The story of a business started out of necessity: Anne Bebe, reached five stores

Anne Bebe started out of necessity. The founder Maria Diaconu was the mother of an eight-year-old girl and, at the beginning of the 2000s, there was a massive lack of quality clothes for children. That's why, after an analysis of what was available on the market, what were the wishes of the parents and what sales volumes could the children's clothes generate, he decided to launch a business in the field. How the business developed, what challenges it had to overcome and how the competition is evolving, you can find out from the material below.

Anne Bebe is a family business, started in 2001, and the business is handled by Maria Diaconu and her son, Alexandru Prunoiu. The chain of stores, five in number, are located in Unirea, Cocor and Baneasa, in Cocor being an outlet, in Baneasa being the Anne Bebe luxury boutique. For the near future, Anne Bebe aims to expand internationally. : What were the main challenges, at the beginning of the journey, in 2001?
Maria Diaconu : "I couldn't get the inspiration for the collections from Romania, that's why I traveled a lot, after the first things I did. I analyzed the big children's brands, the big stores, which offered things that I liked to dress the little one with. I acquired the taste for beauty in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and England, countries that I visited many times, before I started working seriously, and what I saw there, I also tried to produce in Romania" , says Maria.

The big problem was the lack of raw materials and quality accessories, that's why he knocked on the doors of many factories in Europe and many fashion houses, in order to get them.

"Most of the time, I was rejected, I was not answered, no one wanted to help me, when I said that I came from Romania. But I didn't let myself be discouraged, I became ambitious, I continued and now I succeeded", she says.

In the end, through another relative in Italy, he managed to import a series of materials and accessories, which were not specially made for children, but were much better than what we could find at that time in Romania. And thus AnneBebe began.

"I made the first collections according to standard patterns, modified and adjusted to be worn and look as good as possible on children, I wanted to offer practical products and materials that the customer would remember.

Being at the beginning of the journey, I did almost everything, from the design of the models to their sale. The mornings began with running after distributors and stores, where to sell the products, and the evening ended with purchases, imports, design, printing and accounting".

The first collections were of casual dresses, after which she noticed that there were no cotton school uniforms and started a new project, which, she believes, helped a lot in terms of image: the classic uniforms, made of 100% cotton.

"After I made the design and ordered the materials, the orders started to "flow". Although we had four seamstresses, we couldn't cope, but I was afraid to develop, because the production of uniforms is seasonal and, therefore, I had to find another concept to come to the market with. Thus, we created the first dresses for events and celebrations, "snowflake" dresses, princess dresses, elegant dresses. The parents loved them, because all the accessories and materials we used were designed for children, everything that came into contact with the child's skin was made of cotton, the accessories did not come off, did not sting, everything was designed for them.

For the first four or five years, I made a loss , because I wanted to sell the clothes at market prices and make the brand known, but later, when they managed to increase the volumes of ordered materials and production, things returned to normal". : What are the challenges you are currently facing?
MD : "In 2009, when I baptized, for the first time, a baby from a home for abandoned children, I realized how difficult it is for a parent to run all over the city to find the things needed for the baptism kit. Thus, we started the second major development of the company on the clothing and accessories side for baptism. We wanted a parent or a family who wants to baptize, to find everything in one place: quality clothes, baptism candles, cloth, sash, towel, myrrh bottle, crucibles, boxes for the first thread, holders for the certificate of baptize and, driven by these needs of the clients, we took care and come to meet them", says Maria.

The company was one of the first on the market to group all the products in an assorted set and made according to the customer's wishes, a set they named "Trusou for a Dream Christening".


"In 2010, with my son's involvement in the business and the opening of the first AnneBebe store, we managed to better understand what customers want, what they are looking for and what they want to find in a children's store. Since then we have been continuously improving, we are always coming up with innovations and christening collections accessorized with crystals, pearls, fine silks and cotton laces".

Having five stores in Bucharest, a national distribution network and partner stores in Italy, Spain and England, the business has a series of challenges every day.

"Results in Romania come if you have the initiative, if you offer something new, if you surprise and if you offer things at fair prices. Even if it is difficult for us, we innovate, we import what does not exist in Romania, we use materials and accessories that are used by the biggest fashion houses and we try to set the trends in children's fashion in Romania".

One of the most recent achievements of the business was the opening of a luxury store for children, Annelino Luxury Boutique, in Baneasa Shopping City, which they did in April 2017.

"Being a family business, we share our tasks very well, everyone knows what they have to do, when they have to do it and most of the time we understand each other by looking at each other. I take care of the creative and production side, and Alexandru, my son, is in charge of collaborators and stores. Otherwise, we would not have managed to reach the point where we are today". : What two-three trips&tricks can you offer, regarding your own production?
MD : Having its own production and knowing what is worn in children's fashion from other countries, it is easy for the company to propose new collections and they have the flexibility to produce only the sizes that they know are wanted and sold, in certain periods of the year.

"Both in the factory and in the stores, we mostly emphasize being close to people. We are different from all our employees, we are understanding and consider them part of the family, because we left as a family business and we don't want to forget this". : How difficult was it to start production on your own, what related costs are there and how are they limited?


MD : "When we started the business, labor in production was not a problem, ladies and gentlemen came knocking on our door and wanted to be hired", recalls the entrepreneur.

"Now, after 17 years, it is a little more difficult to find people willing to work in the production of children's clothes, because it is painstaking work that requires a lot of attention. Our employees in the factory are people of very good quality, we managed to form a team that cares for each other and for us equally. Most of them want to retire from our company and that makes us very happy".

The production costs are quite high, given the fact that they use materials they purchase from factories in Europe, very expensive accessories and crystals, and the products are made in small series and handcrafted with great care.

"We have four main collections and we come with news at the beginning of each season and many collections and proposals between seasons, so that a customer who comes to our store can always find something new.
We produce small series, because we want there to be a variety of models at all baptisms and private events, and we also don't like the idea of ​​keeping clothes in storage for the children to wear, after three-four-five months, when they- I produced". : How many employees does the company currently have?
MD : Currently, Anne Bebe has 56 employees. "Annually, we increase the number of employees by a maximum of 8%, because we do not know what changes will occur or in which direction the market may take, and we prefer to take small and safe steps, rather than big and dangerous ones. We are lucky that, by paying attention to the employees, they also recommend us to their friends, acquaintances and, most of the time, they bring each other". : How many of the orders are made "to order"? What are the "best sellers" and what trends exist in this market?
MD : In the beginning, everything was made to order, but now, after they understood what the customers' requirements are, their number has decreased a lot.

"We make special measures based on the order, models that loyal customers want or colors and themes that we are unable to propose in the five AnneBebe stores that we have in Bucharest. The first and most beautiful collections I made were some clothes and kits for princes and princesses, inspired by the history of art and the history of costumes. At the moment, we have eight christening kits matched to four prince suits and four princess dresses, which are made of velvet, silk and silk and cotton embroidery, and we consider these to be the flagship collections for the AnneBebe brand, being also the best sellers"

On the other hand, everything produced in the AnneBebe factory is unique and is made in accordance with international fashion trends, using colors, materials and accessories from the themes proposed by the big fashion houses in Milan and Paris, emphasizes the entrepreneur. : How has the competition evolved in recent years?
MD : Being a market still in formation, there are many new fashion houses and workshops that change their activity profile and tend to make children's clothes, but they do not have the necessary experience and do not offer quality materials and accessories, specially created for the small, says Maria Diaconu.

"For three years, we have had information campaigns for AnneBebe customers, we show them what the materials used by us mean, how they are sewn, we show them the care for every detail, we make them aware of the dangers that can appear when you dress your child with a poorly made garment, from a material with problems or with a product that is kept in an unhygienic environment.

We often have discussions with clients, because we are interested in their opinion and we want to rise to the height of the requirements of the most selective of them". : What turnover did you register in 2017?

MD : 2017 was a successful year for us and we managed, in addition to increasing sales through distribution in Romania, to start collaborating with other stores in foreign markets: Italy, Spain, England. Thus, the turnover increased, in 2017, by 15% compared to 2016, reaching 1.7 million euros.
We believe that 2018 will be a more difficult year for the Romanian market, but we hope to be able to increase sales by at least 5%, compared to the previous year, by increasing and promoting products on foreign markets. At the moment, we are planning promotions in international business environments, participation in fairs and exhibitions in the Arab countries, Russia, France and England and the development of the website for sales in Europe. : What share of sales comes from the online environment?
MD : Currently, about 20% of sales are supported by the online environment. It is quite difficult for parents and godparents to order online, not being able to test the quality of the materials and touch the products. We expect that, this year and next year, we will reach higher volumes, given the fact that we are more and more known on the market and customers know the products and the materials they are made of. We have products that differentiate us on the market, and baptism kits continue to enjoy great success. Among our advantages is the fact that we cover the main price segments, so that in the AnneBebe chain we have both an outlet store and a luxury showroom for the little ones. What would you change at the legislative level to encourage business and expansion in Romania?
MD : From our point of view, we would make two major changes: easing the legislation and rules for hiring foreign citizens (non-EU), in order to have an extra workforce in the production segment and individual programs to promote manufacturing companies on the markets external, participation in international fairs and exhibitions in the representative segments of which we are a part and programs announced and set up at least six months before.

These would be the things that we lack and that we would need, in order to be able to develop the company and make it known internationally.