Two weeks ago I attended a Women in Business seminar “Glamour, Global & Growth” hosted by the NSW Department of Trade and Investment. I went along with the talented Katerina Roth – one of my co-contributors at Design Federation. Held on the 47th floor of the MLC Centre and overlooking Sydney Harbour on a beautiful day – a plethora of women in business filed into the seminar to listen to the guest speakers Jodie Fox (Shoes of Prey) and Lucie Trinco (Il Tutto).
Whilst I heard a lot of information that I already knew, it’s always refreshing to hear personal experiences from business owners you admire. And quite often there are a few nuggets of valuable insight that you walk away with. I intended to live-tweet these little gems from my iPhone, but my fat fingers just couldn’t keep up with all the info I wanted to share. So I’ve written a summary of key points that I’m sure many of you running or starting your own businesses (women or not) would like to read. Jodie and Lucie approached their new businesses quite differently – Jodie and the team at Shoes of Prey pursued a predominantly online approach, while Lucie took the more traditional door-to-door path. Here are the key points of their experiences:
Jodie Fox – Shoes of Prey
- Jodie found a niche in the bespoke shoe market out of a personal need.
Frustrated by her inability to find shoes that fit her needs and tastes exactly she began designing and ordering custom made shoes for herself. After her friends began asking her to do the same for her she saw a genuine need for affordable bespoke shoes for women.
Her co-founders Michael Fox and Mike Knapp, both graduates of Google experience, also saw a gap in the online retail market. Combining the two into an online bespoke shoe retail site they created Shoes of Prey.
- Social Media has been paramount to building their success.
Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are where we all represent ourselves these days. They are forums for self expression, where we control and choose who we engage with. Extending the whole experience beyond their website and onto social media allows for free, open and personal communication with their customers. Recommendations from friends, endorsements by popular bloggers, youtube videos behind the scenes…create a whole experience – from initial interest and browsing through to purchasing, feedback and a sense of community.
Case in Point: Shoes of Prey approached popular Youtube blogger Blair Fowler (juicystar07) to offer a giveaway competition. Viewers had to visit the site, design their dream shoe, then post a link to their design with a comment describing where they would wear their dream shoes. As a result of the giveaway, sales on the site tripled permanently.
- Use negative feedback to your advantage.
It’s going to happen. Especially on social media. Keep an eye on all the feedback you receive and try to respond as soon as possible, good or bad. Negative feedback can be extremely damaging if you don’t deal with it quickly. Rather than deleting messages or ignoring them, use them as an opportunity to demonstrate your brand personality – a reasonable, explained response will prove you are a valid, fair and reasonable brand. It can actually work in your favor in the end. Jodie checks Facebook often and does a daily search on Twitter to see what is being said about her brand – allowing her to get in touch with any disgruntled customers and generate positive feedback within the same day.
- Keeping up with technology and innovation.
Social media is ever-changing, so you need to keep up to date with how your customers are utilizing the internet. Things like ‘share’ buttons ensure customers can spread the word and you in turn harness that traffic. When their shoe designer coding was ripped off by a competitor the team were forced to innovate their technology to ensure their product and service was even better than before – they’ve just launched the beta version of their 3D shoe designer.
- Make a decision, see what happens.
So often we hold back to the point of indecision and end up doing nothing at all. Sure, research and preparation are necessary, but so is just going with a decision and seeing where it takes you. It may fail, or it may surprise you. But you’ll learn invaluable lessons.
- Do everything before you’re ready.
The old idea of keeping your day-job until you’re earning the same salary in your own business isn’t necessarily a good one. Sometimes, even if all your ducks aren’t lined up in a row, taking that leap of faith works out better than if you waited. Shoes of Prey had to rush through with their 3D shoe designer before it was totally finished in order to keep on top of the market. They can tweak the software as they go, but they’ve come out ahead of the competition already.
- Believe in what you’re doing.
If you’re doing something you love and believe in everyday, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning! And that belief permeates through all aspects of your business, encouraging it the grow.
The team at Shoes of Prey share their business experiences on their blog 22Michaels – all for free – so be sure to check out their posts for even more insight.
Lucie Trinco - il Tutto
Lucie saw a niche in the mother’s handbag market – it was a niche that she could own – beautiful designed and chic handbags that are still practical for stylish mums. Lucie grew her brand locally, going store to store selling her product. She began designing around Christmas until January, and began taking orders via trade shows and door-to-door. By July the bags were ready and the repeat sales began. Some of her tips include:
- AUSTRADE can provide you with all the info you need to know about suppliers and manufacturers overseas – to help you go in the right direction.
- Trade-shows allow you to break into a new market.
You set up your ‘store’ with your brand vision (even if you’re working out of your garage at home!). They are great for global exporting opportunities – meeting, networking and making those important contacts. Tenacity – be persistent with all those contacts. It will pay off.
- Have multiple avenues for sales.
Department Stores, Independent Retailers, Online Retailers and your own store/s. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of each are:
- large quantities of stock for sale
- great brand exposure
- secure creditors (get paid on time)
- inflexible trading terms
- cash/cash sales technique
- unstable (you can be cut out at short notice)
- great customer service
- loyal customer base
- regional locations
- small orders
- insecure creditors (chasing them for money)
- great brand exposure
- loyal customers
- proactive online marketing
- will undercut traditional retailers which is difficult to monitor – counteract this with a recommended retail price and request permission for significant price cuts
- small orders
- insecure creditors (chasing them for money)
- new stores pop up all the time
- you can show your entire collection at full price
- full margin sales
- link to your social network sites
- destination purchase
- Write down all the functions of your business and the activities associated with each.
Admin for example. Where do your strengths and weaknesses lie? If you can, get help for those tasks that you’re not confident or strong at.
- Have a good story and photos.
Make it easy for PR and marketing. Lucie always has deep-etched photos of all her products that are ready to go for magazines etc. She also has stock ready for photo shoots and public events.
- Celebrity Endorsement – make sure you secure usage rights of any photos.
Just because it’s your product they’re wearing/carrying doesn’t mean they’re ok with you using the image. Check with the photo agency who owns the photo (i.e. Getty Images) and negotiate terms to use the image. It will be too expensive to own it outright, but you can usually work out a deal that allows you to use the image for things like press releases and websites. If you don’t, it’s not unusual for a celebrity to sue your company for misuse. Seriously.
And to wrap up, here are some other little gems of info from question time included:
Non-niche products – check out Alibaba for suppliers/outsourcing.
Niche products – use trade fairs to find suppliers (i.e. if you’re looking for leather goods – visit a Leather Trade Fair).
Overseas bases – don’t expect the nuances of Australia culture to translate to overseas markets. Employing someone overseas to ensure a proper translation of culture is invaluable. Case in point, Shoes of Prey had to change the way their shoes were packaged for the Japanese market, when they discovered that the way they were folding the paper in their shoe boxes was identical to funeral wrapping techniques in Japan (and obviously considered to be very unlucky). There are some things you just can’t know without someone on the ground!
Optimizing for smart phones. A fancy website isn’t enough anymore. The majority of us use smart phones for browsing online, and sales are increasing (and predicted to overtake regular online sales). So make it as easy as possible for your customers to browse, share and purchase your products via mobile devices. It’s an investment that will pay off.
And that’s about it. I hope I managed to convey most of the info we were privy to on the day, it was somewhat overwhelming! As a woman in business I would highly recommend you attend any events that pique your interest – they are a inspiring, invigorating and a great networking opportunity – all for no cost. Plus there was free sandwiches, fruit, tea and coffee. And it was yummy. Won’t say no to that…