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Industry Focus : Retail Start-Ups

Industry Focus : Retail Start-Ups
Summary: We speak with 2 new business owners and a retail consultant about how they are adapting their marketing efforts as lockdown eases

This is the 2nd in our Blog series focusing on how a variety of industries are adjusting their marketing activity through lockdown easing – we have picked the brains of a variety of business owners in each sector to find out what is happening.

This week, we are focusing on Retail Start-Ups, and our contributors are Joanne Watkinson – Co-Founder of By Elleven; Ceri Smith – Founder of Your Average Wardrobe and Alex Johns – Owner of The Bridgehead Establishment, who are Consultants who help Retail businesses to innovate and grow.

1)          How did COVID-19 impact your business?

JW :     Our Website launched in November 2020, so our business has only ever known this way of working, but we felt the disruption in terms of our planning, we weren’t able to meet suppliers face to face, travel to view factories and we were forced to shoot on our selves instead of using a model and a crew, which is what we would have ordinarily done. The irony is that using ourselves as models (however reluctantly!) has become our signature and been well received, perhaps because it comes across as authentic.

CS :      Without COVID-19 I wouldn’t have been out of a job and so encouraged to start up Your Average Wardrobe.  I found that stock flow was heavily affected & people not as willing to spend money.

NMcK : And how did it feel from a consulting perspective?

AJ :      Initially high impact in terms of disruption and then it turned into an opportunity.

2)         On a positive note, what were the pleasant surprises for your business during lockdown?

CS :      Self belief that I could start up, and that so many people are supportive! People are nicer than you think.

JW :     The biggest positive about lockdown for us was actually launching the business – had we continued working without an enforced break By Elleven may have stayed a pipe-dream.  Other than that, positives include how supportive people have been, with lots of people taking time out to give us advice and guidance.

AJ :      Helping more businesses become more digitally minded and turn their hands to e commerce. Some great results!

3)         During the pandemic, which Marketing strategies did you lean on most?

AJ :      The pandemic for us as consultants was fairly straight forward. A number of our clients’ businesses crashed overnight and so therefore we were advising on innovation, new product development, new ways of marketing new products. As an example, one company was in events management and it’s entire business came to a halt overnight – we completely reinvented their business and showed them how to launch a new virtual events product. Whereas another client ran a leading wine merchant who wasn’t online in a big way, we developed a new e commerce product which scaled incredibly quickly over lockdown.

JW :     Our strategy leans heavily on social media, with Instagram being our primary marketing tool.

CS :      Facebook & Instagram – there are a lot of people with less work on so more people are on social media

4)         As we come out of lockdown, which Marketing strategies will you continue to use more?

JW :     Lockdown meant we were unable to do pop-ups which would have been a good starting block for us to network and build contacts, so we are building them into our marketing plans. Now that our subscriber base is growing, our email marketing will become more important too.

CS :      Email marketing, giving people good content not just the hard sell.

NMcK : And what about in the consulting world?

AJ :      We have seen opportunity for new client acquisition. We are targeting businesses we like and think we can apply our techniques to. A very different strategy – all about grow rather than innovate.

5)         Which Marketing strategies will you use less & why?

AJ :      Zoom and teams! Whereas virtual client meetings were fine in lockdown, you can’t beat face to face!

NMcK : I couldn’t agree more Alex!

CS :      Tik Tok, I feel other social media is fine without it. This isn’t an app that I feel resonates and comes naturally.

6)         What has impressed you about Marketing strategies which you seen other industries use successfully?

JW :     We are always impressed with collaborations between brands that have synergy, so both subscriber lists can be harnessed to drive traffic and sales

AJ :      I always love businesses which have invented something completely new. Pubs – massively hit during lockdown have invented new outdoor huts in their gardens which will live long past lockdown .. lockdown has shown innovation and speed are always great tools for growth

7)         What operational changes have you put in place recently to be able to open commercially but safely?

JW :     We are online only so this doesn’t really apply, but we are only taking part in outdoor pop-ups until restrictions ease.

CS :      None as it is just myself working from home. However I recently ran a charity month to donate profit per order to help those in need in India where our supply base is.

AJ :      Not relevant for us. Covid testing, cleanliness are obvious for practically all people facing businesses.

8)         Thinking about the next 12 months, will you be spending more or less on marketing than previously?

CS :      More, for the 2nd half of this year.

JW :     Going forward we will be spending more on marketing, in particular sponsored posts, influencer marketing and gifting.

AJ :      More.

9)         Thinking about the next 12 months, what will be the change in your marketing spend spent on Digital?

CS :      Definitely a lot more as a Jan 2021 start up I am looking to grow this area

AJ :      +10%

NMcK : It’s great to see you are investing in growing your businesses and recognising the importance of digital post pandemic.

10)       How are your team reacting to lockdown ending?

JW :     We are a team of 2 and couldn’t be more excited that lockdown is lifting, the restrictions have definitely held us back and made us less inclined to push our business further out of the UK, the next step is being able to travel freely, that’s when we can take our brand international.

CS :      As a team of 1 I am coping okay, it has tough moments but slowly easing myself back into the world

AJ :      Delighted

NMcK : Personally, I’m loving being able to go out, meet clients again and support my favourite independent retailers!


Thank-you to Joanna, Ceri and Alex for sharing their insights – here are links to their websites if you’d like to find out more about their businesses :

Joanna Watkinson :

Ceri Smith :

Alex Johns :


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