Interview With Eoin McGuiness Founder of Crann | Growing a Start Up During COVID-19

Written by
Isabel Edwards

In this interview we’re joined by Eoin McGuiness, Founder of sustainable sunglasses and watch business Crann. Run by a mission to reduce pollution and waste whilst creating premium quality designs, Eoin has grown his startup using 100% recycled materials to create products that customers love. We had the opportunity to get some insight into what it was like growing a startup through COVID-19 and get some advice on how to market a business for those who lack business experience.

Isabel: So I guess to kick things off. How did you first get the idea for your business? When was that planted into your brain?

Eoin: It was actually planted into my brain quite a long time ago. I spent a little bit of time in Thailand a number years ago when I finished uni and went traveling. I realised that they spent a lot of their time reusing materials and turning them into new things. I thought that was fascinating and that's initially where the seed was planted. 

It took a long time before I pulled the trigger on what I was going to do and how I was going to try and incorporate that principle into a functional business. In 2018 I spent a little bit of time prototyping products and concepts and that’s where I realised there's two things I really like. I love watches and I am a huge fan of sunnies. So I liked the idea of having two things that I actually genuinely am interested in.

Isabel: My flatmate has bowls made out of coconut and they're such good quality, they lasted longer than anything else we have and I think because the extra craftsmanship put into these products they're actually a lot better quality.

Eoin: Yeah 100% agree. That's an important factor, everything that we make is handcrafted and it's made out of 100% recyclable materials. Your sunnies ultimately could have been a chair in someone's house for 10 years. 

As well I think it becomes an environmental issue because if you're using something that's recycled you're ultimately not taking vital resources away from the planet and I think that's important. 

Manufacturing accounts for about 7 - 11%  of the waste and pollution that's caused in the world. Now when you take something that's recycled, you're making it nearly carbon neutral in terms of the way they're making it. 

Isabel: Having this idea of making sustainable sunglasses and watches is a great idea, but that's a long way off an actual fully functioning business. What was that process like starting the business?

Eoin: I actually originally ran my first business at 17 and had an exit when I was 22 and that actually funded a lot of my travels which was great. I spent a lot of time in terms of making the concept and figuring out the designs, what were the best materials, figuring out how we could do it, you know as cost effectively as possible, but also keeping up the high standards. I spent about 6 to 10 months on that period. 

The name was actually probably one of the hardest things because Crann in Irish means tree. I'm a very proud Irishman, so every product that we have has got an Irish name to it. So the idea from an SEO perspective would use a very short brand name so it would be really easy to find for SEO. When you look at Google most of our traffic actually comes from organic traffic because our brand name is so strong and we spent a lot of time working on that.

Isabel: Did you start with a small product range then build out or did you just go all in from the start?

Eoin: I actually started out with about six pairs of sunglasses and about four watches. So I started out really small and started building up that way.Getting customers coming in was probably the hardest part to start. Getting feedback from them and then trying to build products based on what they wanted. 

So initially, I had no wood frames in terms of the legs and the frame until I started getting lots of feedback and people were like we’d love this, if it was like this it would make such a big difference and so on so forth. So we made a lot of changes and our newest range which is 24 different pairs of sunglasses that we launched at the start of the year was based on customer feedback. 

For any business owners out there listening, start small and figure out what your customers. 

Isabel: You've touched on a really important point there, being agile and actually listening to customer feedback and implementing it. 

Eoin: We launched probably sooner than we should have but that was for a reason because we wanted to test the market and see who's out there. I remember a very good friend of mine ringing me and telling me that he had never had a package that was so hideous in his life. From that I thought now we have to work on packaging. 

Someone else sent me an email being like why don't you have a case with your sunglasses, no one's gonna begrudge you for starting small. Let people give you feedback and grow to where you want to be.

Isabel: Savage feedback, but it sounds like it helped you a lot. 

Eoin: Massively yeah, the more blunt people are the better. 

Isabel: Did you do most of the branding yourself or did you outsource it?

Eoin: I did a lot of it myself. I have a fairly decent team here at Crann, so we did a bit of vision board and tried to figure out what we wanted to stand for first of all and then started building out the concepts. We outsourced it when we had the concepts and then got some feedback on what would actually be best and all that of good stuff. But initially it was myself and my team. 

Isabel: When deciding on products, it was simply because that's the thing you were most interested and passionate about, is that right?

Eoin: Yeah, I personally wear sunglasses and watches the most and I love the design. I like taking the simplicity and making it your own thing.

Isabel: Is that advice you’d give to those who want to start their own business, just start with products that you're passionate about?

Eoin: Yeah, if you love a product and you genuinely care about it, you'll put more effort and time into it or be extremely proud to wear it. When you meet someone at a bar or you're talking to someone at a meeting they’re more than likely going to ask you about your business and you have to love talking about it. You have to have that passion and whether that's a product or a concept it just needs to be something you really care about.

Isabel: Yeah, it's easy to tell if someone is genuine or not when talking about their business. Do you sell mainly through your website or are there any other avenues that you sell your products through? How's that split up?

Eoin: It’s about 70/40, it’s mostly B2C, whether that's in the form of our website or whether that's in the form of eBay or we've even had a couple of partners that we work with from Ireland. the UK and Australia. 

The other side of it is the B2B side of things where we sell directly to other businesses. It’s mainly retail to be honest. It was a 100% B2C kind of coming into Christmas last year and we made a little bit of a change and covid obviously sped that up.

It’s been going pretty well, but I think for most of the time it's going to be mainly B2C, we want that personal connection with the customers as much as we can.

Isabel: Are you happy with the 70/40 ratio at the moment then?

Eoin: Yeah, I think realistically if we could be at 40/60 that would be ideal.

Isabel: Did you have any experience in marketing and what strategies have you implemented that have worked really well for Crann?

Eoin: Yeah, I used to work for a marketing automation company in the past so that actually helped a lot because I did have a fair understanding of marketing strategies. Influencer marketing was huge for me and it's absolutely massive for anyone that has a fashion business or a health focused business. I think it's crazy if you're not already doing it.That's probably the one area that's been huge for me from a marketing standpoint. 

We've been very much focused on the inbound and content marketing and SEO strategies. So as I said at the start, most of our traffic actually comes from searches on Google and coming in from our social media channels. We automate a lot of those processes so that ultimately we're getting the best out of it.

I've got a particular blog post that I wrote three years ago now at this point and I got two views on it for the first two months and now I'm getting a thousand views a month. Stuff that is Everlasting was really important from the beginning for me. 

I got it really wrong at the start with Facebook strategies and Instagram. I blew so much money at the start without really knowing what I was doing. I think that was one of the things that a lot of businesses like myself at the early stages think is you're just going to put loads of money into an ad and it’s just going to work and you're going to make loads of money, but that's just not the case.

Isabel: Oh, it's so easy to spend money on Facebook ads and get caught out with it. You've given a few great tips there, is there any more advice you’d give someone with zero marketing experience on how to market a new business?

Eoin: Yeah, simply start writing blogs. If you're not able to write blogs, outsource it. There's solutions out there like iWriter or content blogging solutions that are out there so start doing that.  And always have a call to action at the end. So get someone to leave their name, their email address, the more details you have on someone then down the road you can send them email marketing. 

If you don't have a good and content strategy and don't have a good email strategy, you’re going to find it really hard and you're going to have to spend so much more money on Facebook ads and Google ads. You can grow it yourself, if you do it right. It's slower and it's painful but it works out in the long run. 

Isabel: Are there any mistakes you made that you’d want to warn new business owners of?

Eoin: Simply one word, cash flow. When I started the business, I was so excited about it. I actually didn't look at my bottom line every single month or every single week and I probably put in a little bit more of my personal money into the business than I initially hoped to do. I closed my eyes and just hoped for the best and it's not a strategy. 

Make sure that you know exactly how much you as a business owner are willing to spend every single month. Personally that was the biggest error for me and look it worked out in the long run, don't get me wrong, but at the start there was a middle stage where I really was like, okay, I’ve got a good product, I've got a good market base just not getting the money that I want and I'm spending too much. Should I close down the business or should I go and sell it? After that period of time I sat down with an accountant and they gave me the right tools and right ideas to look after the business properly. From that day on it's really been a smooth process for me. I don't have as many headaches and I'm not freaking out and getting up in the middle of the night worrying about my business as much as I was.

Isabel: Well I'm really happy to hear that! I mean the last thing a start-up needs is what's been happening in the past few months with covid. How has it changed your business?

Eoin: It’s actually changed quite a lot in a very short period of time. I’ve focused more on being a brand and not just being a sales place if that makes sense. It's not just a website or it's not just the place where you can buy a watch, we've really focused on the branding side of things more. 

We’ve got more websites to sell our products which makes somewhere in the region of 20% of our revenue. From a dropship,we give them our products, we give them all of our marketing content and we let them host all of our products on their website and then we do all the back end stuff. 

We help brands or boutiques or general shops in Ireland who have never really done ecom before and we help them with the setup. We're actually seeing more shops stock our products because we were willing to be helpful at the start. So that's where our strategy changed and it's really been working quite effectively.

Isabel: I can see why Crann would be so popular with dropshipping because traditionally it's been really cheap products on AliExpress and Alibaba from China. But people are looking for better quality products, they're looking for a better customer experience, so UK drop shippers are starting to look at suppliers in the UK.

What plans do you have in store for the future of Crann?

Eoin: Million-dollar question! We're looking at diversifying a little bit into new product ranges. We're in the process right now of testing a few different concepts. One in particular is blue light glasses which are going to launch at the start of September and be part of a very small range, like we did at the start. We do two or three styles and then we seek feedback from people and adapt. 

We're going to start doing more eyewear and we're looking at a couple of other sustainable wood products that we're going to bring into the market. But as I said, it's probably going to be a little bit further than the line. Hopefully September 2021 is the plan. We want more people to have our products in their hands, whether it’s through our website, through dropshipping, from marketplaces, hopefully we'll get more people wearing Crann and that's the key.

Isabel: That’s a great goal to have, just get everyone wearing Crann! Thank you so much Eoin, it's great to get the perspective of a business owner who has such an in-depth marketing background. You've given great advice for new business owners, really practical tips that people can put into use. Thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it.

Eoin: Thanks so much for having me!

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