for Person A and Person B. In this instance, it wasn’t, so it can create a headache where you get the customer call and you have to go back to see what happened and why it happened. You want the experience online to be flawless and it’s harder when you’re expecting the machine to create a flawless experience and it’s not a human connection. So, it’s understanding we’re not the programmers and sometimes even the programmers aren’t always able to get everything to be exact and I think that can be the challenge. It’s just you want every experience to be exactly the same and to be correct.
Kim Piper: Right. Who are you working with to set up the site and how did you decide upon that group to do the programming and manage the technical side of your website?
Rick Jardiolin: Sure. We’ve working with Radial Studios out of Columbus, Ohio. They’ve been great altogether about setting up the website, making it easier for us to manage, so I think that’s been a blessing, finding someone who can create a website for you that’s easy to manage.
Radial Studios was able to create this website for us that we can run and manage the website on our own without having to call all the time and incur those costs.
Kim Piper: If there’s somebody that’s listening today that is considering selling online, is there any piece of advice or suggestions that you might have for them, considerations?
Cookie Jo Carbone: There are a few. One of the things that I think is important is really to plan ahead and organize, and we did not do a lot of marketing beforehand and I almost wish we did just because I feel everything is happening all at the same time now, and so if we would have put our name out there beforehand and just put our presence out there, it would have prepared us a little bit more. ‘Cause now I feel like we’re doing it as we go, but we almost didn’t plan ahead so now we’re working overtime just so we can get ahead of ourself and be ten steps ahead because things do come up last minute.
So, you have to be organized, but you also have to keep your site current. You can’t leave it stale. We have to continuously just make sure that everything works, that the links aren’t dead. You’ve gotta work on the inventory checks just to make sure that somebody doesn’t order something that’s out of stock. You have to make sure that everything is up to date and have content updated as well.
Rick Jardiolin: I agree with Cookie as well, and I think just being flexible because you have to be able to make quick changes if the market changes, if there’s something really cool out there that people are responding to that you’re not doing, you’ve gotta be prepared to learn and figure out how to get the website or how to get something out there that you don’t have that someone else does.
Kim Piper: And one last question if I may ask, what you see as opportunities in the future?
Cookie Jo Carbone: Well, we’ve had a fews people ask us about wholesaling, so that is one thing that we’re working on, trying to figure out the margins and the logistics of that, so I don’t think we really considered that yet. We just didn’t think that it would happen so fast, so hopefully in a few years, we’ll have all that in place so we can have some of our products being carried by other stores and boutiques while we continue to do our online store as well. Probably a brick-and-mortar too, just because of the touch and feel aspect. You know how women are. We have to feel the quality.
Kim Piper: I understand.
Rick Jardiolin: Cookie’s mentioned a lot of the things we’re thinking about. I think also taking the website to the next level. Is there something technical, how can you improve your website so that the experience is better? So, we’ve launched but I think for any business, I think you always have to be ready to talk about next phase, whether that is the assortment, whether it’s the website, whether it’s the next phase of the business. So, in the very near future, since we’re still going to be an online shop for the next year, I would definitely say that would be something that we would want to think about and then how do we get to the brick-and-mortar eventually.
Kim Piper: Well, thank you both, Cookie Jo and Rick. I really appreciate you talking to us. I’m very excited to hear about your stories and want to congratulate you. You’re relatively new and it sounds like you’re doing amazing things already, so I’m ready to go online and take a look at some of those bags and if any of our listeners, I’m sure you’ve got a lot of ideas that are percolating based on this conversation. If you want to check out Cookie Jo and Rick’s beach bags and learn more about Buri and Beach, please visit their website. It is Buri, B-U-R-I, and Beach, B-E-A-C-H.com, and please let us know what you thought about this podcast. We are looking to do more of these and help highlight some of the successes that our customers have had as well as provide some education for folks that are looking to try something new.
So, thank you all so much for listening, and again, Cookie Jo and Rick, thank you very much, and have a great day everyone!
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