29 May 2024, 12:54
By Furniture News Dec 03, 2014

Paul Elliott, Zespoke Design

In the second of a regular interview series exploring the people, practices and philosophies behind class-leading e-tail businesses, Furniture News speaks to the co-founder of Zespoke Design, Paul Elliott …

Zespoke designs and manufactures bespoke retro furniture, retailing solely online. Launched in 2013, it offers around 60 products, and has grown by approximately 50% year on year since its inception. Zespoke supplies to carefully-chosen partners that add value to the business, offering in return a huge range of product dropshipped direct to its customers.

Why should I visit your website?

We have a unique product that offers customers the chance to have a hand-built funky table in a colour scheme of their choosing, without the bespoke price tag. Each table is made to order and delivered free of charge to anywhere in the UK and Ireland.

How did you enter this industry?

I was working in forklift sales, and developed a great friendship with my business partner Stephen, who was one of my customers at the time. He was making tables in his spare time, and offered me the opportunity to partner with him to look after the sales and marketing side of things. I really can’t take the credit for the design and production of our furniture, as it’s all down to him. We both left our full-time jobs, found a workshop, and started from the ground up.

Who is your e-commerce hero?

I have a lot of admiration for John Roberts, formerly of appliances online (ao.com). He has grown a hugely successful business and has captured 24% of the online appliance market in the UK, against some fierce competition. He has strived to stand head and shoulders above his competitors on the level of service he provides. Quoting John: “As a culture, as a business, we’re fanatical about service. We obsess about every single one we get wrong.”

In Zespoke, we bend over backwards for our customers. This culture came from our early days, when we relied on eBay for the bulk of our sales – the fear of a negative review makes you do things right. This has developed to be our main ethos (happy customers). We have worked hard to have over 2500 reviews on our eBay store, with a 100% positive rating and an excellent rating (4.9 out of 5) on our trusted shops account.

Describe a typical working day

My day starts with a 6.30 rise to be at the office for 8am. The first task is to give the priority orders to the workshop to ensure we meet our deadlines. Then it’s on to a day mixed between emails and calls, mostly customer focused – we run a small team, and pride ourselves on our quick responses.

A portion of my day is spent in the photo studio attached to the main office, where we take our product shots. I normally get home at 5.30 and spend some time with the kids before going back into the office for a few hours until 10 – this is the time I get to analyse the business and look at the big picture stuff, as I have time to think.

What part of your job would you prefer to avoid?

As a small team we don’t have all of the skills or hours needed to take care of all of the tasks in-house, so we use a lot of freelancers and agencies for things like payroll, web development, SEO, graphic design and Google AdWords management. If there is a task that we would rather not do we look to get someone who specialises in it to carry it out instead.

What has been your greatest challenge to date?

Overcoming the overnight decline in eBay sales. eBay made a major change to their algorithm last year which resulted in our products being downgraded from page one to page 20 in the search results, almost overnight. This had a major impact on our business.

Thankfully, we had opened our own website along with a few other sales channels by that stage, and we were able to quickly replace the eBay sales that we had lost. Some things happen for a reason, and in hindsight it made us focus on our own website, which in the long term is a much better route to market.

How much do you invest in making your site more visible?

We spend over 90% of our marketing budget promoting our site through Google AdWords and SEO. We have tried the traditional forms of advertising, but prefer to stick to online as you can monitor your return on investment much better using tools like Google Analytics.

“eBay made a major change to their algorithm last year which resulted in our products being downgraded from page one to page 20 in the search results, almost overnight”

Early on, one of the search companies that we use to manage our AdWords campaign gave us the sage advice, “The data doesn’t lie” – you may think that a keyword or display ad is the best one. but the only way to be sure is to test it.

What’s your take on how the relationship between online and physical retail might develop?

We have solely focused on online sales as we are still quite a young business – we have lots of potential growth to develop through our online presence first. We could see the day when we possibly introduce a franchise model of retail stores as the brand grows – however, I think it would be some time yet.

Do you have any plans to grow your business?

I don’t think there is anyone in business that doesn’t want to grow their business, and if they don’t, they should perhaps rethink. We are very focused on growth, and continually compare sales from this year to last.

If you had to impart one piece of advice for an aspiring e-tailer, what would it be?

It’s a cliche, but, more important online than offline, “The customer is king.”

This article was published in the December issue of Furniture News magazine.

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