What was your background before the Frockery and what made you take the plunge into running your own business?
I have had several businesses in the past, ranging from catering to language services, but for the seven years prior to starting the Frockery, I was employed as a parliamentary researcher covering issues as diverse as education and waste. As a lifelong collector of vintage clothing with a ready made supply of stock, I had already started ‘frocking’ on a part time basis, but the final plunge was precipitated by redundancy when my MSP boss lost her seat in the 2007 election.
What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced in starting up the business?
In a word, technology! Ecommerce was a very different beast from the websites I had previously tinkered with and the learning curve was steep as I had to get to grips with CMS, SEO, SERPS and other hitherto unheard of acronyms!
As an e-commerce business what would be your top three tips for businesses looking to sell online?
- Build trust and loyalty It’s more challenging to gain and maintain the trust of your customers when you are selling online without face to face contact, so respond courteously to enquiries, get orders out promptly and never quibble over refunds. You won’t go wrong by remembering the customer is always right, even if sometimes they aren’t!
- Build brand awareness Communicate the essence and benefits of your brand using your website, blog and media relevant to your business. Engage directly with existing/potential customers and allied businesses, both online and in real life, but don’t be pushy and never spam!
- Hire the right help (be a smart spender not necessarily a big spender) Few start-up businesses have a full complement of skills in-house to maximise their potential, and even fewer have big budgets, so do the things you are good at yourself but know when and where to find the right people with the right expertise to make up the shortfall.
What channels do you use to market your business?
Apart from the Frockery’s own website and blog, I use social media like Facebook and Twitter and various community and business forums. I also maintain a presence on ebay and Etsy, primarily for marketing purposes as I want to avoid dilution of my own brand. Offline, I am active in a number of networking and interest groups which have regularly brought me new business, I participate in vintage fairs and events and have developed collaborative relationships with other businesses.
What would you say was your biggest achievement in business to date?
Inextricably interlinked to the biggest challenge above, it has to be getting to grips with technology sufficiently to transform my personal passion for vintage frockery into an online shop which has just celebrated its fifth birthday and now attracts more than 10000 unique visitors a month.
What does the future hold for The Frockery?
In addition to the online shop, there are plans to target new markets through partnership working with other small businesses (as in our ‘Dollyfrockers’ collaboration with SC MakeUp Artistry). We also plan to supply stock to some small independent boutiques and are looking into ‘pop up’ retail and events.
A massive thank you to Alison for agreeing to do the profile and I must say I actually think she’s done an amazing job of giving an insight into her business and the challenges she has faced. Hopefully others can take heart from this Five years and counting in business as well which is an amazing achievement!