Increasing demand for a product and rapid expansion is usually good news for a business. But Mermade Hair’s founder Tara Simich expects the stock in her Sydney warehouse to sell out in a week, as her supply chain is disrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Describing the product as “sort of like a crimper that was popular in the 90s but bigger”, Simich tells SmartCompany Mermade Hair fills a gap in the hair-care and styling market, where the number of products is growing but innovation in the tools department is lacking.
Until recently, the Mermade Hair ‘Waver’ was only sold via Instagram, and even then, demand was already higher than Simich originally anticipated. This year, as it hits the shelves of national retailers such as Myer, Shaver Shop and Harvey Norman, and expands overseas, she expects demand to surge yet again.
Unfortunately, the timing of her success coincides with a challenge far beyond Simich’s control: the outbreak of coronavirus in China where Mermade Hair’s supplier is located.
The federal government’s travel ban means planes from mainland China to Australia have been grounded.
“Shipping has all stopped,” Simich says.
“We’re just taking it day by day.”
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Adjusting to “peaks and troughs”
Even without supplier issues, Simich admits her biggest struggle with Mermade Hair has always been keeping up with the demand.
“You have these peaks and troughs,” Simich says.
“The way Instagram works and working with influencers is you might have one day where you sell 1,000 and you’ll go back to selling 100 the next day.
“It is hard this early on to know what kind of stock levels we need to have.”
When Mermade Hair launched seven months ago, Simich ambitiously ordered 1,000 units, expecting it would take a year to sell.
But business took off and the first batch was sold in two weeks.
Within the first few months, the Instagram account was selling 2,000 hair wavers a week.
“It came down to the fact that you could not buy it anywhere else,” Simich says.
“For the first three, four months, we were constantly out of stock,” she adds.
“Before Christmas — the biggest retail period — we were out of stock.”
Within weeks of amending stock levels after the Christmas period, the number of coronavirus cases increased and spread globally, including to Australia. Simich says the virus affects her business in two ways.
First, as more factory workers are quarantined for the two-week cautionary period after visiting certain cities, manufacturing is slowing to a crawl.
And second, planes have been barred from entering the country, which means “there will still be a massive backlog” when it’s lifted, Simich says.
On hold, but holding on
To uncomplicate the situation, Simich has put Mermade Hair’s international expansion plans on hold, delaying a US tour, despite initially planning to ride the momentum of expanding fulfilment centres across to the US and UK this year.
“We’re just taking it day by day and adjusting our marketing activities,” Simich says.
“We’re hoping to learn more before alerting our customers.”
Down Under, bricks-and-mortar department stores such as Price Attack and Princess Polly have joined the ranks of Mermade Hair suppliers.
According to Simich, most of these big names initiated talks with her in an effort to stay relevant as consumers increasingly head online and to social media to discover new products.
The deal is mutually beneficial.
“For our brand to grow and last, we can’t just be online,” she says.
“We have to be in all areas of retail.”
On the other hand, the success of the partnerships adds another component to the challenge of stock.
“We’ll need to have a lot more stock available,” she says.
Although many of these suppliers reached out to her over email, the founder says she “pushed to meet bosses and CEOs face-to-face to develop relationships” and cut through the red tape involved with making deals.
But the brand was built on Instagram, where the bulk of its demand comes from.
The story of Mermade Hair began last year on Kim Kardashian’s page, where Simich was inspired to mimic the reality TV star’s hairstyle.
Her hairdresser told her the look takes three hours to achieve with a hair straightener. As a consultant and founder of workout business The Jungle Body, Simich didn’t have the time.
“I thought: ‘There must be a simpler way to do this’,” she says.
So she bought the most similar product she could find on Alibaba, and emailed the seller to modify the tool to her specifications.
In an attempt to appeal to the millennials shopping in her social media circles, Simich changed the colour to bright pink and began posting regular video tutorials on the brand’s Instagram page, where it quickly gained traction.
American model and fashion designer Sofia Richie boosted the process. Reaching out to Simich over direct messages, Richie quickly launched a short campaign, posting a promotion code and an endorsement on her own Instagram account.
“It was all done over DMs,” Simich says.
“It created over $100,000 in sales over a few days.”
The convenience of selling over Instagram — “tap, tap, tap, bought”, she calls it — and short video tutorials have earned her a loyal customer base. So much so, that even as copycats popped up on eBay, Mermade Hair’s sales didn’t waver.
Hopefully, they’ll stay just as loyal through this new supply-chain challenge.
This article was updated on February 14, 2020.