“What began as a marketing exercise is now all consuming”: Retailer Q&A with Shower Enclosures UK
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If one theme has emerged clearly from my Retailer Q&A series to date, it’s that modern retail businesses can’t really afford to ignore the Internet: whether that’s a niche retailer like Geordies Everywhere, set up to take advantage of an online store’s global reach; or a longer established physical retailer like Outdoor World Direct, which has evolved its business to embrace e-commerce and the marketing power of social media.
Similarly, retailers I’ve interviewed in the volatile home and furniture space – like sofa specialist Nabru and bathrooms company QS Supplies – have highlighted several important factors behind their success, such as a multichannel presence, product innovation, and a commitment to offering the best possible customer service. Clearly, the challenge for online stores is to stand out from the crowd through effective marketing via advertising and social media, while ensuring that they offer a great experience – and a reason for positive word of mouth – once the customer gets there.
So, what are the results if a design agency seeks to practice what it preaches by setting up its own retail business alongside its online marketing operations? Well, that’s exactly what one of my CannySites.com clients, the West Yorkshire-based bathroom products retailer Shower Enclosures UK.com Ltd, did, so I spoke to its owner, Dean Bailey, about the challenges and benefits of developing a profitable business off the back of an initial “marketing exercise”.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your business – where is it based, what’s its history, and what does it do?
Based in Elland, West Yorkshire, we’re a small independent online retailer of bathroom products and, strangely enough, operated by a team with a background in design and marketing.
We’re only in our third year and we started the business partly as an exercise to see if we could practice what our design agency preaches to its clients in terms of online marketing – so far so good, but we definitely had some naivety. With no investment as such, just a commitment to spending time on building and marketing the business, we now operate three websites including Shower Enclosures UK (http://www.showerenclosuresuk.com/), Bathroom Mirrors UK (http://www.bmukmirrors.com/) and our newly launched Bathroom Radiators UK (http://www.bathroomradiatorsuk.com/). We also sell through other sales channels including Amazon, Facebook and eBid.
Q. And what’s your own role in the business?
As a small business owner I wear many hats: sales, accounts, packing, dealing with customers, but I’m mainly involved with online marketing. Day to day the role might involve anything from meeting with sales reps to optimising web pages through keyword research and link building. It’s important for now that I can still undertake any role in the business and be prepared to get my hands dirty. As well as taking the plaudits as a small business owner, you’re going to hear about it when things go wrong and you’re going to have to deal with it. Recovering a dire situation with a customer can give you an enormous amount of satisfaction even if it costs you a few bob – ultimately you protect your reputation.
Q. What’s your business model, and why? Is it bricks, clicks or both?
We’re completely online at the moment though we do have some walk-in trade customers. The business has developed this way purely through an opportunity being presented and us taking that chance with only a little previous experience in e-commerce. I’m not against having a bricks and mortar store at some point, but it’s just not a risk we could afford to take at the moment.
We are in the fortunate position of not having to pay a marketing company, so we can operate our business on relatively little and still move forward. It just means we all work hours we won’t get paid for, but I doubt there is a small business out there where that doesn’t happen!
Q. Looking forward, what do you see as the greatest opportunities for a business like yours at the moment?
Hmmm, that’s a very difficult question. Sniffing opportunities out, I guess, is what makes you a good business person. It’s also difficult to be unique in the online bathroom sector as many companies sell the same product and product trends will come and go.
I think what’s key for us is how we communicate with our customers. Many do want the anonymity of the web but lots more have questions, and we’re starting to see enquiries from younger customers who are setting up home – these are coming in via Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Websites can be overly branded and quite devoid of personality, so with the next website incarnation – which is in development – we need to get across that we do genuinely care about our customers being happy with their purchase. Online reviews are important but so is good old-fashioned word of mouth. Modern word of mouth is happening through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (@showerenc_uk).
Q. And what about the main challenges?
The main challenge for our business is getting enough traffic to our websites post Google Penguin, Panda and EDM algorithm updates, which for us tend to favour big established brands regardless of whether you’re trying to serve the best possible content to your visitors. Plus, since many free traffic streams such as Google’s own Shopping listings are going to be paid-for services, we need to diversify our traffic sources and not rely on the big G. Ensuring our offerings are all mobile compliant will also help.
Something that started as a marketing exercise is now in many respects all consuming. Just collecting the pay cheque then forgetting about work when you go home is a distant memory. Keeping myself and others motivated at times when sales are few and far between is also a significant challenge.
Q. Where do you hope your business will be in five years’ time?
I hope we’re still operating profitably and our team feel secure in their jobs – this will only happen if we can continue to get good online exposure. I’d also like to have a new streamlined warehousing facility in place to improve fulfilment speed and eradicate order errors.
Perhaps we’ll do this again in five years to see where we are?
Q. And any final thoughts or comments that you’d like to add?
Operating my own business has really helped me empathise with our clients from the design and marketing business. I can now more fully appreciate the budgets they set when I’m pushing them into the latest Internet marketing craze.
Finally, many thanks for asking us to contribute to this blog.
About Retailer Q&A: Retailer Q&A is a new format where Soult’s Retail View talks to retailers – large or small, and whether bricks, clicks or multichannel – about their current innovations, aspirations and challenges. As always with Soult’s Retail View, the features are not paid for – it’s all about providing interesting stories and content for the blog’s readers. If you run a retail business and are interested in taking part in the feature, please drop me an email or a tweet.
About Graham Soult: My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, helps retailers improve their stores, get to grips with online marketing, or understand more about the market and their competitors.
Meanwhile, CannySites.com is the umbrella brand for my portfolio of home, garden and holiday-related directory websites, where I showcase retailers from within those sectors and give consumers a hand in finding the products and services that they’re looking for.