A quirky and personal approach to the feminine care market

Maryrose Simpson is on a mission to change the way we deal with the business of periods, from products and packaging to simply discussing the subject, writes Joanna Kiernan

'Taking on the Springboard programme at the UCD Innovation Academy was the best decision I made,' says Maryrose Simpson. Photo: Mark Condren

Last year, 28-year-old Maryrose Simpson set up Ireland's first period subscription box service, MyLadyBug.ie, which delivers sanitary and other customised products to customers each month.

The Laois native is passionate about providing more options for women in a sector of the marketplace which she believes is often unexplored, partly due to the area's long-standing taboo status.

"At MyLadyBug.ie, we don't use euphemisms for periods, we don't whisper about 'your aunt flo visiting' or ask if you 'have the painters in'. Instead, we've decided to make getting your period a little bit nicer and easier to deal with," Maryrose explains.

"Our mission is to take the drama out of period drama and help customers to instead have a stress-free, organised period. Our website makes the entire process as simple as ordering your favourite beauty products online - you just set it and forget it."

"The boxes are delivered to women each month, with products customised to their cycle and their needs and we will also throw in some nice things, like herbal teas and chocolate and a gift every now and then as well," Maryrose adds.

"I think every woman has been in the position of being caught short and promising themselves that they won't let it happen again.

"So the idea for MyLadyBug.ie came from that simple thought; what if there was a service that delivered the right products to women at the right time of the month?"

Maryrose, who is also a graphic designer, graduated from the Limerick School of Art and Design in 2012.

"I was freelancing for a number of different design agencies when I left college and I was designing a lot for a number of different start-ups, so I found myself really leaning over to their side and getting almost overly interested," Maryrose says.

"I was interested in finding out exactly how they were doing things, where they were getting their funding from and how the brand was really being put together. I really loved watching that journey, seeing brands evolve."

Over time, Maryrose was inspired to put her own business idea into action.

"I felt really passionate about it, so I decided to go for it and when I did, my background in graphic design was a huge benefit to me.

"I have always believed that the only boundary to what you can create is your imagination - so by having that skill set behind me, I was able to build my brand in my mind before I'd actually created anything.

"I built the website and designed all of the packaging myself, did all of the branding and sourced all of the products."

Maryrose believes that her entrepreneurial spirit was largely informed by growing up in her family business, a local newsagent and bakery.

"I have grown up surrounded by that sense of movement and wanting to grow and build in a business sense. My mum owns a Gala newsagent and we opened a bakery in-store in 2012 in the recession, when my mam had to re-evaluate things and look for something that made them a little bit different and it has done really well."

Armed with her own ideas, Maryrose applied in 2014 to a postgraduate course in innovation and entrepreneurship through the Springboard programme at the UCD Innovation Academy.

"It was the best decision I made, as it gave me the opportunity to validate my idea - and I was able to learn how to take my idea from that initial concept to a refined business model.

"So when it came to module two, where we could work on our own products, I began digging down into the groundwork of MyLadyBug.ie."

Maryrose carried out her own primary market research and then spoke to a further 250 women in her potential target market.

"I basically went out and about in the middle of shopping centres and asked women about their periods and as difficult as that was, the minute I approached people and brought up the topic, it was amazing how responsive they were. Women really wanted to share their stories.

"So I researched what brands people were using and why and if they had ever switched brands and I found out some fascinating things. For example, a lot of women inherit the fem-care brand that their mother uses. So it is not necessarily the product that suits their body."

Maryrose believes that more education is key in terms of enabling customers to make informed decisions on the products they use.

"There is a huge lack of education about what individuals should be using as well as the variety of products available in this market. There is very little experimentation, most people either use what their mothers use or they pick up the first thing they see on the shop shelf. But with MyLadyBug.ie you can pick and mix your brands and try out new ones, some of which you may not be able to get as readily in most shops around Ireland."

In fact, Maryrose is so passionate about giving her customers a wider choice of fem-care products that she turned down a significant financial offer from a market leading brand, which wanted MyLadyBug.ie to exclusively stock its products.

The MyLadyBug subscription costs €9.99 a month and the price includes post and packaging. Discounted rates are also available on subscription prepay plans for three-, six- and 12-month options. MyLadyBug ships worldwide and currently has subscribers in a number of countries including Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia, France and Italy.

"I wanted to offer comfort and convenience at a reasonable price," Maryrose explains. "It needed to be a charge that was passive, something that you really wouldn't notice coming out of your bank account too much. It couldn't have been €25 a month, because that just wouldn't work for a lot of women."

Now a year into business, MyLadyBug's subscriptions continue to grow each month.

"The customers have become like brand ambassadors in their own right because every month after the packages go out, there is a huge increase in subscriptions and interaction on our social media pages," Maryrose says.

"It's funny because you will see a lot of people sharing pictures of their subscription boxes online, which is something I never expected because nobody goes into a pharmacy and takes a picture of a box of Tampax and shares it on Twitter saying, 'Look what I got!'.

"I think that is a testament to our packages and our service - the fact that our deliveries have become a little moment of celebration each month for some people.

"Each month, this causes an influx of new subscribers and it has grown very organically, which is great because it can be difficult to promote products relating to periods.

"Our customers are great and I get loads of emails thanking us.

"There was one particular woman who had a daughter with special needs who hated getting her period every month and our service has helped her to embrace it and look forward to it because she gets this parcel in the post," Maryrose adds.

"So it is all about looking at things a little differently. It is bizarre if you think about it - we grow up with these ads on TV with twirling yoga teachers in white pants, and yes it is true that having your period shouldn't stop you from doing anything - but you cannot ignore it completely. That is not possible. So it is time to have a conversation about it and get practical."

Customer feedback has played a huge role in the evolution of MyLadyBug.ie over the last 12 months. And through Maryrose's very hands on and personable approach, the website has also grown into a platform for discussion, concerning all manners of female health issues.

"I spend a lot of time responding to emails from girls with different queries about their periods and I love that whole side of things and connecting with the customers," Maryrose says.

"I could easily just have a section of the website for 'Frequently Asked Questions' and leave it at that - but I love that connection and getting feedback. Many of my customers for example, got onto me looking for organic brands, so that is something that we now offer.

"There's Veeda, which is an Australian organic brand, with no synthetics, no chemicals and no dyes - and that has been a real hit. For a brand that had no shelf presence in Ireland beforehand, the uptake has been amazing and it's beginning to outdo all of the others."

Last year MyLadyBug.ie was awarded the 'Best New Business Idea' title for County Laois in Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur competition and the company went on to reach the regional final in the overall national award.

Maryrose received a prize of €10,000 and has used her winnings to further refine her packaging, apply for trademarks and expand the search engine optimisation (SEO) of her website.

"Ideas do not change or impact our lives; it's the implementation of ideas that makes the difference," Maryrose says. "As young people we have the opportunity to break current boundaries and to disrupt current practices with new methods and approaches through technology and innovation."