Pauline Suchon was born in Toulon and lived in Asia and Europe before settling in Paris. She moved to New York three years ago with her husband and two young daughters, where she had the opportunity to take over Merci Bisous. She has worked in a media agency and now doubles as a baking instructor at Millefeuille Bakery in New York City in addition to her work running Merci Bisous.
French Wink: In your own words, how would you describe the French lifestyle? How does this French touch express itself in your products?
Pauline Suchon: What I like the most about the French lifestyle is refinement. The French favor quality over quantity, whether that’s quality items, quality food, or quality time. One good example would be the time spent for lunch and dinner with family or friends. There are so many French brands -- when I started at Merci Bisous, I was surprised to learn that the brands that I loved often have French origins. We can be proud of that diversity! French designers for children are usually women and usually pay attention to details. I like to discover new brands but also a new collection of clothing, with sweet details like a cute button or delicate embroidery on a fabric.
When was Merci Bisous born? And what were the goals creating this brand?
Charlotte Vinciguerra started Merci Bisous in 2016 when she was pregnant. In May, she launched the eshop and in September, her son Lino was born. When she found out she was expecting, she was a little frustrated about the fact that she could not find the brands she had always loved and from which she wished to purchase items for her baby. It gave her the idea to bring them here, and to share them with moms all over. When I met Charlotte in 2018, I was happy to share the same interest in inspirational child items, turning the shopping experience for your future baby into something special. As a buyer and a mom passionate about decoration, this was the best job I could ever have.
Did you plan to create a business in NYC? What is it like to be an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur is a difficult choice and being one is even harder. This was an interest of mine for several years while I worked for big companies in media. Once settled in a position, it gets even more difficult to find time for a serious project. I think my first pregnancy inspired me; also, when we decided to come to NYC, this was something I wanted to make a reality. That’s when I started to meet other entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur is both wonderful and restless. It gives a lot of freedom, energy, and projects.
You started to run this business when had a brand-new baby. What were your biggest challenges and what were you not expecting?
I met Charlotte when my youngest daughter was 5 months old. She was returning to France and was looking for someone to replace her here in New York City. My biggest challenge was to face the amount of work in a limited amount of time. The inventory was very low and I had to prioritize my efforts: contact the brands, buy collections, and ship and store everything in New York. I had to learn fast during the short transition time. When you are working alone, you need to do everything. It all takes so much time yet you also need to meet tight deadlines for the business to run. For instance, I was not expecting that labelling would take me several hours when I received a new package.
Was Merci Bisous your first e-commerce? What strengths did you use from your previous professional experiences or personal skills?
Merci is my first e-commerce. My biggest strength is to simplify decision-making by prioritizing. As an entrepreneur, you need to set up a detailed calendar of where you want to go in the short term. As a buyer in a media agency, I used to make daily lists for the week and the day to come and adjust it at the end of the following day. This helped me a lot in the first few months. Also, taking time to build good relations is very important, letting designers know what I like, congratulating them, and trying to learn from them is behind all types of businesses. I remember that when I was starting as a young employee, my supervisor taught me how important it was to take time over the phone with the suppliers, so as to be happy the next time you call them. It is necessary to remember that you are building a story linked to others in everything you do.
How do you interpret the success of your brand? What are your next steps?
Merci Bisous is still a small business and as an entrepreneur, my motto is to improve it at a slow and steady pace. Patience, humility, and love are essential to moving forward. I want to make Merci Bisous a lot more local. I am trying to find more independent designers from the nearby area. Avoiding long transportation is a sustainable choice and fostering local efforts simply makes sense. These are projects that are part of a singular goal: having on my own line of items, either by partnering with local designers, such as a private label in progress with Artisane NYC or customized dolls with Mani Mina Studio, or by developing my own brand named Little & Bright, producing handmade crocheted decorative objects for little ones. The eshop needs to continue to grow and for that, social networks are a key success factor. Merci Bisous also needs to focus more on mommy groups. This is how it all started in 2016. Opening my own physical store is a long-term goal of Merci Bisous. It’s a project in itself but making it run is another full-time job so Merci Bisous needs to grow a little more before taking this new step.
From your perspective, what are the 3 key points to succeed in e-commerce in the USA?
The United States is such a huge country and there are so many opportunities for an e-commerce business. But how do you stand out, especially when your marketing budget is very limited? Social networks (Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest) are the key points for success since you can easily reach out to your target online. You need to post inspirational pictures, share tips, contact influencers, and groups of moms. This needs a lot of repetition, persistence, and being able to tell stories. For me, the 3 key points to succeed online are to keep it simple (choosing one or two axes of development), persistence (repetition so as to stand out), and a sense of humanity and honesty in order to captivate and grow your community.
Did Covid-19 change the game for your business? What did you need to do to readjust?
With Covid, e-commerce has become a major factor of business success. All the consumers are online but so are all the competitors. What changed is that big retailers had to close down for a while, and being tied to global retail partners, they are now much slower in delivering items. This became an opportunity for small and local businesses to shine.
You have a range of toys for babies and toddlers. What are your criteria when choosing these toys for your brand?
When I became a mom, I discovered that a lot of toys are not natural, and I spent a lot of time looking for the best quality toys for the baby gift list that my family and friends wanted to treat us. With Merci Bisous, my goal is help simplify these choices for new parents. Toys serve to play, cuddle, laugh, pretend, learn, evolve, discover, but most of all to have fun: they are part of your family’s life. So I am looking at good quality, refinement, cool design, independent designers, and toys that will last longer than the baby’s first few months.
What did you miss the most when you came to New York, as a new mom?
I love shopping and this is what I missed the most when I arrived in New York, pregnant and with a two-year-old daughter. I loved to shop in France; here it was a little more difficult to fall in love with something while just walking around. I missed the shopping experience that Paris can offer in one street. There are cute little boutiques here but they’re spread out in the city. Lately, I have found a lifestyle similar to what I was used to in Brooklyn.
What is the most important thing for French moms when they have a baby? What is their focus?
Moms in general are looking for the best for their baby. Sensibility is inspirational and we usually find it from our own childhood. This is a reflection of what we like and value. For me, my selection is sparkled with French taste and lots of travel.
Who are your kind of customers? What have you learned from them about kids and parenting?
Apart from the French Wink marketplace, most of my main online customers are American. I am still learning from them. The culture is very different from the French one: they need to be confident about safety of the products, know their origin, and they are well-acquainted to what is natural. As a French mom, I was mostly guided by my own taste of what looks beautiful. I had to take into account these criteria that often go with quality items.
How is to raise a child in a bi-cultural environment?
Growing up in a foreign country is a fantastic opportunity. My daughters have the opportunity to learn two languages easily and the two cultures will help open their minds. When speaking to French people, they often think the American culture is very similar. One needs to live here to really understand that the parenting styles are profoundly different. I highly recommend Say Bonjour to the Lady by Florence Mars and Pauline Leveque, two French moms in New York who write and draw the differences between the two cultures with humor and derision.
How do you share your French culture and your French roots with your kids?
We speak French at home and spend most of the holidays in Paris and in the South of France. The French community is strong in New York so it is quite easy for a French mom to stay in contact with this community. As mom, I am happy to read stories and books that I loved as a child.
How did you meet Myline and Claire? What do you like about French Wink?
I met Myline and Claire through Armel, one of the owners of O'Cabanon. Both wanted to extend their offer for little ones’ items, and I was looking for a partnership with a retail store, so working together immediately made sense. I am impressed by how they work closely together. They handle all the decision-making together and I think this is their strength. They also have a good network in New York and they know how to make the most of every talent. As good New Yorkers, they are not afraid to take initiatives.