Yusuf Perens runs Galen Leather, a family business based in Istanbul, Turkey, together with his brother-in-law Yunus, after the company founder Zeynep passed away in July 2019. Together, Yusuf and Yunus are continuing Zeynep’s legacy and carrying forward her “devotion to beautiful, quality handmade products.”
At Galen Leather, Yusuf Perens creates delicately made “handcrafted leather notebook covers, pen cases, MacBook cases, iPad sleeves, leather journals made with high quality Tomoe River Paper and travel accessories.” These materials combined with exquisite handmade production create a luxury experience for your writing, travel, and work accessories. These products are also designed to “inspire you on your adventures and in your creative pursuits.”
Based in Turkey, Yusuf Perens and Galen Leather offer products that “add a touch of luxury to your travels and provide the guarantee of a long lasting accomplice you can trust to last the test of time.” The company’s handcrafted products put Galen Leather on a competitive playing field as other brands like Moleskine, Rhodia, Leuchtturm1917 and Field Notes.
Galen Leather began as a two-person team in Istanbul in 2012. The team of Yusuf and Zeynep Perens started making small leather goods out of a hobby, beginning with a “simple journal cover.” After a few years, they have successfully turned their shared hobby into a successful business with customers from all over the world.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Yusuf Perens: Zeynep, my late sister, originally started the business after a cancer diagnosis of a rare type of head and neck cancer. Doctors warned the cancer treatment might leave her incapable of speech. This forced her to consider alternatives to her sales job at the time. Following a painful 4 months of treatment, she did infact lose her ability to speak for a whole year. Being no longer able to communicate with customers, she left her sales job and came up with the idea of selling online which didn’t require her to talk over the phone. She launched an etsy store, selling locally made leather goods. I came into the picture later to help out with product development and photography and when we decided to move the business onto Shopify. We were having problems with our supplier at the time being able to match our needs. So we decided to teach ourselves the leather making craft. Naturally, our skills developed rapidly over the years and we became masters at our work. It was when our wooden stationery box sold really well one Christmas that things really began to take off.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Yusuf Perens: As Turkey’s tourism boomed, Zeynep noticed there was a lot of interest in Turkish products like leather goods and vintage kilims, so that’s what she started selling on the etsy store. When the suppliers at the time could no longer meet our needs, we branched out and started making our own products. This was when Galen Leather the brand really started to take shape.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Yusuf Perens: One of the biggest shake ups to the business was when Paypal ceased operating in Turkey in 2016 which Etsy rellied on at the time as their payment gateway. So we had to consider alternative ways to run our business online. That’s when we came across Shopify. This was a big learning curve for us because it meant we were responsible for every aspect of the business now, including the marketing. So it was an obstacle that ended up working in our favor as our business was able to grow more rapidly and gained momentum.
Over the years, Zeynep’s health was very up and down until it started declined. I ended up stepping up and taking over more and more of the business operations until she had to stand down completely. Sadly, she passed away in 2019 and it was crushing for all of us.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Yusuf Perens: We still mourn for Zeynep to this day, but alongside her husband, we are moving the business forward. We’ve gone from strength to strength and are so grateful for our loyal customers and their support every single day.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Yusuf Perens: Probably some of our original English translations on our website. As non-native speakers selling to a majority of English speaking customers, we had a few gaps in our sales copy. But we remedied this by bringing on an agency to help and it’s proved to help the overall trust of our brand and quality of our content.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Yusuf Perens: We use Shopify and it’s great. Within that, we can recommend Judge.me for product reviews (which we’re big advocates for doing). We are very active on Instagram, so using something like Like2HaveIt Shopable Instagram really helps translate followers into customers who show an interest in a product.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Yusuf Perens: Write detailed and unique product descriptions that not only offer specifications, but also emphasize the benefits to the customer. Address how you are solving their problem with your product. If you have the ability to, offering an incentive like free shipping or time sensitive discount on their first order can also help with conversions.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Yusuf Perens: Collect customer reviews and share them on your product pages or socials. We do this with a lot of YouTube and Instgram unboxings. Customers love getting their content reshared in return! The more people talking about your products, the more interest you’re likely to attract and the more others are likely going to want to be associated with your brand as well.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay true to yourself. It’s easy to get lost in the world of business and spend all your time crunching numbers and growing to the point you can drive yourself to burnout. Staying true to yourself means you’re not willing to cut corners or sacrifice your values just to make a quick sale. We sell our customers high quality handmade leather goods so even though it costs more in production time, this it what we want to deliver to customers, so we stay true to that.
- Have a purpose greater than the numbers. Remember why you are in business and have a higher purpose to your work than just the grind of selling products. Are you making people’s lives better? Are you bringing joy to their day? For us, it’s a bit of both but also, we’re carrying on a legacy of a sister/wife/mother who originally started the business with a desire to provide for her family admist the most challenging of times. That can really carry your through even the toughest of days.
- Know when it’s time to outsource jobs and bring on the experts. A lot of online businesses start as a one person operation. As time goes on and you grow, it can be hard to let go of that need to control every aspect of your business. But if you want to push the edges and grow, there comes a time you may need to hire employees or outsource marketing to an agency or work with other experts in the field to level up your business. We’ve increased our team size and outsourced some marketing and it’s enabled us to focus on what we do best.
- Put your customers first but know your boundaries. Without your customers, you wouldn’t be here. Don’t jeopardize your relationship with them by failing to deliver on your promises. If you make a mistake or things are delayed, then apologize. Remain humble, respectful and sincere. But if someone is actuing unreasonable and rude, then still, remain humble, respectful and sincere in your communications but know what your boundaries are with such things. We have clear policies and procedures in place for things like shipping and returns, so we can always refer customers to them if need be.
- Tell your story. Zeynep was always very open with her followers and customers from the early days, and many have followed her on her cancer journey over the years. So we share our story because it’s important to us, and it engages customers in a way that many big corporate brands can’t. There’s an interesting story behind most businesses, ideas or entrepreneurs and I believe they’re often stories worth sharing. It personalizes your brand and can provide customers insight into the why you do what you do.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Yusuf Perens: Website: https://galenleather.com and join our email newsletter
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!