This is a follow up story for Australian Woodwork. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi, I am Sarah Davidson, co-owner with my husband Gregory White, of Australian Woodwork. Our online, full e-commerce store sells a wide range of wooden gifts and homewares that are 100% Australian-made from sustainable native timbers - just like it says on our homepage!
Our customers, both private and corporate, are people who want to buy Australian-made, quality gifts and also people who just love timber. Although our sales have been mostly domestic we are steadily gaining international customers - because of Covid, everyone the world over is shopping online which has seen us increase turnover by 100% during 2020 and our international sales increasing from 8% to 12% of total sales, pretty good!
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Over 2020, our business has doubled, from 20k a month to 40k a month which has spurred major upgrades to our storeroom and packing operations. Label printing and fulfillment of orders were automated, hugely saving time, and there was no more standing in line at the post office - just drop the parcels and leave! We also re-organized the storeroom to bring the big sellers close to the packing benches and the slower, expensive items further away.
Although I did lots of self-learning from youtube videos and helpful Shopify blogs, a short photography course taught me more and better and I recommend it to anyone starting their own website.
We partnered with multiple ‘AustralianOnly’ websites which popped up in 2020 to help drive online visibility. This has had mixed results, nothing amazing, but it’s all free so it is only positive results. We also upgraded our out-of-stock functionality so that customers can now be notified when an out-of-stock product comes back online, and be notified immediately, which due to our low stock, exclusive products, acts as a great incentive to buy right away before they are gone again. We are now considering adding paid pre-order functionality to our new website launch later this year.
Our marketing manager has taken on a full-time employee to do a lot of the marketing leg work and although he does not work exclusively for our website, he is a proxy new employee plus we are looking at hiring a part-timer in the store/packing room.
We are always adding new products especially to our range of jewelry boxes and to kitchenware, our 2 biggest selling categories - somewhere to keep your bling is ever popular and the foodie revolution just rolls on.
We tried a new marketing channel when we started using a Shopify integration with eBay to directly list all our products on their platform. This means when we sell on eBay the order comes through on our Shopify store exactly like a direct order from the website, so the overhead is minimal, almost nothing.
We found that Facebook ads continued to decline in performance to the point where we no longer use the platform for paid advertising. The only time we now utilize FB is during the peak holiday season and just for low-budget re-targeting ads. We do no general advertising or sponsored posts.
We have noticed an increase in return customers which is very gratifying and we like to think it’s a mixture of targeted subscriber emails and our excellent customer service, both before and after-sales. We are a little old school in that customers can actually call us on the phone if they have urgent inquiries and we get very positive feedback from that. Of course, they can submit an online product inquiry as well but for certain age groups, that real voice at the end of the line is a winner. We have had good results from email-subscriber-only sales and previews/access to new products before they go out on our social media accounts.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Probably the biggest lesson we learned in 2020 was that there is a certain amount of luck involved in even the best business plan with the best product and the best marketing. The Covid pandemic, I hate to say it, was lucky for us - a guilty silver lining that boosted our sales to where we got some real traction which enabled us to streamline the storeroom operation, buy custom packaging for all our products, expand our range with new products and try new marketing strategies. We did a lot in 2020 that would maybe have taken 2 years or more to realize normally and we put all that extra revenue from sales back into the business to improve functionality over all areas.
One thing that has helped with the website presentation is a course I took in product photography and photoshop editing. To me the products needed to look enticing and beautifully photographed - after all, great photos provide the first, important bit of visual information for potential customers. This is an area that will continue to improve - putting those photography lessons into practice. Although I did lots of self-learning from youtube videos and helpful Shopify blogs, a short photography course taught me more and better and I recommend it to anyone starting their own website.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The major plan for this year is to launch the new website. Our current website is beginning to look dated and we will be going for a clean, white background look, with clear, easy-to-navigate pages and categories, and improved features.
Our other plan for 2021 is to further streamline and automate the daily operations and to employ a part-time person who can hopefully become a full-time employee down the track. This will free us up to do more product development and design and who knows we might even grab some time off to go camping!
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I have read a couple of books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile and Skin in the Game. Both books are not business guides as such but contain valuable ideas about how to thrive in an uncertain world, the role of luck, unpredictable events, and how best to navigate these. He explains that just as human bones get stronger through stress and tension that this can be applied to your life and business too. He shows that it is necessary to take risks in business but also to protect yourself against the downside of risk-taking.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Don’t try to expand too quickly, accruing too much debt as you go - that makes you very fragile to shocks.
Only take reasonable money out of the business until you are in a really solid position - no Porsches!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for a part-time helper in the storeroom who has to be an all-rounder; computer savvy, have a good phone manner, be able to learn the stock lines and their specific packing requirements.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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