At any moment, my wife Jen could text me and tell me she’s in labor. I’m a bit anxious, to say the least.
Fortunately, Monica Royer, Co-Founder and CEO of Monica + Andy, understands. She’s in the newborn-baby business.
When she delivered her daughter in 2010, like many new parents, she didn’t know what she didn’t know. The hospital-issued baby clothes were serviceable, but scratchy. She was caught off guard by the hospital’s maternity-ward photographer.
“I always felt unprepared,” Monica says. “I wished I brought my own blanket.”
And so, along with a bundle of joy, a business was born.
Monica spent the next three years as a stay-at-home mom, “incubating” her certified-organic baby and childrenswear brand.She launched Monica + Andy with her brother, Bonobos founder Andy Dunn, in 2014.
Monica, who began her career in the pharmaceutical industry, was a first-time entrepreneur and a mom searching for soft, safe baby clothes. By partnering with her brother — who sold Bonobos to Walmart for $310 million — she was able to leverage what Andy learned at Bonobos’ helm.
Today, Chicago-based Monica + Andy is a bonafide lifestyle brand with six retail locations in Chicagoland, California and the East Coast.
Read on for Monica’s tips, including lessons learned on her journey from SAHM to CEO, evolving –– as a person and a brand.
- Go organic – and Instagrammable
Monica + Andy is an accessible but high-end brand anchored by its GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified products –– the highest level of certification available for organic fabrics. Its products aren’t sprayed with formaldehyde or other chemicals common in childrenswear. Even the buttons and snaps on M+A clothes are lead-free.
But the brand’s exceptionally Instagrammable aesthetic is what’s propelled it forward.
“We are really serious about colors,” says Monica. “They go together, because we know that people want to mix and match. It’s become a signature of the brand. We vary our prints, but the pink from last season is going to match the pink from this season and the next one, too.”
“Most people discover us as they’re having a baby,” Monica explains. “We’re an event-driven commerce brand.”
Because that event is childbirth –– something that customers might only experience once or a few times –– the company’s growth is fueled by simple, elegant gifts and kids’ clothes up to age eight.
- Know the value of IRL
By the time she launched Monica + Andy, she says, they knew that Bonobos’ brick-and-mortar “guide shops” –– a fairly new innovation for the online-first brand –– were “a significant customer acquisition tool.”
Andy told her that if he could do it all over again, he would launch online and offline simultaneously, with offices in the back of his shops so he could meet his customers.
“Launch, bring product to market, but then hear what your customer has to say about it,” he said.
That’s exactly what they decided to do.
“It was amazing, because every day was face-to-face with my customers,” Monica says. And it was interesting, too. I thought we would be a blanket company. We started with as many blankets as possible. We thought accessories were the way in.”
But when they looked at what customers were actually buying –– two to three pieces on average –– they pivoted.
“We were no longer just a blanket company,” she says. “A customer told me this: we’re curating our child’s layette.” (A layette, for the uninitiated, is a set of linens, clothes and other items you gather for a newborn baby.)
“We are privileged to be a small part of the most important time in any adult’s life –– the transition to having a child.”
- Enable decision making and immediate gratification
One of the things Monica learned from her customers was that Monica + Andy needed to tweak her brother’s guideshop model.
At Bonobos guideshops, customers can consult with stylists one-on-one, try on clothes and walk out hands-free –– their order is delivered within days.
But, as Monica explains, “my brother didn’t have two- and three-year-old girls who like our tulle dress, but couldn’t carry it out. That never ended well for us –– usually it meant tantrums on the floor.”
That’s not the only reason why her boutiques had to function differently.
“People buy shower gifts last minute,” she says. “We want to service our customers.”
That meant going back to the drawing board: “How can we be true to the concept –– not having tons of inventory in the back of the shops, but still give our customers what they need. They don’t want it two or three days from now. They want it today.”
What does that compromise look like? It just might be the future of brick-and-mortar retail.
Overwhelming customers with too many choices is the wrong move in today’s market, she says. Her brand is 360 degrees away from big-box stores like Buy Buy Baby, and the experience should match. Monica + Andy offers fewer, but curated choices. That’s a benefit to consumers as well as the business itself.
“We have an inventory-nimble model, with a full distribution center here in Chicago,” Monica says. “We’re dripping inventory constantly out.”
The future of retail, she explains, won’t be megastores packed with merchandise.
“Not only is it a bad shopping experience –– you don’t need to see 7,000 things. You want to get a feel for what’s really there.”
- Create community
When Monica was at home dreaming up the business, she realized that “experiences and knowledge were what brought new moms out,” she says.
But moms also want to go where they feel comfortable –– to nurse, change diapers, or feel understood if your kid throws a tantrum, Monica explains. “I wanted a place with cookie crumbs on the floor, where people would bring their families over the holidays. We had a vision for bringing experiences to life.”
With that in mind, Monica + Andy stores are hubs where parents and parents-to-be can find support and community. The company hosts “Nine-Month Network” meetups, prenatal yoga classes, interactive children’s music shows, story time, and more.
“That has been such a significant component,” Monica says. “We’re hoping to build a connection to customers that goes beyond the product.”
- Grow and evolve
Monica envisions a bright future for her brand –– a highly selective one-stop shop for all things kiddo.
“How can we build a brand people come to for some or all of what they want to register for?” she asks. “We don’t think you need to see 75 car seats or 250 strollers. And you don’t necessarily have to buy it from us. But becoming part of that conversation is what I’m really excited about, from a customer perspective.”
She continues: “From a personal perspective, I’m a very unconventional CEO. Nothing about my background would suggest I’d be good at this. Nothing suggests that I am good at it, necessarily. But I’m continuing my own evolution. I’m a different person and a different CEO than I was four years ago. I need to start thinking about who I’ll need to be in another year or two. How should I and my team evolve to get to the next stage?”