While self-examination and awareness can be uncomfortable, they are essential to great leadership. Here, your simple guide to self-mastery...
When you set out on the road to start your own business, you can bet there are going to be a host of different obstacles and learning curves that you will need to acknowledge and deal with in order to make your business a success. Owner and managing director of Désir Intimate Collection, Brodie Meyer has been there, done that, built an empire, and now she’s sharing her insider info on how to start your own business and overcome setbacks. Get ready to be inspired!
1/ Describe your journey to becoming a successful business owner. Why did you start your own business?
Having been in retail for almost 20 years, I needed to leave corporate to allow for a more flexible working environment that would allow me to become more available for my two girls. I knew after having worked as a business analyst on various e-commerce platforms that e-commerce would certainly become the way forward for South Africa – albeit on a much slower trajectory than the rest of the world – and that it was an untapped market that would eventually yield aggressive and positive results.
Initially, with my love of design, I considered furniture and interiors as my main commodity, but after much investigation, gap analysis research, and commodity analysis within the South African retail climate, I stumbled upon a huge market opportunity within the sexual health and personal intimate sector.
Quite frankly, those doing it were only feeding the negative stigmas surrounding the sex toy industry by creating a seedy and tasteless environment that was not doing the sexual health industry any favours.
There was also a very misogynistic climate that hung in the air and did not allow women in particular to enjoy the freedom and liberation that comes with physical intimacy and understanding your body.
I knew that with the gap in the market place, the subsequent opportunity for e-commerce to boom, combined with the very poor and uneven playing field that created negative connotations and stigmas related to sexual health and wellness, that a team of savvy retail entrepreneurs – and women at that – could really put the entire market on its head.
2/ What were the three most important steps you took to start your own business?
The first was deciding on how to position the business. Creating the right tone, voice and brand that would attract the right audience without isolating any demographic, gender, sexual preference and even LSM group was really important.
I knew I wanted to support a wide demographic to ensure that we remained an authentic and proudly South African brand. I also wanted to ensure that we were inclusive and that no gender or sexual preference was more important than the other. In addition, it was incredibly vital that we offered South Africans accessibility to products which were deemed luxury, that were 100% body-safe and non-toxic, and that were previously thought of as unattainable.
The second was to align ourselves with suppliers, brands and key stakeholders that supported our vision, ethos and diverse approach to the industry. We had a vision that was completely different to the rest of the industry, and it was important to have partners on board that shared this vision, so that we did not lose our brand identity or integrity along the way.
We aligned ourselves with key players in the health sector – these are made up of gynaecologists, sexologists, coaches, motivators, medical practitioners and physios – who would hold us accountable, ensure that our products supported our vision, and that we were constantly educating our clients as well as ourselves every step of the way.
Lastly, and probably one of the most important contributing factors to any lasting and successful business, was to ensure that we procured the best team available to support our growth and vision. We have a small team on board, but each person is highly skilled within their own right, they live and breathe the Désir ethos, and their growing knowledge and understanding of both the brand and industry are irreplaceable. Without the support and strength of a cohesive team, we would not have seen the growth we have of the brand.
LISTEN UP: Listen To Brodie’s Go Hustle Podcast!
3/ If you didn’t have any experience in owning/running a business, how did you upskill yourself?
Owning your own business is potentially the steepest learning curve you will ever experience and no doctorate or degree will prepare you for the unpredictability that goes along with being an entrepreneur. It challenges you to think outside of your capabilities and I’ve learnt that a ton of decision-making relies on good intuition and a strong gut!
Research is never ending, and just when you think you’ve got it right, technology (specifically in the e-commerce sector) whips up something new for you to chew on. A stark contrast from a 9 to 5, having your own business is a 24/7 job and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
4/ What is the one thing you will not compromise on?
We work tirelessly on over-achieving on service delivery and customer retention. Désir has incredibly high standards, and I believe this is what sets us apart from the rest of the industry. We are a team of perfectionists and we will not stop until we’ve got it right.
In an industry where mediocre standards and poor customer service have become the norm, Désir has created a platform where you feel exceptional, even if you’ve just bought a box of R20 condoms. Each customer is seen as a key stakeholder in our business, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that we offer a world-class service that stretches far beyond what South Africans have become accustomed to.
5/ What setbacks/challenges have you encountered? How did you overcome them and what did you learn from the experience/s?
The biggest setback in building an e-commerce business was trying to find the necessary support and infrastructures to build a sophisticated and highly functional e-commerce store in a very primitive e-commerce climate. Very few resources were available six years ago, so the first build of our online store relied heavily on intensive development and web work. This was not only hugely costly, but also a nightmare to try to manage internally.
In addition, lack of support, plug-ins and supply-chain methodologies meant we launched with a ‘bare-bones’ store that needed extensive maintenance – a huge financial undertaking. Thankfully, subsequently, IT has moved on and we are now aligned with one of the world’s best e-commerce platforms with a full support team based in Romania.
The second biggest challenge was breaking into an industry where the negative associations and stigmas related to sexual products meant that we could not even gain access to credit providers or build a relationship with a bank that understood our vision and growth.
This meant that funding was straight out of our pockets, and slowed down the project immensely. It was only through years of fighting through barriers and proving ourselves as a world-class brand, that we eventually gained the trust and buy-in of several high-profile companies and industries.
6/ What’s the best advice you’ve received and how has it helped you?
The best advice I have personally received is to always remain humble, no matter how great the achievement. This has entrenched a ‘never-good-enough’ type of mentality that I believe has forced me to continue to push myself and my business to extraordinary heights.
Each win or gain is still constantly a surprise and I am always amazed that we have achieved as much as we have in such a short space of time; that we have the investment of high-profile individuals and brands that believe in our business; and that we are managing to create a very welcome dent in the negative stigmas related to the sexual industry in South Africa.
7/ What’s one thing you wish you had known at the beginning that would have saved you so much grief?
To not care what people think. Working as an entrepreneur is not for sissies, but working in the ‘sex-industry’ definitely takes a certain amount of chutzpah! The associations with this industry are not pretty and I’ve often found myself someone’s party trick at a dinner table. It’s taken me a while to be able to talk about what we do with confidence and pride, and mostly the realisation that not everyone will immediately understand or support our vision.
South Africa is still full of cultural indoctrination, archaic personal belief systems, and negative connotations related to sex, and I won’t manage to change them all, but if I can change the negative self-talk of one individual and expand their view on sexual health and wellness, then I think we’re doing okay.
8/ What drives you to keep going when things get really tough?
My team and our customers. I have the most amazing group of women (and man) that I work with daily and their motivation and love for what we do keeps me driving for the next gain. We are traders at heart, and now that we’ve found our WHY (to slowly but surely change the perceptions and motivations of the sexual health and wellness industry), we’re more motivated than ever before.
In addition, we have the most amazing customer base that provides us with both negative and positive feedback that constantly pushes us to keep growing, keep improving and to keep offering world-class service to this industry.
9/ Any tips for women who want to start a business? Why should they persevere when things get tough?
My advice would be to ensure that you have a sturdy and reliant support base. Sometimes our views, strategic direction, and even our motivations become skewed, and we need a reliable rudder or two to get us back on track.
Starting your own business is brutal, but it is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do for yourself. Remember what your end-goal is and constantly align yourself with that and work backwards. If you have your goal, you just need to put the bits in place that will make it a reality. Keep it simple at first, don’t over-invest, and grow as you learn. Learning is the biggest investment into your business, and none of us have all the answers from the get go.
Be gentle on yourself, mistakes will be made – but these are opportunities and not problems. If you need to pick yourself up after a bad day, take a breath and look back on everything you have achieved, no matter how small the feat – they all add up to something great!
10/ Why is it important for there to be more women-owned businesses in South Africa?
I believe women are now living in a world where we are needed more than ever. We are the nurtures, the carers, and the inner voice of a world that can be frightfully cruel. We are also more capable than ever before.
I believe we have a different take on what is needed, how to approach problems and how to implement good strategic insight. Women are incredibly tenacious and have a resilience that is very much needed in the workplace.