On this podcast, we talk about why Anouck decided to change their “cool” branding, how incorporating resilience into your strategy helps with platform uncertainty, why it is a good idea to let potential employees interview your team, and so much more!
Anouck Gotlib was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and studied Fashion Design at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Israel.
She moved to New York to pursue a career in fashion—first at Zac Posen and later at Donna Morgan.
Anouck would return from long days on Fashion Ave to spend nights and evenings working on Belgian Boys' graphics, branding, packaging, and marketing, and she ultimately decided to step away from the fashion world and into entrepreneurship with her husband Greg.
Today, Anouck is the CEO at Belgian Boys and serves on the advisory council of the Belgium Chambres of Commerce.
Recently, Anouck was named to the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Class of 2021.
She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Greg and two sons.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.
On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results.
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Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer.
And today, I'm welcoming to the show the CEO at Belgian Boys, an indulgent CPG brand turning up the happy one treat at a time.
Welcome to the show, Anouck.
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
Absolutely. It took us a while to get this one together. But we're here [and] we're gonna do it. So take me back in time.
What was going on in your life? What's your background? How did you... What was going on that led to starting Belgian boys?
Yeah, of course. Well, actually, I got into the business [because of] the founder of the business. My husband, Greg. And he went to Brandeis. He's also from Belgium.
As you can hear from my accent, I'm not from the US, right?
Nobody would have guessed.
(laughs) He went to Brandeis. And like every expat, you just bring the treats or you bring stuff that you like, because you miss it. It was nostalgia.
He was filling up his suitcases with waffles, with cookies, and with all those indulgences.
And his American friends in the dorm are like, "Oh my god! This is good. Where can I find it? Where can I buy it? I couldn't find it anywhere. I couldn't buy it."
So it's like, well maybe he was bringing it every time he traveled for everyone. He was getting special requests. "I think maybe there's an idea here I should further explore."
And then I met Greg actually on the plane from Belgium to New York, I was here for my work in fashion. So I worked in fashion design.
And Greg was starting the company. And I was like, "This is an amazing idea but you can't just put a waffle in a wrapper on a shelf. We got to make clothes for them." That was into my fashion world.
"We gotta tell the story. We got to have a brand behind it. What is it that we're doing?" And that's really how it started, that nostalgia that we had for our authentic treats but evolved to...
The US consumer can't relate to that nostalgia. Yeah, maybe some that have traveled like, "Oh my god, I'm remembering the time that I was in the streets of Amsterdam." But most Americans have not been to Amsterdam. And so it's very hard to relate.
What we do is we make those European foods very mainstream for the American consumer. Easy to understand and really bringing that quality that's an upgrade from the ordinary Oreo cookie and Eggo waffle. And that's really what we're about.
Now that's amazing. So when you joined the team, the idea was already there. With that... What was...
What was the business? What did you have so far? Was it just an idea or have you started to get into some marketplaces or start to test the waters with some direct-to-consumer stuff? What was going on when you joined full-time?
Yeah, so that was back in 2015 and I was always in the background. When I was still in fashion, I was... At night... Working the day on fashion Avenue here in New York. And at night, I was doing logos, doing...
Opening, I don't know Facebook pages and things like that, making packaging. And our initial go-to-market strategy was really...
We're in New York so the local bodega, the coffee shop, every store here in New York, I just asked going in, "Hey, do you want to buy?" And putting it on the counter and really trying that way?
And it's later that we really got into more specialty retailers like Whole Foods Markets, and Central Market, and then mass as well as club, Walmart, Target, and Costco.
That's awesome. So what... Back when getting things off the ground and going into these bodegas and trying to get them to buy them from you, were you getting feedback from them that you were helping to then iterate upon the product and just make it better and better?
Oh, definitely. There's so many things that we've learned that if you look at our packaging or our messaging back in those early days, it is not what it is today or on the day that we figured it out, that nostalgia, you cannot relate to it.
Our Belgian waffle used to be named the "De Liege Waffle". We thought that was super cool.
Liege is the city where Belgian waffles are authentically made and authentically from. No one knows where Liege is, right? Let's be honest. We thought it was so cool that we didn't even name it "The Liege Waffle" like T-H-E but D-E which is "the" in Dutch.
“Really? Why did we do that?" But we thought it was cool and part of the brand. Now what we made is we actually made the customer feel stupid for $4.99 because they were picking up our product but couldn't even know what does this mean.
And you pull it back. And we gave you that feeling to be stupid? That's horrible! But we learn that from talking to the consumer, talking to the shop owners, and then really fine tuning from there.
Fine tuning our packaging, fine tuning how big the image is on the product, fine tuning the core assortment. Products were discontinued as well in all these years.
I think it's all about listening to those partners and to the consumer to know what you're doing.
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So these days you guys have a bit more of an omnichannel approach. You've obviously got your direct-to-consumer website, and then you've got a lot of partnerships and some great, bigger retail stores and you even dabbled with Amazon.
When you were first getting started, was one of these channels harder to crack than the others?
Yes. One of them. I think every channel has its own struggles to be honest. Every channel has its own challenges. I think getting...
With brick and mortar, getting into the door, I don't want to take away the credit of founders getting into the door. But what I found harder is staying in those retailers, like really setting up the programs...
We've met with retailers that have discontinued us just because "It was way too early. It wasn't the right product. It wasn't the right placement."
So I think you learn from those experiences. DTC is super hard with what's going on today. So I think that changes happening in the landscape that you cannot really control like changing algorithms and all of that. That, I think,is really hurting and...
But it's the same with Amazon. Them changing their whole margin structure overnight with dimensional weight and volume weight. And I think every day brings its own challenges even today, right? So I think in this...
What I've learned is that for all your challenges or for older channel strategies, you gotta be resilient. Because what worked yesterday, [will not] work today. And there's always gonna be something else when you figure it out. And it's about having that.
Not being married to your plan, but making sure that you can pivot and change and just make the right changes for the right situation right now. And it's something that doesn't work.
Sometimes, maybe you don't need to pursue it absolutely. Maybe it doesn't make sense anymore at this stage [where] you're at.
That makes a lot of sense. So let's talk about Belgium Boys today. How big is the team now?
So before the pandemic, April 2020, we were 5 people. And today we are 20 people. So we grew, [we] have amazing people on our team.
It's been super exciting to just surround ourselves with people that are smarter and more talented than us in what they do. And I love that. The team is really...
I'm lucky. I'm really lucky to be surrounded by such [people].
With that amount of growth. I guess that you really got to learn how to hire and those processes.
Do you have any tips for people that are out there looking to maybe hire their first team member or freelancer to work alongside them?
Take your time. It's got to be the right fit. It doesn't matter the [work] experience. It's got to be the right cultural fit, it's got to be the right DNA fit.
I think also something that I found in the recent months is that I think being very self aware about knowing what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are, especially if you're hiring leadership roles. Knowing that...
If I'm somebody that's very gut oriented, I'll make a fast decision, I know I need to balance myself with somebody that is more analytical, process-driven. And so I look for these things that I am not in other candidates, because that does make...
I'm a big believer of the "dream team". Don't look for people that are like you but [look for] people that bring out [your] strengths for your weaknesses. People that complete you in a way, but DNA...
Do not hire anybody without 3 interviews with you and 2 other people. That's something that [is] my rule. But also, something we've done is we've actually had candidates like, "Here's the list of everybody that works on our team. And now, you interview them.
Ask them what they think about working at our company." Because the last thing you want is somebody starting in after a week saying, "Hey, I'm really not loving the culture here. It doesn't fit with who I am or my personality." And then what [do] you do? Right? So...
Yes, reference checks, but have the [applicant] that also reference checks you. Because sometimes, it doesn't work out there either.
Now that's some great advice. With the growth that you've had over the last couple of years, is there anything that comes to mind --when you look back on it-- on maybe perhaps a mistake that you guys made along the way that you'd want to like help our listeners not make?
Ugh, there are so many mistakes. What stage, I want to say. But I think if you do make a mistake, learn from it.
Because I want to say that the biggest moments of reflections are those reflections where you're like, "Ah! I should have checked that more. I should have double checked that right"? If you're worrying [about] the temperature...
It's a sensitive business. [You might think] like [it's a] stupid thing, but make sure that you are checking off the right temperature on the item forms.
Because if you do, if you write [it wrong] and then it gets 30 degrees Celsius, then your shipment melts, because it's chocolate. It seems obvious, but why did we forget?
Something I would say is hire a good lawyer and hire a good accountant and don't compromise however, it may cost because it's going to cost you way more later to fix the issues that were done.
So that's one thing. (laughs) For sure.
Well, is there anything that I didn't ask you about today that you think would resonate with our audience?
Um, yeah. I think it's something we're doing right now. And I think it's really hard when you start and you have this idea and you want to prove something, there's a lot of like...
I don't want to say naysayers, but a lot of people are just like, "What the hell are they talking about?" Like "That's what they're gonna do? We don't need that."
But if you have that idea, and if you believe in it, just go for it because it is your journey. And don't look right or left. Ask for advice. Ask to be elevated and be challenged on your ideas.
So for instance, we have our breakfast line. When we got to the US, we started with crepes and pancakes. And we were told these are merchandised frozen.
If you think about it, Eggo frozen waffles, [are] its own merchandise frozen breakfast. And in Europe, these products are merchandised refrigerated. If you think about it, we're sending breakfast to the consumer.
Where do you buy breakfast in the store? Eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, it's all refrigerated. So why do you make people go all the way in the back to buy the rest of their breakfast that they need to stock up? It didn't suit us.
We came, we said we wanted to be refrigerated and people told us "What?"And we did it. Now it wasn't an overnight success. It wasn't an overnight thing either. We did it...
We started at Costco. We did one regional location to get some data points. We went with that data to Walmart. We then grew from...
The first year we were at Walmart in 65 stores. Today we have that refrigerated program at Walmarts at Target, and more retailers are coming along. But we're in over 1000 stores with that program.
And the success of our program has really been us just going there with our retailers, partnering up learning and really doing it on a small scale.
So a lot of people told us "You can't do this." But you got to feed what's right for you. And then just don't take that as --I want to say that as a no. Maybe not right now.
No, absolutely. Now, you talked to all about these amazing products. And you're telling us exactly where to find them: In refrigerators across the nation.
But where can they find it online if they're curious as well?
So we have a website belgianboys.com. And we're on the Amazon issue of fast grocery deliveries. You can find us on Gopuff and Gorillas… Yeah.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for coming on today.
Thank you so much for having me.
Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us.
We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes.
Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. Make sure you subscribe, leave a review. And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.