Q&A: Danielle Pearce, chief executive of Merry People
In our latest Q&A, we hear from Danielle Pearce, chief executive of Australian wellington boot brand, Merry People. The business has attracted an almost cult-like following in Australia and has now expanded into international markets. Since entering the UK and US in 2021, Merry People has delivered 300% year-on-year growth.
You set up Merry People in 2014 – how did the business idea come about?
I never saw myself as someone who would start a business. However, the idea came from a need. At the time, there wasn’t much around in Australia in terms of waterproof footwear. We had tall wellie boots at both the cheaper and higher end of the market, and a lot of kids’ gumboots made with PVC. I was in my late 20s, commuting to my bank job in the CBD, and looking for a pair of fashionable waterproof boots that I could wear for my winter commutes, camping with friends at festivals, and back at my family farm.
Growing up on a wet farm with rolling green hills, I knew first hand the advantages of a good quality pair of gumboots. I thought to myself; what if I could combine the functionality of traditional wellington boots with an ankle boot design that I could wear in the city, and also make them warm, extremely comfortable and with arch support. So that’s what I set out to do.
What were you doing prior to that?
I was working at one of the large banks in Australia as a project manager. I was often given projects where I didn’t have much prior knowledge of the banking product process of system I had to improve – so I learned the importance of being curious, asking ‘what if’ questions, thinking differently when problem solving, and relying on those around me who had strong knowledge.
Through the bank, I embarked on a programme of postgraduate study in project management and banking and finance – both skills have helped me in setting up and growing Merry People.
What was your vision behind the brand?
I think one of the main reasons why people wear wellie boots is that they evoke a positive emotion and a connection to nature; walking the dog in winter, gardening, camping, festivals, splashing through puddles. They take me back to my childhood of growing up on the farm, feeling invincible and playful in mess!
I had the idea for the product, but the brand was bigger – I felt like wellie boots were something that could help people feel a connection to nature , give them joy, and perhaps more freedom in their adult lives. This is also where the name of the brand came from – I wanted people to feel “merry” and connected with us.
Tell us about your brand values?
I actually wrote down my brand values on a whiteboard with my best friend when it was just me as a solo operator. These values remain the same today; kindness, happiness, adventure and authenticity. They’ve been my guiding light ever since, particularly with regard to hiring, product design and our decision making process.
How have you funded the business?
Initially through my savings, pre-orders from customers, and negotiating favourable payment terms with my suppliers. However, as the business has grown, I’ve used working capital facilities. Being privately owned helps me focus on creating great products, my people and our customers, and not just hitting growth targets.
We hear you’ve developed an almost cult-like following in Australia. How did that happen?
We have a very loyal customer base in Australia and it’s very humbling to see how much people support, connect and advocate for the brand. I can’t pin it down to one thing, but think it’s probably due to combination of building blocks over 10 years; people connecting with the brand story, loving the quality and function of the product, and being happy with how we do business, including our ethics, our customer service and giving back.
Why did you decide to expand internationally and what were the challenges?
Our online site was receiving organic traffic and sales from the overseas markets, particularly the UK and the US, where we’ve now set up businesses. So, it was really through an interest from our customers. The UK and the US are bigger markets than Australia for us now and their winter is when it’s our summer!
How has growth been achieved in the UK?
It was a little intimidating coming into the UK with Merry People – the original home of wellies! However, we were getting online sales without advertising, so I felt there was interest for us to explore more. We looked at data on our ‘hot spot’ locations for customers and spent time trying to get to know our UK customers as best we could from the other side of the world. We’ve had some great feedback and we’re lucky to benefit from a lot of word of mouth sales. We’re working with a local fulfilment warehouse and a local PR agency, but our digital marketing is done from Australia.
What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for the brand over the next couple of years?
Opportunities – we are about to start what’s called a Life Cycle Analysis which involves looking in detail our raw materials (our rubber being extracted from the trees right through to end of life. We’re introducing changes to make our business more sustainable. These include working with ethical factories and never disposing of product to landfill. I’m excited to learn more and to make further improvements. We’re working with chemists and industry sustainability experts to help guide us on this journey.
Challenges – holding onto the essence of Merry People and not compromising on values and product quality through growth.
What are your long term ambitions?
I feel there’s a place in the world for a brand that focuses on evoking joy and encouraging people to get outside. Ultimately, I want Merry People to be a business that creates quality products that our customers love, and that we go about business in a kind way and look after people and the planet. In addition, I’d like me, my family and team to continue to have fun and enjoy the journey.
My immediate focus for Merry People is not to rush growth of the brand. I have a two year old boy and another baby on the way, so I want to be present and enjoy that part of my life. It’s a lot juggling being a mum and chief executive.
Email this article to a friend
You need to be logged in to use this feature.
Please log in here