The creation of Merumask. Part 1 – The Idea.



This is the story of Merumask, a business that I created and incorporated on the 1st of May 2020 as a response to the lack of sales that my business was making due to the Covid pandemic.


This is the first of four articles where I discuss the why and how of the business. The first article will be the idea, the second will be the product creation, the third will be the marketing of the idea and the fourth will the operations, how it is going at the moment and what’s in store for the future.


This first post will give you a bit of context around why the business was created as well as the thought process behind product creation.


Lets get into it!


A bit of context


I’m a 28-year-old business owner, with a small studio that creates custom teamwear for rowing and kayaking teams. In 2017 I took out a £10,000 loan to purchase all the machinery needed to start manufacturing the rowing kit here in the UK. For the past 3 years I have been manufacturing all of the products by hand, having learnt to operate the machinery only after I bought it, and I also design all of the garments myself as well. All of the products are made on demand, so none are held in stock due to the very custom nature of the products. Many people over the years have told me to ship it all out to the east, however my aim was to change the way custom kit manufacturer operated so that I could offer low minimums, and this meant having all of the equipment here in the UK.


Why set up a new busines?

Due to Covid-19 I set up a new business called Merumask that sold masks to both individual customers and businesses.


The business was created for two main reasons:


1. My market disappearing as a result of Covid-19, as the team sports world pretty much shut down overnight due to regulations surrounding social distancing.


2. The emergence of a new market – masks.


As I’m sure was the case with the majority of businesses, there was a lot of denial and panic at the beginning of the pandemic. We thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal. We never thought that a virus on the other side of the world would have an impact on our way of life… but how we were wrong! By April, it was very clear that something pretty significant was happening.


Luckily, I didn’t have any full-time staff at the time and the rent that I paid was very low, so while this meant that I wasn’t actually eligible for any government aid (I looked into it very thoroughly) it did mean that there wasn’t as much pressure put on me as there was on other business owners.


Although absolutely terrible for other business owners, I was in somewhat of a better position, so I decided to just take some time off as there wasn’t much else to do - the business was actually growing rapidly before Covid so it was actually quite nice to get a little bit of time off (given the circumstances).


I took a week off to gather my thoughts and as every entrepreneur will know… I started to get a bit restless. Within a week, I was making scrubs for the NHS and once I saw that masks were becoming a thing, I decided to try my hand at making some.


Initially I wanted to make a few masks for myself and my family in case things got bad, but it turned out to be much more than that!


Why make masks?


As the virus is airborne there was always a debate surrounding transmission and masks, so my thoughts were that should it get bad, there would be a need for masks. (This was about a month before the government said that it was mandatory on public transport).


I am a garment designer and I had all the machinery sat idle, so the start-up risk for a venture like this is virtually nothing (it was around a day or two of my time to put together a prototype).


In terms of risk and reward, there was hardly any risk at all, so I decided to go ahead with it!


Product strategy


I like to pride myself on the fact that I would never sell a product that I wouldn’t buy myself, so in order to make something great, I had to put a plan together.


I asked myself,


1. Could I make a product that consumers would actively consider spending disposable income on in an uncertain time?


2. Would the sales volume be enough to make the business case viable?


3. How could I stand out and be different?


So…


1. Could I make a product that customers would actively consider spending disposable income on?


Firstly, I would like to mention that this was towards the beginning of the scientific argument over masks so I didn’t know that the government would require just face coverings not fully-certified mask. As it was unclear what was needed I wanted to create a mass market non-disposable product so I looked into certifications around N95 and FFP3 to attempt to make something that would be as good as a medical mask however would be geared towards the mass market.


After a day of researching on Google, I found that there were two main types of non-disposable mask on the market.


1. A mask that could be washed and reused


2. A mask that you could add disposable filters into.


The second option was the most viable, as a mask that could be washed and reused is an almost impossible task — looking into the science of filters, one that can be reused is reusable is very complicated as they are designed for single use. Imagine a coffee filter, the theory is similar, they clog up over time and washing them is impossible. Manufacturing a mask that features disposable filters was the most viable given the machinery that I had, given that I could buy the filters and make the sleeves myself.


Note - When governments started to take more of an opinion on the wearing of masks and face coverings that were not medical grade or certified were looking as though they would be the type that would be recommended. This meant that there was no longer a need to look into the certifications around N95 and FFP3, however since I had done the research and was attempting to make something similar, my products would hopefully be superior.


2. Would the sales volume be enough to make the business case viable?


Personally, there wasn’t much else to do at the time, and there was a need to do something to bring the cash in. From taking a look at the landscape ahead, with PPE becoming gold dust and an airborne respiratory virus spreading like wildfire, it seemed as though masks would become commonplace. It seemed a bit farfetched at the time that the government would mandate them in certain situations, but I believed there would be some more careful individuals that would consider buying them.


In summary, I believed there would be a market and the cost to start up would be very low. The main cost would be my time to create the product, website and marketing materials, and because I manufacture on demand this meant that I wouldn’t actually need to make one until my first sale came in. Or hold any stock for that matter.


3. How could I stand out and be different?


Due to the nature of OFS — my main business being custom teamwear (see the image to the right), I have all the machinery (from print to sewing) in house. This means that it is just as easy to do a multicolored print as it is to do a plain print. This would be a big differentiator as my masks (face covers) as it was likely that the rest of the market would be more plain colours. I also decided that I would make the masks adjustable, as not only did this make them look like more of a substantial and premium item, but it also played into my hands a little because an adjustable mask meant that the sizing was more flexible and would mean that I didn’t have to deal with many returns (I had 4 returns out of 5000+, so it seemed to work out).

In summary...


I believed that I could make a product that was good enough for a customer to spend their disposable income on and I was confident that with my skills I would be able to create a product that would be competitive.


In terms of the business case, it was a bit of an odd one as there was little to no opportunity cost (a better financial alternative) so in terms of risk and reward there was an easy choice to make. I also believed that I would be able to create a product different to the rest of the market and I would be able to get it to market very rapidly.


So with all those questions answered it was time to make a product!


The next post will go into how I made the product from concept to design to prototype to manufacturing…

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