It was a small business idea that would flicker in Danielle Pearce’s mind every few years. The first time she was in her 20s and going to music festivals. “All my friends were either buying really expensive, high-end Burberry-type gumboots or gumboots from Bunnings,” she says. “In that moment, I wished there was something in the middle that was better quality and a bit more wearable.” Years later, working in Melbourne’s CBD, Danielle wanted a good-looking, comfy boot that would keep her feet dry on rainy days. Finally, the idea for Merry People boots crystallised.

In 2014, she decided to use the money she was saving for a house to create the design, order some boots and see whether people liked them. Now, the online business based in Melbourne is expanding its range and reach. Here’s how Danielle built Merry People gumboots into a global phenomenon.

A gif series showing a pair of yellow and orange gumboots in a yellow box; material samples and designs for a pair of purple and green shoes; two women look at a computer screen on a sit-stand desk.
Merry People founder Dani Pearce (left) says starting small allowed her to build up an engaged customer base.

Small Business Should Start Small

“It took me about four or five years to be profitable. I was selling at farmers’ markets full-time. These were markets where people were only going to buy a coffee, a candle and just do something as a weekend activity – and they’re walking away with $140 gumboots. People were purchasing them with no awareness of me or Merry People.” 

Discover Your Ideal Customer

“The markets were great, and I did them every weekend for over a year all around Victoria. I got to know who my customer was at a very detailed level: what they like, what they do for work, their rough ages, all the questions they ask about your products. I developed this profile of who my customer is. 

“I was able to learn so much, which then helped me in the online world. I was able to know what language to use, and the things that were important in those [prior] conversations were added to [my website’s] Frequently Asked Questions section. Understanding the profile of the customers went into targeting on Facebook. So talking to customers and having them buy products from me was fundamental to my growth online.

“It’s so important in those early days [to do that] before you scale [your small business]. It’s not like it was a flip-of-the-switch-type thing.”

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Dani says making connections with other entrepreneurs gave her confidence in her vision for Merry People.

Learn From Small Business Experts

“When I was still doing markets, I did a three-month business accelerator program at Monash University that provides mentorship and helps with funding. They really try and help you grow, basically, and connect you with experts in your field. That was a pivotal point for me. I’m a solo founder and wasn’t connected to anyone else in that business. There, I had a group of people from the start-up industry telling me this could be something really big. They told me to learn about the digital space and marketing – that was probably the turning point.” 

Follow Your Passion

“It’s important to feel connected to and passionate about what you do. It helps everything else. It helps you hire staff, because people can understand your ‘why’. I think it’s helped me with mentors and people who have supported me along the way because they see this isn’t just about making money. It really helps your customers connect with you as well. It has been a really important part of the recipe of Merry People, and it helps you get through those early days, when you’re making mistakes or not making money. Having passion for what you do just helps you get through those tough times.”

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Knowing When to Upscale Your Small Business

“Because I'm self-funded, it was very much about how much risk I was willing to take. I’d build a cashflow forecast and look at how much I could afford to order and how much risk I wanted to take. I would model out different scenarios: What if this happens? What if that happens? What if I don’t sell as many pairs?

“For the first two years, I ended up selling a lot as preorders, which was a really great way of funding the growth. It was fundamental to cashflow that customers were willing to wait for six to eight weeks for the boots to arrive. [Upscaling was] very much a gradual thing and if I had tried to scale earlier on, my product wasn't good enough and I don't think it would have grown the way it's grown now."

 A gif series showing Dani Pearce sitting at a table talking to a colleague whose back is towards the camera; a shelf of colourful gumboots; the legs and feet of five people each wearing a different pair of gumboots.
Merry People is casting a critical eye of where they can be more sustainable in their business practices.

Small Business, Sustainable Vision

“Because I didn’t have a fashion background when I started Merry People, I was coming at sustainability from a consumer lens. Thinking as a consumer, I knew I wanted to make it as sustainable as I could. Our number one intention is trying to create a good-quality product our customers can wear a lot. That DNA has always been there. We’ve also always worked with ethical factories that have the right accreditations.  

“I ultimately want to make sure that I’m responsible and I'm doing the right thing. We’ve brought in a couple of sustainability consultants, who suggested I do what's called a ‘lifecycle analysis’, which is basically where you map out everything from the creation of your raw materials to the end of life. Now we’re working with another consultancy group in Melbourne and they’re working with our factories to look at emissions. Basically, we’re mapping it all out and understanding where our impact is and how it relates to industry. From there we’ll be able to go, ‘Okay, this is where we’re having the biggest impact. This is where we need to focus first.’

“We'll come up with a list of things we initially want to work through. It will be an ongoing thing.” 

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What to Try

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