This is a follow up story for tutiendaenergetica.es. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello, my name is Borja Eraso. I am the owner of the Spanish e-mobility brand Fotona Mobility and green tech e-commerce tutiendaenergetica.es
Fotona Mobility manufactures a wide range of electric vehicles from electric scooters to motorcycles and conversion kits for e-bikes. One of our most successful lines is mobility scooters aimed at helping people with physical disabilities to move around safely and with elegance. A far cry from the traditional orthopedic formats. At tutiendaenergetica.es we sell both Fotona Mobility products and a wide selection of solar energy materials such as solar PV modules, inverters, batteries, or mounting systems via our website but we also have a store and workshop in Pamplona.
Although COVID19 brought Spain to a complete lockdown back in March for a couple of very tough months, we managed to come stronger than ever in mid-May and actually had the best summer months in the record and managed to grow our sales by 25%. As I type further restrictions are being put in place across Europe due to the second wave of the coronavirus so the threat of a new lockdown looks more real than ever but 2020 has proven that our business base is solid and the products are successful so, for as long as people are allowed to move around freely our products are the perfect solution for social distancing and efficiency.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
A lot has happened in just a year! Where to start. As I said, we have so far managed to offset the negative effect of a really bad lockdown in March-May that ruined the start of our sales high season, with a very busy summer with lots of new and returning clients.
As far tutiendaenergetica.es is concerned, the lockdown was actually a good opportunity to take some time to look at the business from a different angle and revisit our online stats. I resumed my weekly meetings with my online marketing manager and redesigned our online campaigns that were almost 100% based on Google Ads at that moment. We shifted some funds from Google to Facebook and Instagram Ads, so we are currently advertising on all three platforms. As a result, we have dropped 37% YTD in traffic from Google Ads (which can be scary) but have grown 74% in social, especially via Facebook. In any case, what I am more proud of are our organic traffic numbers since we have managed to grow by almost 13% in the worst economic environment possible. Notice the slump in May-April.
In regards to our local customers, we introduced a couple of e-mobility products at the beginning of the year that has proven to be a big win: the Jailbreak 500 and the foldable mobility scooter Lightest350W. We also delivered brochures to around 25,000 homes in our region, fresh out of lockdown, offering our professional solar installation business and it proved to be a success. We do this once a year but I am considering doing 2 deliveries next year because the return is worth it.
When you are passionate, you are constantly thinking about ways of proving your business and, when that happens, only good things will come your way.
We have had some new staff coming to the technical department to help with repairs and solar installations. I even promoted one of my guys to workshop coordinator so that he supervises his colleagues and acts as a link with me. Our li-ion battery manufacturing line – remember we make every battery pack that goes inside our vehicles - has also seen important development in outer sales. For example, we were contacted by the Spanish Army during lockdown to make some custom lithium packs for them to power some robots they were using to disinfect government-run buildings such as homes for the elderly – it was a great feeling to be part of that. So yeah, we are now a registered supplier to the Army.
Concerning Fotona Mobility, 2020 is being a very important year. We started our B2B operations last year with the launch of our website. We did some serious cold calling at the beginning of this year to hundreds of potential customers: bike stores, motor repairs shops, bike rental, electric mobility stores, orthopedics, but we had to stop during lockdown – the sales vibe was just no right to be phoning struggling business up, so we focused on launching our youtube channelwith short presentation videos in Spanish and English, and setting up some Google Ads campaigns. Well, apparently the online marketing work we put in during lockdown did work because as soon as we got back in the office we started getting requests from many shops we had contacted before lockdown started calling up and placing orders with us. We even had some international orders from Portugal, Andorra, and Italy. To give you an idea, in 2009 we made 10,000.00 USD on B2B sales, our sales YTD are 50,000.00 USD. Again, the numbers are not massive but I am liking the feedback we are getting from small businesses so the potential is great.
At the end of 2019, we launched solaremobility.com which is a multilingual eCommerce aimed at our European customers, where we sell our Fotona Mobility range and a small selection of solar products. This is a major opportunity for us (and any European eCommerce) since exports within the EU are duty-free and the potential market is just massive. To be honest I don’t understand why inter-European e-commerce is not a “thing”; in my opinion, every successful eCommerce in Europe should branch out to selling in the EU! Having said that, I’d be lying if I said it is being all easy sailing. Shipping scooters and other formats across Europe has proven an expensive business so I think that prevents the site to be fully successful in the way tutiendaenergetica.es is, especially when it comes to the low-priced products. I think we have some homework to do and need to find ways to make the products more affordable if we want to succeed. I hired an online marketing person and the evolution is positive but definitely not as quick as I expected.
In the last few weeks, we have managed to update the corporate website that serves us to showcase all our company from a single website. This was long overdue and now it’s finally done.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Quite a few. But I’ll start by saying that despite the current environment of uncertainty, I have gained confidence in both the quality of our products and services. This may seem like a given when you run your own business but it does not always happen. Believing in what you do is absolutely crucial when it comes to dealing with problems, whether it’s customer complaints or slumps in sales. Always believe, try to anticipate changes, and don’t lose focus in your market. Now, let’s with the lessons learned and some problems we solved:
Cheap options don’t sell better. We have never sold “cheap” products. As I mentioned in my original interview last year, our customers spend 1000-1500USD on average with us. In fact, up to a few months ago our cheaper e-scooters cost 1000USD. However, there were some legal changes in Spain that meant some of our most demanded scooters could not be ridden in public areas any longer. Consequently, we had to quickly introduce two simpler and cheaper models that could be used legally. Competitors are selling that range of scooters for about 400-500USD. Interestingly enough, one of these models – priced at 600USD - has been a total success while the other model priced at just 400USD is selling very slowly and we plan to discontinue it.
Shipping problems. We had had some isolated problems in the past with our preferential shipping company related to their handling of our electric motorcycles. At the time, we were shipping them in their original packaging (bound inside a metal frame) and would get the occasional complaint from customers about the motorcycles’ fairing being scratched, but nothing major. However, this summer we piled up a string of complaints from customers regarding consecutive shipments – it was evident something needed to change there and then. Unfortunately, the shipping company was not giving us any guarantees about solving the problem successfully and we didn’t want to go too hard on them as we still used them for shipping other products successfully. So we got in touch with several shipping companies that specialize in moving motorcycles around; these are professional shippers that pick up the unpacked motorbikes in our warehouse, take several pictures of their appearance, and drive it up to their lorry. Upon delivery, they take pictures again just to make sure there are no discrepancies afterward. The service is expensive but it has stopped the complaints right away. In my opinion, it’s money well spent.
Solar is a big chunk of our business and deserves more attention from me. Being as involved as I am with electric mobility, I tend to forget the importance that our local solar energy operations have in our annual revenue. It is no secret it is a side of the business that I like less than e-mobility - just because it’s more technical and I am a salesperson - so I tend to pass all inquiries on to my colleagues with little involvement on my part besides pricing. However, this year I have set up some additional budget towards online and offline campaigns, aimed at our local market and the result has been great. We haven’t stopped installing since lockdown and have a full plan until the end of the year and beyond.
We need to invest in automation. We had a great summer for business but we struggled to deliver our orders on time. Why? Because we manufacture every single battery that goes inside out electric vehicles on demand. We don’t really have the time to keep our stocks up and that’s a problem. Our current manufacturing methods are semi-manual which has been OK so far but if we want to go for larger orders, we need to be able to produce quicker and cheaper. This is now my #1 concern and I need to find a solution before the next high season kicks in around February-March. I’ve had a couple of meetings with a robotics company that has built automatic spot-welding machines but, even their simpler products are in the 100,000USD area. I am very used to purchasing in Asia, but when it comes to introducing production machines and robotics, I feel I need some local backup so I am still deciding on this. In the meantime, I and my workshop coordinator are looking for ways to cut manufacturing times with the current setup.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
In the next year, we will be definitely adding new products to our e-mobility catalog. We will be expanding our range of special-needs mobility vehicles and lithium batteries; we are currently working on a prototype of a multi-module solar ESS (Energy Storage System) for homes. We will also be launching a couple of blogs intended to grow traffic towards our fotonamobility.com and our fotona.es sites. Also, I am toying with the idea of starting my own e-mobility podcast but this is still early stages.
In the next 5 years, I want to establish Fotona Mobility as a 360º brand that has quality products for teens, families, and the elderly, and grow our network of distributors.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I haven’t read any books for a long time now. When it comes to reading, I try to learn about other business models and technology news via Linkedin or Reddit, mainly.
I have, however, started listening to some US-based business podcasts such as HOW I BUILT THIS by Guy Raz and THE TIM FERRISS SHOW that make my walks from/to work very enlightening. I love listening to how successful business people from different fields tell their stories, especially their own struggles.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
You have to be passionate about what you do. Passion cannot be faked for too long and at the end of the day, it’s the only thing that will make you push forward your business and – more importantly - recover from the many setbacks. When you are passionate, you are constantly thinking about ways of proving your business and, when that happens, only good things will come your way.
Also, you must surround yourself with good people that truly engage with your vision. People that can work unsupervised and who you can trust in their position, whether they are facing your customers or are part of your production team. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic formula to spot the best candidates in a recruitment process but their level of engagement normally shows in the first 6 months of employment. Yes, of course, you cannot ask your employees to put the hours you put in your own business but engagement is not about being the first one in and the last one out. It is about reaching for excellence in every aspect of the business and looking for ways of improvement at any level aimed at turning the company in the right direction.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I just hired a couple of guys for my technical department to cover the peak of work we are experiencing at the moment. I normally do 2/3 selection processes per year to cover any upcoming vacancies.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website and Fotona Mobility
- Fotona Group
- Fotona Mobility youtube channel
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