Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Natalie Grunberg

Wise Words

Natalie Grunberg was quick to spot the potential of a subscription-based model, building a successful business before many competitors took up the idea.

Natalie Grunberg’s Panty by Post was among the first wave of subscription-based businesses featured on Springwise, and the success of the concept has led innumerable competitors to emerge, covering markets from hosiery to lip balm to Swedish kitchen cloths. Natalie is based in Vancouver, where she has grown her business to offer a worldwide service for both men and women.

Panty by Post offers women’s underwear by monthly subscription. Panties come in hipster, thong and bikini styles and are made with French lace and satin. Customers can order panties individually, or they can sign up for subscriptions lasting two, three, six or twelve months. A different panty is then sent every month, each wrapped in an attractive mailing package.

1. Where did the idea for Panty by Post come from?

The idea for Panty by Post was inspired by my frequent and fabulous trips to France (lucky me right!) One summer afternoon, I had the pleasure of sitting at a café on a street corner in Paris and I was struck by the beauty and confidence of the women strolling by. I decided I wanted to transport some of this Frenchness to North America, actually worldwide, and I figured the best method was by post and the item would need to be small, useful and of course, pretty. Panty by Post was born! A pretty panty, mailed monthly, worldwide in a beautiful little package full of nostalgia and style.

2. You’ve now expanded to men’s underwear as well, what new challenges came with that?

Once I had the model of the pretty panty of the month, I expanded to include Men’s Bambou Briefs. I found an exceptional supplier and had my testers wear the products. We currently market our Men’s Room and the Briefs packages to our female customers mostly, because for most men they are used to wearing inferior but inexpensive brands. We need to educate men that a better product looks sexier, lasts longer and are worth the extra bucks.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

We are still a relatively small operation, so business is done every day from 8AM to about 11PM. I work weekends and so does my staff. We’re not always working of course but I have agents in New York and in Moscow, so I guess we can say we offer 24 hour service! We are pretty excited about our first launch in another language and our team in Russia is experienced and energized. They don’t have consumer products like PBP there, so it’s a great market. Our site will be translated into Spanish and French next.

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Panty by Post?

I always have my iPhone with me but on the rare occasions I turn it off, I’m usually at yoga class (where I get many of my good ideas) or dining at one of Vancouver’s hot restaurants. I have a dog named Henri, so we walk every day (this is very good medicine for workaholics).  

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

For me the ingredient to success is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (kidding!) But seriously the drive and dedication that is needed requires you to be a bit fanatical. If you don’t have the passion, you won’t make it through the rough spots, and there are many. It’s helpful to practice yoga or something like yoga because you can practice some of the skills you will need: going with the flow, trusting your gut, dealing with customers and business relationships with integrity. You get the idea. It really helps me to think big but also not get ahead of myself. My favorite mantra is that being a business owner is much like being a ditch digger. You have to put your head down and slowly, steadily you will reach your goals.

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

The hardest part initially was cash flow. Having a smaller cash flow meant less inventory on hand at times, which was very stressful. Imagine packaging panties and looking at your stock and seeing 0 panties in the size you need! That is way in the past now, now I have panties pretty much everywhere you turn (which makes my office pretty popular).

7. What motivates you to keep going?

Coffee. No, seriously, I am motivated because running this business feeds me and I feel strongly that this is my dream. I know this because at my other professions, time sometimes stood still. With Panty by Post I can work without eating and be perfectly content. It’s that good.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I have to say all my mistakes or risks were small. I never risked more then I could lose. The first year was hard because I was learning many new skills and my only regret is that I didn’t have enough time (I worked full time as a school teacher) to go slow and really do everything in detail. I had to rush through quite a bit. I don’t think I could have done this differently though. I for sure would have skipped out on a few promotional events that were time consuming, costly and irrelevant. If you have an online business, that is where your focus for promotions and advertising should be. I keep learning that lesson.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

I see Panty by Post in multiple languages with agents in the countries that have a high demand for lingerie by post (everywhere!) The company could become huge, our growth has proven this. When that happens, I’m moving to Paris for sure. I decided not to take on VC or Angel money but it may happen that I do and we explode this business within the next year or two. Eventually we’ll expand our subscription offerings to include other products. I’m in love with French tights and can’t get enough of clothing accessories from France. How do they do it?

10. If you weren’t working on Panty by Post, what would you be doing?

I’m trained as an educator, so teaching high school kids and helping them find what they’re good at is another passion of mine. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so I’d likely also be running a business. I have so many great ideas stored up for later.

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

I’m a terrible driver, I talk to my cats and I chat with people pretty much everywhere. I like to just connect and banter. Ok, that last one isn’t a secret if you know me. It’s also true and not a total secret that I have the best underwear drawer around.

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Seek out mentors and get advice, support and ideas. It doesn’t have to be formal, just listen to people you respect and admire. I have found the business community to be supportive and generous. Also, remember to listen to yourself, we all conduct business differently and you have to feel good at the end of the day. You can never underestimate how important honest and solid relationships are (they are built over time). Being cut-throat is not the way to get to the top.

You can read more about Panty by Post in our article here, or visit the Panty by Post website here.