Cielo Hammocks Co-Founder Josefina Urzaiz on E-Commerce Challenges & Silver Linings During COVID-19

by Jamaica Gayle | May 18, 2020

Mexico

Cielo Hammocks

Cielo Hammocks, based in Mexico, is a social impact enterprise that seeks to alleviate poverty and promote gender equality through manufacturing and distributing hammocks worldwide. The organization works with approximately 900 Mayan artisans, across 35 different villages in the Yucatan Peninsula, who hand weave the hammocks from their homes. 

“Given that our production depends on our ability to visit our weavers at their homes, our production has nearly halted given the travel restrictions imposed in the aftermath of COVID,” explains Josefina Urzaiz, Co-Founder of Cielo Hammocks. 

“There is a lot at stake right now and minimal information has been provided by the local governments about future accessibility.”

To combat these challenges presented by the pandemic, Cielo Hammocks is shifting its efforts to retail sales, as opposed to wholesale. The organization already had plans to transition to a stronger retail focus, which was fast-tracked by COVID-19. 

“We have devoted most of our resources to social media, specifically Instagram. It has been very successful thus far,” Urzaiz shares. “We have also opened new outlets for retail sales including Amazon Mexico and we should be coming shortly online on Wayfair.com.”

The need for this new concentration on retail sales and digital marketing was made clear after a series of order cancelations. In February 2020, Cielo Hammocks was ready to ship orders after attending a trade show in New York. “Sadly, they were mostly cancelled by our customers given that their shops are closed with no set date of being reopened,” she says.

“The silver lining has been an increase in online sales as people spend more time home. Our traditional online wholesale customers have seen an increase in sales as people are spending more time home. Our distributor in Holland has already placed an early reorder because they are already running out of inventory and the summer hasn’t started yet,” Urzaiz shares.

For Cielo Hammocks, Instagram and WhatsApp are especially crucial tools. These platforms are used to reach global customers in all 110 countries where the hammocks are sold and Mexico. 

“Our retail sales in Mexico have been increasing over the years, as people become more comfortable shopping online. . . What we are finding is a lot of customers get to our website or Instagram account and then reach out personally via WhatsApp to complete the sale. Now that Amazon Mexico is fully operational, we are also seeing an increase in sales there,” she explains. 

Urzaiz also recognizes that access to the internet is the reason the business can continue operations, “I don’t know what we would have done if this was 10 years ago.”

Many emerging markets, like Mexico, do not have the capacity to offer significant economic relief plans, stimulus packages or unemployment benefits. ”We are all left to figure how to survive by our own means. This, of course, will be a disaster in Mexico for the SMEs. The government has been slow to react to the pandemic and no economic measures have been taken to help SMEs,” she shares. 

Alternatively, Cielo Hammocks is working with local banks to attempt to negotiate funding and favorable terms on lines of credit. Still, they have been met with difficulties and administrative obstacles.

Among all of these new challenges, Urzaiz and the Cielo Hammocks team have discovered that staff work more efficiently from home and plan to explore a “work from home” schedule in the future. This is only possible with access to the global technologies that enable digital productivity, payments, shipping and logistics, communications, marketing and e-commerce platforms. 

“All in, this pandemic has been a shock to the system. Like all living creatures on earth, adaptation is the only means of survival. I think being able to adapt to the new conditions and understand the positives it carries, will be the successful approach to our new normal,” Urzaiz concludes.  

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