In the age of omni-channel sales, retailers are finding it increasingly difficult to cater to customers across all platforms.
Brandi Temple, the founder and CEO of online fashion retailer Lolly Wolly Doodle, explains how to embrace being a truly online business by using social media and providing personalised products.
Temple says online retail was something she and her husband fell into after the family ran into problems with money.
“I didn’t intend to start a business,” says Temple.
“We had stumbled onto Facebook and really started to pioneer the 'f-commerce' that everyone said was impossible.”
Temple had been making clothes for her daughters, and decided she would start selling clothes on the social media site.
She shifted to the social networking platform from her previous eBay site after a positive reaction from fans when she raffled off some spare merchandise.
Using the social network as a sales platform allowed Temple greater flexibility with designs and she moved away from the traditional wholesale to retail approach.
She uploads different designs to Facebook to gauge what customers like and what she should sell.
The business reacted to the feedback given by customers on social media and Temple says: “If people didn’t like them, we didn’t make them.”
Using social media caused the business to grow a lot more quickly than expected and, once Temple realised she could no longer house the business in the family garage, she faced some tough decisions surrounding the technology supporting the operations and her business as a whole.
To sell or not to sell
When the business began to snowball, Lolly Wolly Doodle either had to find ways of scaling or sell the business to someone who could “professionally manage” it.
Temple says: “I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t have a background in business, I hadn’t intended to start this business.”
Instead of selling the company, Temple started looking into what channels were available to her online business and how to stay current.
“It’s about knowing what new channels are out there, the new platforms, not being afraid to experiment,” Temple explains.
“That’s the beauty of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – if it’s out there, test it as much as you possibly can.”
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Lolly Wolly Doodle expanded into the e-commerce market with its own website, but ran into problems when trying to find software that would cater to its specific business functions catering for its entire supply chain.
“Even with our website, as a small business we faced a lot of challenges with the platform and our server and what we were going to build our business on,” says Temple.
“We do everything from custom creation to personalisation and we discovered the software just didn’t exist.”
To support the business, Lolly Wolly Doodle decided to take an off the shelf system for the time being and consider how to adapt once the business started to grow.
Eventually the firm built its own ERP system and hired a product manager – a former secondary school maths teacher – to tie the technology and the business together.
“We built our business model around being able to react very quickly,” she says.
Using culture to grow
As with any startup, Temple highlights the importance of finding like-minded people to grow the internal culture of the business.
When she began the firm, the businesses was so small and in need of growth, Temple admits she hired almost anyone and trained them to match the jobs Temple needed them to do.
But she found that, as the business grew, it was important to make sure the right people were part of it.
“Sometimes in your journey your business is going to change. For us it was the Facebook algorithm that really changed our entire basis and we had to pivot very quickly,” she says.
She began to realise the importance of some advice she was given as she started her business: “A good CEO knows how to hire people – but a great CEO knows how to fire them.
“Not everyone is going to be a good fit.
“We started to go more towards an e-commerce play, so we needed different people running different departments.”
Temple suggests entrepreneurs should see every hire as an “investment in people” as running a business of any size can’t be done by one person alone.
“Hire very smart but also know when you need to make the decision to move in a different direction,” Temple suggests.
Advice for entrepreneurs
“The internet is actually a playground and I actually tell everyone: ‘Don’t be afraid to experiment,’” Temple says.
She explains she is often asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” – to which she replies, “Who cares?” and claims the internet and social media can be used as a test bed to find the audience for a product.
But when building a whole brand based around social media it is important to make sure customer issues are addressed and that the platform isn’t used to the business’s detriment.
“Social media was what launched our business and was the heartbeat of it, but it was also something that felt like a knife when you’ve got a community and someone doesn’t agree with something,” Temple warns.
“Social media was a twofold situation for us of trying to make sure we were using it in a positive way, but not letting it affect the business in a negative way.”