Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Sarah Newton, I’ve worked in travel and wine for 20 years but when the pandemic hit it was clear that there was little certainty in my industry at the time (travel).
Taking matters into my own hands, I launched CoolerSomm - an online eCommerce business selling wine accessories to the UK public. I was able to take my eCommerce experience from past roles and businesses and use it to build the online store, a small social following, and opened paid search accounts.
In our first full month of trading online, we were turning over $50k on a Shopify basic package.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The idea of CoolerSomm was born from my own bad experiences with wine accessories that would either break or underperform due to poor materials. I wanted to create a portal of accessories that truly enhanced the wine experience selling only reputable brands that have used quality materials and offer guarantees and extended warranties. In short, I wanted other wine lovers to avoid being caught out with cheap wine coolers and flimsy wine accessories. So I went to brands like Coravin, Swisscave, Riedel, Richard Brendon, and others and took a gamble on buying stock directly to bring their goods to our customers for the best price that I could.
The idea got off the ground finally, due to my own financial situation, one of a steadily dwindling paycheck as my employer cut down my marketing director salary in online travel as the industry took a 90% nosedive in turnover during the pandemic. I had also had my first child that year during the pandemic and wanted to take matters into my own hands. I realized I no longer wanted to be a victim to the rationale of an employer and the dream had always been to work for myself.
My advice to anyone starting a new business is to really research your niche, choose a product with good margins per sale, especially if you can not work full time on your project.
Although I understood the reasons my salary was being cut, as my colleagues suffered the same, I felt that while it was a time of depression for travel, wine sales were booming while people could not go out to the pub or restaurants and it made sense that wine accessories would be too. I checked Google Trends and switched industries but brought my marketing skills with me and here we are!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
CoolerSomm doesn’t produce its own products as such, we’re a reseller of quality wine accessories. However, we did build our own brand, website, and curated list of products. We decided to make CoolerSomm a club, offering discounts to genuine wine lovers who wanted access to the best wine products on the market.
Our start-up costs were negligible really. We have a Shopify store and a small stock. Luckily I know enough about website creation, marketing, content, social, and PPC from my eCommerce director days to do everything at the business from accounting to legal to marketing to aftersales! It’s a bootstrapped business in every sense of the word.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We were exceptionally fortunate. Within a week of launching, we had our first sales of wine coolers and this is wholly down to Google Adwords which was a skill throughout my background. I took the care to create very specific campaigns and ad groups that would be efficient from the start with most of our KW enjoying 10/10 quality scores. Our slick design, club incentives, and efficient marketing meant that, even with no brand to speak of, we were able to instantly turn a profit.
The business was founded from my own savings but the initial start-up costs were low. My advice to anyone starting a new business is to really research your niche, choose a product with good margins per sale especially if you can not work full time on your project.
Nothing beats word of mouth and despite what people may think, customers will research your back story, research your brand and they want to know you are going to not only deliver the sale but be there for them if they encounter a problem.
Our average margin per sale is well in excess of £100 and that really helps in the early days if you’re self funded and time is your most valuable resource, you do not want to be dealing with dozens of sales enquiries a day if you are also working another job and have no funding or partners.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
What has worked well is Adwords, partnerships, and social media.
Before starting this business I was already a wine blogger and Instagram wine “influencer” with around 20,000 followers. Although I doubt many sales have actually come from Instagram posts or my following, what it has allowed me to do is reach out and create great partnerships with other wine retailers/stores (who also need wine accessories) and sell the products via their networks via email marketing and rev share deals. We’ve also begun steadily growing our backlinks from other wine retailers and influencers thanks to social media.
However, the real bulk of our sales at the moment come from Adwords which is natural when you have no brand or domain authority for organic traffic. I will truly view this business as a success once we start to get significant amounts of organic traffic.
Lastly, we really work hard on managing our online reputation and going that extra mile for the customer. Nothing beats word of mouth and despite what people may think, customers will research your back story, research your brand and they want to know you are going to not only deliver the sale but be there for them if they encounter a problem. I have spent hours on the phones to clients and potential clients talking them through all the facets of their purchase and just giving general wine advice and I think made clients for life due to that level of care.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’m not in the business of predicting the future! If Covid has taught me anything it’s how to roll with the punches and that an event completely out of my hands can totally change a life direction.
However, my hopes for this business would be
A) to also go offline, to have an actual store as many top brands will not work with online stores in the wine industry. Many people want to visit us, look at the wine coolers and products we sell before buying so having a retail store may be a good move.
B) to expand internationally, due to Brexit importing wine coolers from the continent has become so expensive that many brands have stopped totally, it would be great to take CoolerSomm into Europe with a central warehouse there and distribute these products across the EU and turn our site into a multi-language/currency domain
C) Importantly, we need to reduce our acquisition costs, as we’ve been trading less than 6 months there’s no brand and no organic traffic, many of our competitors enjoy “free traffic” of up to 60-70%, that would make a massive difference to profitability and present the opportunity to do either A or B!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
This is not my first business, I have learned a lot from starting prior businesses that keep me calm and grounded running this business! From those initial businesses I have learned that things do just take time and you need to do things correctly, with care and patience as tempting as it may be to run off at 100mph. As I mentioned, we have to build a brand and an organic presence to really set off running. I’ve learned that customers value quality over price and that customer service is the most important facet of a successful business.
There has been a certain amount of luck (so far) with this business. A streak of hot weather, a lack of wine coolers getting into the UK, and the increasing pricing of these objects - that mix of scarcity and price certainly contributed to customers taking a chance on a new brand and has inflated our revenue numbers.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have a Shopify store with a couple of apps to customize the theme for our specific needs. We have Xero accounting, a mailchimp CRM system, Google Analytics and Tidio chat. That’s it! We also use Hotjar session recording to see how we can improve our UX.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I don’t really read entrepreneur books as such, I do watch a lot of TED talks and YOUTUBE videos from Actualized and other self-help creators. The talks I enjoy the most and get the most from tend to be around how to defeat your own inner demons rather than how to do X, Y, Z in business! “How not to procrastinate”, “habits of successful people”, “keeping a good attitude” etc, I believe working on myself at that level helps my business performance.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Learn about what you do and what you sell. Learn it inside out and back to front. If I look at this business it contains elements of what I’ve spent years doing in my personal and professional life. I am on the WSET diploma course in wine. I know wine, I know AdWords, I know UX, I know how to treat customers, I understand the mindset of the person who is buying my products.
If you’re very young, appreciate that things don’t have to happen right away, be patient, don’t just look at the results day in and day out, but look at your actions, keep taking the right steps, taking the right steps, and eventually, your work WILL pay off. Don’t be in such a hurry and most importantly, don’t sweat it!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Still too early to be hiring a full-time at the moment. I have enlisted my friends! I have a guy who does the accounts for a small fee, I have a friend who helps on the CRM, another on design, etc etc. If you don’t have big bucks to back you then it takes a village!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:
- Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
- Step by step guides on how to start and grow
- Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
- And much more!
Did you know that brands using Klaviyo average a 95x ROI?
Email, SMS, and more — Klaviyo brings your marketing all together, fueling growth without burning through time and resources.
Deliver more relevant email and text messages — powered by your data. Klaviyo helps you turn one-time buyers into repeat customers with all the power of an enterprise solution and none of the complexity.