Our world didn’t end when the Irish Banks collapsed in September 2008.
In fact, our online Christmas orders for that year were up on the previous year and our Navan shop was enjoying a brisk trade.
The following year toy sales both online and in-shop were static. I remember confidently blogging about how resilient quality wooden toy sales are in an economy that was shrinking.
Then the concussion wave hit us. It took 15 months from its detonation. But when it hit, discretionary household spend simply stopped. There were weeks without an online order.
Within 6 months of the impact, we had shut our shop, shut our warehouse, took on long-term borrowings to replace short term debt and undertook many other organised retreat tactics.
We survived…. but only barely.
Why did we persevere when nearly every business signal was saying close and stop. Passion would be my answer. With passion, you get determination, sometimes you get luck but mostly you become just donkey stubborn. We refused to stop, we undertook this by cutting every non-essential repeatable expense from our ecommerce company.
In today’s blog post, I wouild like to set out,
- Why we set up our business mimitoys.ie
- What has changed in e-commerce during our 14 years of operation
In follow up blog posts, I’d like to offer my advice on setting up a small eCommerce business within today’s online environment. I’m certainly not saying we own all the knowledge to ecomm success – we don’t. But we may have some takeaway nuggets.
In 2004 we had 2 young children and we were obsessed about encouraging progressive play with our kids.
Pre start-up I found myself sourcing all my kids toys in France where I’m from. That bi-monthly trek to Paris to visit my Mum and the return journey laden with wooden toys was the seed idea of Mimitoys.
I compare the set-up of an ecomm shop like creating a new Jigsaw. With a Jigsaw you firstly need a picture. Its the same with ecomm in that the first step is to visualise what will the completed jigsaw picture look like.
For us the Jigsaw picture was and still is a symbolic toy that primarily progresses a childs development and secondly a toy that entertains that child.
Others may visualise that jigsaw picture as primarily a Euro symbol, where their first priority is to make money. I respect and admire that priority but I know nothing on how to start and maintain an ecomm company with that priority in mind.I can only offer my experience to fellow “Passionistas” and how to set-up and operate a 1-2 person ecomm business and then make money from it.
The picture on the Mimitoys jigsaw-photo hasnt changed since we set up 14 years ago – its still about “Progressive Play”, but I do think the pieces that make up the Mimitoys photo-jigsaw have changed considerably.
Back in 2004, ecomm was early and internet speeds were limited. So we started mimitoys.ie with a website and a postal catalogue.
Today, consumers contantly purchase from ecommerce sites and internet speeds are generally massive. This has meant the expensive postal catalogue is no longer required, but promoting your business via social media has become as critical as the effeciency of the ecomm website itself.
Social Media – the core capability pre e-commerce start-up
Envision the photo of your ecommerce business again. Then in your mind you must be able to reach for three “Social media” jigsaw pieces namely Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. (There will be many more pieces to your ecomm jigsaw, but these three are the most important pre start-up.)
If you don’t know these social media platforms well (as a consumer) then you are too early to set up your own ecommerce business. Learn them as a consumer, feel comfortable regularly contributing to your areas of interest. Then once that level of comfort and activity has been reached its time to start considering your own ecommerce business but not before.
To get customers buying off your website you need to gain customer traffic onto your website. The cheapest, fastest and most effecient method of gaining that traffic is through the social media platforms. Yes other promotional options exists, but they are very expensive with a poor purchase return eg traditional ads or require deep skills e.g Google Ads that are time consuming to acquire.
Social Media platforms today are the critical controllers of customer traffic onto your ecommerce website. Sub-contracting these Social-Media tasks out is in my opinion impossible. How can you transmit your passion to somebody else, who then in-turn has to communicate that passion to people on Social Media. Passion communication for your ecommerce can only be done by the owner / manager direct to your potential customers.
Summary & Up Next
For my next blog post I will stick with the jigsaw visual, and discuss the personal and family impact of not being able to complete the jigsaw. 7 out of 10 start-ups fail. I actually think it’s worse than that if you apply success as a “liveable wage”.
So, my next post will talk about the risks involved in starting an ecommerce business – what is the impact of business failure or poor business growth on you and your family’s financial wellbeing. I’ll also share some of the skills that you should acquire if you’re planning on running your own ecommerce business.
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