Interview with UK entrepreneur Trevor Ginn

Cristian: Hi Trevor and Welcome to Entrepreneurship Interviews. You’re running an online store for nursery products. What it is about it?

Trevor: Hello Baby is an online nursery shop selling a wide range of product for babies and toddlers including prams, pushchairs, car seats, nursery furniture and highchairs.  Everything you need for a happy family!

Previously to running Hello Baby I was working as an eCommerce consultant and I decided to put my money where my mouth was and launch my own online business.  Turnover is now around £40K per month and growing by about 10% month on month.

Cristian: So I assume it’s a shop for young parents? What makes it different from other shops?

Trevor:  We differentiate ourselves in a number of ways, although we don’t really have a USP (but let’s face it, very few companies do!)  We have an attractive user friendly website and put a lot of effort into having compelling product descriptions and photos.  Naturally, we have a great range of products at attractive prices (this is the web after all) and which we ship worldwide (33% of our sales go overseas).  Finally, we are trying to build a community around our site and are keen bloggers and Facebook and Twitter users.

Cristian: What are the advantages of being able to buy online versus window shopping for your customers?

Trevor:  People buy things online for a number of reasons and price is only one factor.  Another big reason is availability and selection.  If you are in the Shetland Islands off northern Scotland then you are hundreds of miles from the nearest city, but it is easy to order products via the web.  We also sell a lot of product internationally.

Although people cannot touch and try out the products they are buying, we try to make up for this by using high quality images and increasingly, video.

Cristian: You told me that you opened the store after your first child was born. Having your own experience as a parent helped shaping the online business or it’s something you could do it anyway? How important is having your own experience with the needs and demands of the market before selling stuff online?

Trevor:  I think it helps to sell something you know something about.  That said the process of selling any product online is pretty much the same.  Market research is important and I don’t think I did enough of it (I was lucky).  That said it is difficult to get good data and there is a lot to be said for starting in a small way and seeing what works.

Cristian: Do you remember your first customer? How do you felt about it?

Trevor:  It was all a bit of a surprise really after several months of preparation.  We first started selling on eBay which is a great way for businesses to start off as it provides an instant customer base.  We sell about 66% of our products through online marketplaces (eBay and Amazon).

Cristian:  What is the best selling product?

Trevor:  A smaller Heva rubber teething toy called Sophie the Giraffe is a real favourite and playtents from Win Green fly out the door.  I am also a big fan of the Cariboo range of Furniture from New Zealand and the Izziwotnot nursery ranges.

Cristian: And how do you deal with stocks? Do you need a warehouse? And what about the logistics?

Trevor:  We hold the smaller items in stock.  Larger items we either dropship (i.e. get the supplier to ship straight to the end customer) or buy in to fulfill sales.  Our main wholesaler has a carriage paid order of only £200 and so we place an order in nearly every day.  It would be very difficult to run a business like this without a warehouse/office although some people do run similar businesses from their homes.  There are companies out there which will take care of the entire warehouse operation but I did not think it would work for us from a cost point of view.

Cristian: How complicated is to start an online business? You need an online shop, payment methods and web marketing. Any shortcuts? Can you do it without previous online experience?

Trevor:  Online retailing businesses are in some ways quite easy to launch with off the shelf shopping cart software and online marketplaces allowing businesses to start selling fast.  However, if you have little technical or online marketing experience it can be expensive and time consuming to set up as you will have to pay for external contractors.  You really need to be passionate about eCommerce and be prepared to do a lot of the work yourself.

Cristian: If you were to start things all over again, what would you do differently?

Trevor:  I’d have spent less time on fun, but ultimately rather pointless side projects like setting up our own social network on Ning and more time on core activities such as creating inventory.

Cristian: You mentioned at some point that having good content for the site is paramount. How do you come up with content?

Trevor:  Most of the content on our site is in the form of products but we also have a blog and resource centre.  A journalist friend (who is also a mum) writes for the blog and we also announce things like product launches and special offers.

Cristian: So, you’re also running a Resource center to help parents with advices and tips. What can parents learn from there?

Trevor:  The idea with the resource centre is to help parents make the difficult purchasing decisions e.g buying their first pram and make the site a bit special.  We’ve had lots of good feedback about it.

Cristian: What was the happiest moment in running the online store?

Trevor:  Every month our sales are going up and so I am happy all the time!