Irena Filipova-Marinova, the CEO of Toys.bg, on how to implement a good example
The most successful projects often begin with a simple idea and a spark of intuition that you just can’t resist. That’s what happened to Irena Filipova-Marinova two months after giving birth to her first child and coming back from Germany to Bulgaria during her maternity. She decided to implement on the Bulgarian market a business idea she had already seen in Germany – an online coupon platform for goods and services sold at a discount. The attempt succeeded but Irena did not stop there. While still running www.deals.bg, she started specialised coffee and tea shops (www.kafemania.bg, www.momenti.bg) with stores in Sofia, an online portal for holidays and travel (www.travo.bg) and a virtual shop for various maternity care and children products (www.toys.bg). Her newest project www.MyJuana.bg is even braver and focuses on the online sales of hemp health products. None of these would be possible, of course, without the support of her husband and family.
How did you start your business 12 years ago?
I started my first project in 2010 while I was taking care of my first child. I wanted to fill up my time working on something. Starting a nine-to-five job was not an option, so I decided to do something on my own. I had lived in Germany for ten years and that gave me the idea to implement in Bulgaria what I had seen on the German market. With the help of my husband, I started the virtual coupons platform www.deals.bg, inspired by the German site Groupon. It still offers a great variety of services at promotional prices, aiming to connect customers to new businesses. Back then I knew almost nothing about business in its practical aspect. I had no contacts and I basically started from zero with just an idea and a wish.
What has changed over time?
Nowadays, the situation is very different. We operate six websites for a wide range of various products and services. In the beginning, I had no idea how things would develop and that we would come to where we are now. The decision to start and to develop my business in Bulgaria was pretty intuitive but it proved to be the right one. The Bulgarian market provides real options for everyone who has an idea. The German one is much bigger and all customers shop online but I doubt that I would have had the same success in Germany. Moreover, I was motivated to show German quality and service to Bulgarian clients. The other advantage here is that people are very open, helping each other and that makes me feel good and strong. The market in Bulgaria has changed a lot over the past years and I am much more aware of the situation with online sales now than I was at the start.
How did the pandemic affect online trade?
The pandemic actually triggered lots of opportunities for the companies and for the people. Customers were encouraged to find alternative ways for shopping, they had to adapt to the new situation. The tourism sector was severely hit by the pandemic, the business with hotels, holidays, and trips was negatively affected offline and online. All other sales of essential goods, gifts, cosmetics, and beauty procedures kept the same levels. In addition, many people discovered new interesting spots and new products.
Which are the most popular services and products that customers are buying online in 2022?
I think that now you can buy everything online. In 2022 people are ordering and booking holidays online en masse. There is a great variety in all products and services and no limits in what you can choose from. This is equally valid for coffee, hotel accommodation, holidays, and toys. Indeed, you can’t touch the product when you buy online, but people keep ordering everything. And I even think that it is exciting to try something new and different, to be pleasantly surprised when you receive your order. I am thinking of a project in this direction but it is still at an early stage.
Which has been your most successful enterprise until now?
All my projects are successful. Everything can be achieved with passion and devotion. I listen to my intuition and I think a lot when developing each product. I compare everything to the German market and I follow its trends. I think competition is extremely important in any market. People need to see the way different companies are structuring and developing their business. The market is dynamic, new online shops emerge every day. Bulgarians are creative and talented in working for themselves. But it is important to be able to see the future of your own business.
Are you guided by customer attitudes in running your business?
Absolutely. The customer is most important. When I see that a certain product is selling, it is a sign to me that I have to concentrate on it and its expansion, no matter in which sector it is. I always listen carefully to the customers’ comments, I analyze their feedback. And I know that you can’t be the best in everything. There are negative comments sometimes, no matter how much effort you put into your work. Systems don’t always operate in a totally correct manner, there is the so important human factor as well and errors occur. Except for customers, our team members are very important. They should feel free and able to express their opinion. It is hard sometimes but we are doing our best.
What is your philosophy in business?
I think that there are countless opportunities and you should not feel limited to doing just one thing. When you are passionate about an idea, there is always a way to make it happen. I have always considered my projects as something that customers will benefit from. I keep thinking of what would be useful to me and my family, respectively to customers. We import products mainly from Germany because of their high quality, which we want to make available in Bulgaria. I trust my intuition in developing products, my sixth sense has never betrayed me.