Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
We felt there was a gap in the market for retailing a curated collection of high quality, contemporary, designer inspired and industrial-style furniture together on one website with a very personalised service, rather than a high volume sales driven site with poor service and delivery times.
We contacted suppliers both in the UK and overseas, established trade accounts with them, went to trade fairs and did a lot of online research into the companies we wanted to trade with. We are very picky about what suppliers we use, as quality is of paramount importance.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
We use social media a lot for brand awareness but discovered early on that we needed to spend on Google and ensure that we were showing up on Google Shopping listings for the UK.
As our brand has grown we now have a 50/50 split with online sales via Google shopping and email enquiries from businesses that then convert to off-site sales. A lot of our business clients will initially call or email and we will then send them a quotation or invoice after speaking over the phone regarding their specific requirements.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
We find Shopify brilliant as an ecommerce system. It was easy to learn and navigate, and its reporting is first class with Google Analytics linked. The built in blog has been very helpful and we have recently added a more detailed search facility to the site. We use Mailchimp for managing subscribers and newsletters, and again the easy integration and wide selection of apps and add-ons was an important factor for us when choosing an ecommerce platform. We are currently looking at integrating an app that will allow us send some of our stock feed to Amazon UK as a further sales channel.
Shipping furniture is a little tricky as each item is of a different weight and dimensions and of course, large marble tables weigh in at over 80kg so this took us a little time to figure out! In the early days we certainly had some tweaking to do, to ensure that the correct shipping price for each item was in place. We do all fulfillment ourselves and work with UK couriers and pallet companies and generally get goods out within 3 working days. Returns can be tricky due to size and cost but thankfully we have not had too many to deal with. We offer a full guarantee and easy returns policy but by inspecting and checking items prior to dispatch we try to eliminate any issues prior to shipping. If a customer has any issue we endeavour to resolve it quickly and efficiently. For example, Shopify generates an automatic email confirmation for an online purchase but we will usually send a personalised follow up email also explaining when they can expect delivery, if it is a very big or heavy item what they can expect when it arrives, or if they have any specific requirements like preferred delivery day, concierge contact information etc. Client testimonials and feedback show that this has been worthwhile even though it is more time-consuming.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Having an online business has the same challenges as a brick and mortar store in many ways. Keeping your retail display fresh - online this means updating stock images and online content. Customer service; interact - don't leave it all automated. Setting up the business will take more time than you may anticipate but it will be worth it - as with anything - you will get out of it what you put into it.
We still get a little smile when we are out and about on Brighton beach on a sunny day and our Shopify mobile app sends a notification to our phone, showing a dollar sign and telling us another order has been placed.