Ellie Ellie founder Danielle Plowman tested the market for her custom jewellery with a Scrabble board and a Not on the High Street account. That was five years ago, today the business has a team of 25 and is growing fast.
We interviewed Plowman on the latest episode of BusinessZone's podcast, Start / Scale / Disrupt. What follows are the best quotes that cover her journey, building consumer trust, growth and more.
When I couldn't find a job, I looked in the retail section of children's shops, I went the Yellow Pages and rung every shop in Brighton. One of the shops were interested in doing an exclusive collection. I made this whole collection and the shop shut down. I had all these items in the corner of my room and nowhere to sell it.
I opened a shop and ran it for two years. It was terrible. I worked two-three other jobs to pay for it. I tried that and it was unsuccessful. Online just doesn’t have the overheads, so it’s much easier for businesses to start up.
When I started Ellie Ellie the biggest aim for me was to wake up every day and not feel like it was work and to get paid for that. You spend so much time at work, it’s really important you love it and you feel like you’re making a difference.
When we started I made everything myself because it was the cheapest way to check out the market without investing. Now we design and manufacture blanks with suppliers, then we do the finalisation in-house. For example, we get blank cufflinks, we add map sections from our vintage maps and fit the glass - I can still be found at a jumble sale trying to find a map.
We were accepted on Not On The High Street really early on. At the time about 80% of small businesses were being turned away. Looking back on the product I don’t know how we got accepted. That’s been the platform to enable us to develop as a company. They’re marketing our products with their own budget and taught us about business.
That platform has enabled us to develop our own website and other channels. If we just wanted to get sales through our own website it would need a lot of investment. There are loads of platforms out there that can help you grow.
When you start turning down opportunities because you don’t have the space or the staff, that’s when you need to scale up. I want it to be as big as it can get. I just did a presentation to staff about the Ellie Ellie story. We all sat together and made ridiculous dreams about where we want to be in five years time that seem ridiculous, but they’re not ridiculous because I started from nothing.
We can do a 48-hour turnaround, for a personalisation company that’s quite good. How sustainable is it when we’re growing? We’ve worked hard to answer the question because it is a worry. About a year and a half ago we introduced a stock and maintenance system. We’re one of the only few that have managed to do it for a personalisation company. We can scale up probably 10-times what we are with that.
We’ve just gone through a brand exercise. We want the customers to know us as human beings, but ideally, we want to tell the customer what we’re going to give them, what we’re going to help them with. But I do think the story resonates. People like hearing about the mistakes and how you got over them, that builds trust.
It’s important to build up trust online. We have a Feefo review system, so that if they don’t trust us they can speak to other customers. We put our photos on social media and the website, it’s important to put a name to a face. We have facts about us outside of the workplace on our email sign-offs; mine says I love cheese and I’m a majorette champion.
The development of delivery options has been amazing over the last few years. We’ve just integrated a new postal method where everything is tracked and the customer gets a text message and an email to tell them where the package is.
We’ve got a lot of focus on conversion rates and drop off rates in the development of our websites. In terms of what we can do, photography is a really big one, it’s about laying down expectations. Customers don't really read product information, it’s there in case they want to, but you need to translate your product through imagery.
Make your drop downs as easy as possible, even though you offer personalisation you’re still giving the customer your design knowledge. We will decide the colourways the product should have. It’s about reducing the clicks to checkout.
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About Christopher Goodfellow
Journalist and editor with nine years' experience covering small businesses and entrepreneurship (ChrisGoodfellow.net). Follow his personal twitter account @CPGoodfellow and his events business @Box2Media. He has written for a wide range of publications in the UK, Ireland and Canada, including The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent and Vice magazine.