We're a small business based in Devon. In March 2013 we created our website specializing in one beautiful and premium brand of dog toys, Active Hound.
The business imports huge quantities of Active Hound dog toys from seriously durable rubber balls, to super long range ball launchers to flying objects that dazzle both man and dog and because we've streamlined our business we can offer these breathtaking pet products at an affordable price for our loyal customers coupled with some great, speedy service.
When a loving dog owner wants to buy something special for their pooch, they come to us.
"Don't reinvent the wheel - just find something someone else is doing and do it better."—Zak Taylor
What are the key factors that have helped your store be successful?
When you've found your calling in business and you've got something super to offer that people will actually pay you for - you've got to scream it from the rooftops and tell the world about you, your products and why they should be buying it from you.
We discovered from asking pet owners in our local parks that the number one gripe dog owners have with dog toys was that they are expensive and are really not that durable. We also highlighted that not one owner felt a loyalty to a particular brand of toy nor loyalty to a business to purchase from. These dog owners simply missed the personal touch that large companies such as Amazon cannot offer.
By this point, we knew we wanted to sell Active Hound dog toys because not only did we love the products ourselves, we also knew every toy can withstand some serious chewing and rough play! This ticked one of the boxes from our market research above.
We came up with the idea of offering a 'one stop shop' for all things Active Hound - when you want a durable dog toy we wanted people to not only buy Active Hound, but buy it from us. Quite honestly, once you try Active Hound, you never go back!
We wanted to speak to the customer direct, talk to them about their pooches and make them feel welcome. We listened to our market and now give the customer that personal touch and as a result, a huge chunk of our business is from repeat customers.
We took our concept and found Shopify. What can I say? Shopify is built especially for ecommerce stores and using Shopify, we built a brilliant online store in a matter of hours. We added product images, descriptions and prices with ease and found ourselves online within 24 hours of hard graft. The design was fresh, clear and attractive to customers. The apps Shopify offer allowed us to quickly build on the site's initial release so that we could offer reviews, Facebook integration and all sorts of special features such as the impressive 'catalogue view' when you view our site from an iPad. Within hours of going live we had two sales! We were off the mark because Shopify advertised us in their marketplace right from the off.
From here on, we opened a Google Adwords account which attracted a wider audience very quickly whenever anyone typed in "dog toys" or "chuckit". Our site went from nowhere to no.2 on Google in the UK. Our business skyrocketed and keeps growing week on week. I don't think we could have done this on our own unless we were willing to shell out $$$ on a web designer and even then I'm not sure how effective our site would have been.
We found ourselves being approached by national newspapers and dog magazines asking us about our business and products - life just couldn't get any better no? The business didn't reinvent the wheel, it just offers something that dog owners were crying out for - a company that listens and offers a product in demand.
We turned to Facebook to go 'social' and within no time at all we had around 1,000 'likes' and a loyal following. I can't express how important this is for any business. This allows you to add that personal touch to each and every post a customer makes on your page. You can interact with your customers and prospective customers, you can reward them by advertising Facebook only voucher codes, offer competitions that not only raise your 'company love' but spreads your name across the internet. As a result we now ship internationally. Why? Because we have customers asking us to send stuff to them from all over the world.
I think to succeed in any business you need to have a real belief in yourself and your product but also to recognize your own limitations. Take little steps on the road of success, learn new skills, heed advice and employ the skills of others if you need it to go on to the next step. That's all we've done and the business is growing at a steady rate.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
If I could recommend a few things to people wanting to start a business I would say the following:
1. Don't reinvent the wheel - just find something someone else is doing and do it better.
2. You need to understand that your business is in your hands, no one is going to do the work for you. If you don't work on your business daily, your business will get left behind.
3. You must take stock, keep good financial records so you can understand where you are in your business and be able to 'trim the fat' if needed.
4. Don't sell yourself too cheap. If you can't make a living from your product or service there's just no point.
5. Make sure you advertise sensibly - social marketing is free, use it! Most shoppers search for products and services in Google, Google Adwords could be a step forward to pointing potential sales to your site. The more hits you get, the better your site may perform in search rankings.
6. Know your customer. Know their motivations for purchasing your type of product.
7. Be realistic - take small steps to growth and success. "Get rich quick" doesn't apply to 99.99% of businesses.
Any Closing Remarks?
There are a few quotes from successful people that keep me in the real world. Here are three quotes that stay with me always:
“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” - Bill Gates
“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” - Napoleon Hill
"This thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down." - Mary Pickford