Five years ago fashion e-tailer Onceit was an idea on a bit of paper. Today it's one of New Zealand's fastest growing businesses that has well and truly established itself as the digital destination for designer must-haves, without the designer prices. We catch-up with founder and client Jay Goodey.
I have to confess upfront that my partner and I visit the Onceit checkout probably a bit more than we should - the range and prices are just too tempting. So, to try and prevent any further author bias from working its way into the story we thought it best to go with the solid and reliable Q&A format.
How did the concept for Onceit come about?
Jay: Believe it or not, my background is originally in film and TV editing, so I didn't really have experience in retail or e-commerce. What probably sparked the idea was stumbling across a blog that detailed all the designer sample sales happening in Auckland, but had no option to buy direct. From there it was really just a case of being curious about how I could improve the convenience of the model. I worked my normal editing job and then at night time was building a business plan and concept. It was during this time that I partnered with Pixel Fusion, a web company that thought the idea had potential and we agreed on a reduced web development cost in exchange for shareholding in Onceit.
What were some of the challenges you faced starting out?
Jay: For me personally, it wastaking a leap of faith and making the decision to leave my job so I could put all my energy and focus into Onceit. For the business, getting designers to trust me with their brands was probably the biggest challenge. Not a lot of the designers we were dealing with at the time were selling online and everyone was nervous about the off-price model, because of the risk it could damage their brand integrity and image. This is why getting the business model right was so important.
Onceit is able to preserve the brand equity of their designer partners by only offering the discounted prices for a very short period of time. When we started it was literally just me in a room with a laptop, so juggling every aspect of the business was also a challenge. I would be booking in brands, answering customer service emails, uploading sales, working with the web company to fix bugs, paying the accounts and then my wife would finish her day job and we would spend all night packing up and sending out customer orders Then we'd do it all again the next day.
Are there any turning points that stick out in your mind?
Jay: To be honest the first session I ever had with Bellingham Wallace Accountants was a real eye opener. I was about two and half years in to the business and it was the first time I had sat down with anyone, whether that be an advisor or mentor, to look at the big picture of where we were going and what the road map might look like. I feel like that meeting was a turning point for me and the direction of our business.
What goes on behind the monitor screens?
Jay: Currently we are running 30-35 sale features a week which takes a considerable amount of work to achieve. We have account managers who book in sales and negotiate bulk buys or consignment deals. Once we have a brand booked in to a date, we shoot the range samples on a model in our studio. Our merchandising team then uploads all of the information/pricing/ images on to our site and once the sale has finished our dispatch team packs in the stock to our warehouse and then sends out the orders. A normal fashion brand may launch 4-6 ranges a year and we are putting through 30-35 of those a week for our members. We have had to break down each process and build systems from scratch to fit our business model and this is where Bellingham Wallace's advice and direction has really helped us.
How has the product range on Onceit evolved?
Jay: We started out mainly dealing with New Zealand clothing and accessory designers. It was a really good way to build a strong following as each brand we partnered with already had their own dedicated followers. Then, about two years ago, we started adding some home decor and gift categories which have proven really popular. Onceit now has sales staff who just focus on this vertical. We are also slowly introducing products for babies and kids, and this has some really exciting market potential.
What role does social media play in growing the business?
Jay: For us social media has been a really big driver of traffic and also of membership growth (currently sitting at 80,000). Currently we have over 68,000 Facebook followers and our products are displayed on over 43,000 individual Facebook timelines. So Facebook definitely delivers the best return on investment for Onceit. I have to admit that I was skeptical in the beginning, but the penny dropped when I posted a link to a necklace and almost instantly a whole bunch of orders came through from that lead. We have found that Twitter works well for us as a customer service channel and for helping retain our members. We're not long into it, but Instagram (like retail) is very visual, so we believe this channel holds a lot of potential. Time will tell.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing NZ retailers?
Jay: I'm unsure when or if the GST levy is going to go ahead, but I don't think retailers should use that as a crutch. New Zealand's retailers have to beat the overseas models in certain areas: better service; more convenience; faster shipping; exclusivity of product range etc. If you are intending to try and just compete on price with Amazon you will lose. Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos was more expensive than Amazon and offered a lot of the same products, yet they still outsold Amazon because people trusted Zappos' service. Amazon later bought Zappos. I think the first challenge is getting traffic - whether that be website or a physical store. How do you get people in? From there it's all about conversion and getting customers to spend once they are there. But you need the traffic first.
Do you have any exciting plans for the future that you can share?
Jay: We have a few things up our sleeves, which we are really excited about. But unfortunately, nothing we can share just yet :) All I will say is that I love online.
If you need a sounding board, or a dose of fresh thinking to help determine your next step then get in touch with Matt Bellingham.