Living in Singapore, In 2011 I came across a skincare product that was so awesome, I instantly thought about selling it. I knew it wasn't available in Europe, so I approached the manufacturer. I knocked on their door for six months and it never opened!. I was so in love with the product that I kept knocking and then one day, out of the blue, I was invited to meet the manufacturer's business development director. From that meeting, we agreed a business plan and I was awarded the exclusive rights to import and sell their skincare product range to the UK.
We then registered a UK company, set up a web site and got to work! I think the very first PayPal sale was one of my most inspiring moments. I had never sold anything on line before. Being in corporate life my whole career, I had never run a business before, like so many start up entrepreneurs. We picked the company name Janiro, from my family names, James (JA) my six years old, Nicole, (NI my wonderful wife) and Rob, (RO, me). That is how JANIRO was born.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
When we started we had no marketing budget. So we thought, how do we tell people about our products? We were up against very big competitors. Skincare and cosmetic companies spend millions on marketing. We didn't even have $100! So we sent our products to the beauty blogging community. It was a gamble, because bloggers can say what they like. Unlike placing an advert, where we can say how wonderful our products are, beauty blogs tell is as they see it. Then we sat back and waited for the reviews. When they came, they loved the products. We've been reviewed by over 200 beauty blogs and the response is amazing. We have built up a cult following.
Soon after we launched and started receiving rave reviews, we had the most amazing piece of luck. I say that because I believe that with all the hard work, effort and commitment, you always need a little sprinkle of luck and timing. Someone wrote to us who had seen a blog review. She asked for a sample. I noticed that her email signature said she was an assistant beauty buyer for one of the most prestigious stores in the UK. I sent her a product to try. She loved it, told her boss and a couple of weeks later we were selling our products in Harvey Nichols all cross the UK. It was milestone for us because the Harvey Nichols name is so well respected in the UK.
Today, we sell through a combination of on line stockists, and retail stores. We also attend consumer and trade shows, which have been a great experience for us.
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 manage our business from the UK and Singapore. We ship stock and fulfil orders in the UK and most of what we do is manual. We are not big enough to automate or outsource our processes yet. We know that day will come and it means we're growing!
We use Chimpified, Product reviews and coupon apps. When we first started, we launched our business on Xsite Pro and Paypal. It was a good start but it didn't look that great.
We then continued to shop around for a better platform. We then tried Pinnacle Cart and even Volusion. Again, they were ok but I wasn't happy. Then I tried Shopify, and discovered their support is one of the best I have experienced. I feel so well looked after, it makes all the difference to me. I rave about Shopify to everyone I meet.
And there lies the lesson for all businesses. Customer Service is as important if not more, than the product. People expect the product to perform, they also understand that things can go wrong. It's what you do when things go wrong that sets you apart form your competition.
What are your top recommendations for new ecommerce entrepreneurs?
It is not easy to introduce a new brand to a country. A new skincare product is launched nearly every week. So building credibility and trust is key to success, as is time. it will come, but you need to make sure you build a great foundation on which to grow your business.
My biggest lessons learned:
1) Believe in your products. If you believe in what you are selling, then it's easy to convince others. It comes across in every communication you make. People can feel your passion for what you do. if you are trying to sell a product that doesn't perform or do what it's supposed to, your foundation for long term success is weak. You may make a quick buck, but you won't survive. In todays ecommerce / connected world, bad news travels fast! And so does good news. So make sure it's always good news
2) Cash Flow is king. It's not new, but i had no idea how important cash flow is until I ran my own business. Waiting to get paid by your some of your creditors can be painful so plan accordingly. You will always find you have invoices to pay at the same time you are waiting to be paid. Getting the timing right on your terms and conditions for paying and being paid will help your cash flow.
3) Marketing. One of our biggest frustrations. We believe we have amazon products, and want to tell the whole world about them! But it's an expensive piece of the business. Look for ways to market your products that do not cost thousands of dollars. One of the most successful marketing avenues is 'word of mouth'. Get people talking about your products via social networking. We use twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Twitter is working so well for us.
4) Network - how much you need to network sometimes depends on the industry you are in, but reach out and meet people, talk, and help each other out. Don't expect to always get something back in return, or at least not right away. In business, you probably think that you will help someone's business only if they help yours and that how to think. But think differently. Good deeds come back to you.
Be a nice company to do business with. It costs nothing and means a lot.
5) Be patient. It takes time to grow a business that lasts and it takes time to build credibility. People judge you by not what you say, but by what you do. Competition is everywhere, so set yourself apart by taking the time to build trust and credibility.
Here's an example of patience and networking. We met a TV executive in Feb 2013. He was interested in our products for a shopping channel. Over the next months, we kept in touch with him, emails, etc. We also met him a few times at several trade shows. We didn't get a follow up with him until October 2013, nine months later. We got a slot on the shopping channel and it was a great success for us.
It's like sowing seeds. Give them time to grow, water them, then bring in the harvest!
6) When you want to give up. Don't. Your competition would love you to give up, so keep going. There is a slice of the market with your business name on it!
Two years on, we're still growing while enjoying the journey.
And thank you Shopify team for making ecommerce easy.