A Chat with Ksenia Buzina of Happy Hygge Gifts Hazil Studios

A Chat with Ksenia Buzina of Happy Hygge Gifts

Today we are talking with Ksenia Buzina about her brand and store Happy Hygge Gifts. I'm seeing from your online store that you are clearly the master of all things Hygge, and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, Hygge, what Happy Hygge Gifts is as a business, and how you got started on this exciting eCommerce journey! 

Of course! So, I am from Russia, and I've been living in the United States for the past eleven years. I have a degree in Marketing and Public Relations, and I used to work for your typical larger companies as a Digital Marketing Manager. But! I always knew I wanted something of my own. From my childhood, I always wanted to be a CEO or the business owner of a large company. This was my dream. You know, other girls around me would dream about marriage, and I would dream about being a CEO - I’ve just always been that way. Flash forward, and now I am a wife and a mother of two children, ages three and six, and I am also a CEO for my own small company - so the dream is coming true.

In terms of Happy Hygge Gifts, the whole story started about two and a half years ago when my second child was about six months old. I was working full time, and he started waking up really early - 5:00am - and this was cold October in California. I would feel so miserable, you know, because it was so cold, and I just wanted to sleep, but he didn’t want to! I think I was really experiencing postpartum depression. It was like… I felt really, really unhappy. But so I remembered this Hygge book that was very popular at the time. I had always wanted to take a look at it, but I'd never actually had the time to at this point.

Anyways, so I found this book and started reading it. If you’re interested, it’s The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, who is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute. In his book, he talks about all the ways that people can pursue and find happiness. Basically, it’s been found consistently year after year that the Danish people are among the happiest people in the world, even though research shows that people who live in warmer climates statistically should be happier than people living in colder climates - warm weather makes people happy! But even with their bitter cold winters, the Danish people are consistently ranked happiest time and time again. To unpack it further, compared to the United States, their salaries are not that large, meaning that budget-wise, their level of living is not that great either. So then that’s the question - what makes these people so happy? 

The Little Book of Hygge gives us those secrets! In my experience, Americans think of hygge as purely coziness, the act of being cozy, but it’s so much more than that! At its core, it's about friendship. It's about being on an equal level with your friends because they’re your friends. For example, there’s no showing off if you are the one making more money. The focus is on gathering with friends: cooking together, interacting together, spending less time on the phone. 

I started implementing small practices on a daily basis. When I had to get up at 4:30am with my child, I started to light a candle. I'd never done that before! Then I would make sure to have a very nice cup of coffee, and I began reading different books during this time and snuggling into a blanket. Slowly but surely, instead of these hours being torturous, I turned them into an experience of pleasure  - I made it time for myself! A time for myself and my child to bond.   

Hygge really resonated with me. I very deeply felt the impact of it on my own life, and it made me want to share it with friends. By this time it was maybe mid-October and thinking ahead to Christmas time, I thought hygge gift packages would be a great way to do this and maybe even expand to reach a larger audience than just my own friends.

At the time, I'd never purchased anything on Etsy, but I knew the platform was for handmade gifts, so I created my own profile. I went to Marshall's, to IKEA, stores like that, and I purchased several items that I thought were very nice and cozy: socks, blankets, candles, treats and sweets. I started by making a few boxes, took pictures of them, placed them on the website, and they started selling! It felt like something clicked with people, we’d found this incredible niche in the market. 

Wow! So, I feel that in the US, hygge has primarily become this heavily marketed “cozy items” business. I love how you’ve explained it’s less about the items themselves and more about the impact, feelings, and connections behind the items that creates true hygge. I’ve read before that it’s a word that doesn’t directly translate into English. What you’ve described is truly beautiful. 

Thank you. Yes. You know, Hygge is never about being by yourself all the time, and that is part of what hit us all so hard during the Covid-19 pandemic. We were all in quarantine when it first started, and, except for your immediate family, you couldn’t be with those you loved, right? It felt like one of the best things I could do at the time was create these gift packages that acted like a hug in a box, so people could send something comforting with all of their love to someone else. I think that also was a large part of the success at that time. With hygge, happiness comes from human connections. 

Oh, that's so wonderful. I love that. So then, kind of moving on a little bit, I'm seeing that you have a beautiful Shopify store, but you also have a really excellent presence on Etsy. Did you start on Etsy and then open your Shopify store afterwards, or did you open them both at the same time?

No, we started on Etsy, and it was only Etsy for the first year. Then we decided to expand and selected Shopify as the platform for the next step. Recently, we also started selling on Amazon. 

That's great! Do you sell purely just online or do you also sell your gift baskets in local gift shops? 

Currently, we are just online, although I was looking at a few local gift shops recently, and they have a very interesting option to rent a shelf in their store [to sell my gift baskets]. These shops sell handmade unique local products, so I was thinking I might try it out for the holiday season. It’s an option! I’m not sure it will bring tons of revenue, but I’d like to test the concept for sure, especially to see if it’s something that I would be interested in as well. 

When you were at the beginning of your journey, did you find breaking into eCommerce a doable challenge that you were excited to take on? Or did it feel a little bit more intimidating when you were first starting out?

I think Etsy is a very user friendly platform. It was created for everyone. If you’re a great-grandma that just, you know, loves making crochet items, you would be able to use Etsy without any problem. So starting with Etsy was a very approachable strategy. Now that we've started selling on Amazon, that's a whole different story. It's not user friendly at all, and it doesn't have any support. You can’t reach a real person that can help you out if you need it. 

With Shopify, we figure out everything as we go and just discover along the way different apps that we can integrate with to make the store a little better. My frustrations with Shopify come from it feels like some very basic functions are unavailable, and you need to purchase them through those app integrations, and sometimes it's very pricey! 

Interesting! Do you have any apps or integrations on Shopify you would particularly recommend to other store owners? 

I think the basic “sign up for our email list to get X promotion” pop up - it works, and the customers are using the codes a lot and loving them. I think this would be a very easy and hugely beneficial integration that new shop owners should have. 

Wonderful. So for the next question let’s go back to your brand a little bit. I know one of the big things we hear from clients at Hazil who have been on Etsy and want to migrate to Shopify is Etsy is a great place to get started and build an audience, but the freedom and resources on Shopify allow them to build a real brand identity. How do you feel being on Shopify has helped you hone Happy Hygge Gifts’ brand?

What I see with Shopify is we're focusing on Google ads, even if the customers are already searching for the brand’s name, right? So when they try to find us in particular, they’ll click on the Google ad for Google shopping or just the first link that is available. I think it’s great that you're able just to add more money and then get a larger online presence and more orders. I can see the relationship with spending more on Google ads and getting more orders. Of course, you need to fine tune the process, you need to know your audience, you need to know the time when they shop, etc. - but then when you know all of this, your pay per acquisition will be low. 

Something new we’re starting to do now is email marketing. We found ourselves in a great position where our customers really want to hear from us - email marketing allows us to promote our items and just remind customers that we are here! I’ve found cementing your current customers into repeat customers can be an equally lucrative, and sometimes easier, path to bringing in new clients. 

That’s wonderful! Further building off your brand, do you have any specific way that you like to package your gift boxes? As in, do you do anything special to bring the experience of the brand to your packaging? So that when people receive one of your gift baskets, they instantly know, oh yes, this is from Happy Hygge Gifts.

So, honestly, I don't think we're that great with the packaging at this point. There’s just been so much going on and so much to do, packaging hasn’t been a huge priority yet. Don’t get me wrong, our packaging is nice, it has a ribbon and is thoughtfully put together, but in terms of branding, the only thing we really do currently to go above and beyond is I always include a personalized card with a handwritten message talking about what it means to practice hygge in one’s own life and also just thanking them for the purchase. I also give my contact information just in case they want to reach out with any questions. And we're definitely always available! You know, I like answering emails if there are any questions.

That's such a nice touch!

Yeah, the next step in our packaging process will be, I'm looking into different suppliers for more beautiful and customized packaging. I think the hard thing here is that the majority of the packaging comes from China, at least if you want to save on cost, but even if you order within the US, a lot of times those places order the materials from China anyways and then resell here in the US. This makes the turnaround times to get your customized packaging materials very, very long, and you need to have a huge warehouse to store enough boxes to ship in them rather than purchase locally.

How do you define success in the eCommerce world? Does that differ for you personally as a business owner personally vs. how you see success for your business? Or are those two the same thing for you?

I get pleasure from receiving heartfelt messages from my customers saying how our packages look, and… Well, so, our packages don’t “change lives,” right? But they make peoples’ days a little bit better, especially when they’re sad or sick or they’ve lost a loved one. I love hearing stories of someone being gifted one of our baskets during one of these times, and then they go ahead and purchase the same basket for someone else when they’re in a similar situation. That’s what hygge is all about! The baskets are simple, but they mean so much. When I receive these messages, I understand that what I’m doing is making sense, that I’m reaching people. For me, it’s not about the money, although if it wasn’t profitable I would not be able to spend my time doing it, but when I receive this feedback from customers that they are truly loving the gift boxes, that’s what means the world to me and makes this process so special and rewarding. 

Amazing. So then I think my final question is if you could go back to you at the beginning of your eCommerce journey starting Happy Hygge Gifts, what piece of advice would you give yourself? 

I would say test, test, test your hypotheses and always try again and again. So at the beginning, if I created a basket and the design didn’t work - at the time it wasn’t my main source of income, I was just practicing and trying different things out to see what stuck. If I didn’t get any orders on a specific basket, that was fine! Try it again, try something else, don’t get discouraged - that was my motto. If something doesn’t work right away, try the market this way, try the market that way. One basket may not be a customer favorite, but if you tweak it a little bit, suddenly people love it! There is success in continuing to try.

To learn more about Ksenia's beautiful gift packages, check out her wonderful store Happy Hygge Gifts here

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