Recently announced winner of The Queens Award for Enterprise: International Trade 2015, the success of renowned British maternity wear brand Séraphine is remarkable. Its founder, Cécile Reinaud, shares her insight about selling online to customers in the UK and overseas
Name: Cécile Reinaud
Business: British maternity wear brand, Séraphine. Its creations are popular with celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Christian Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and Kate Winslet. One of its most famous brand advocates is the Duchess of Cambridge.
Background: Séraphine was launched in 2002 by mother of two Cécile Reinaud, who opened a shop in Kensington, London. Now with a turnover of more than £11m, Séraphine sells online to customers in more than 30 countries. It also sells via distributors in the US where recent sales grown significantly, with Séraphine also having opened a flagship store in New York in 2014 (it also has three stores in London, one in Paris and one in Hong Kong).
Firstly, many congratulations on winning such a prestigious award…
Cecile Reinaud (CR): “We’re delighted. It’s a huge honour and a tribute, not only to our international sales growth, but also to how Britain encourages entrepreneurship and international trade. I’m French but I’ve lived in the UK for a long time and built my business here because it’s the European country with the most international outlook.”
When did you start selling online?
CR: “In 2006, when online selling was in its infancy, so it was a steep learning curve for us. The key is driving traffic to your website – you won’t make sales otherwise. You must have a sound marketing strategy and PR can really help in fashion retail. Back then we didn’t have social media, which is key now. I came from an ad agency background and was quite au fait with marketing.”
Which were the first overseas countries you targeted?
CR: “By 2007 Séraphine was targeting customers in France. We were also selling to ex-pat Brits in Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa and the USA. In the past two years we’ve really concentrated on the US, and we’ve launched a dedicated website for this market. The logistics of selling in the States is slightly more complicated than the EU, but we’re doing very well.”
Did starting to sell online change your business?
CR: “Hugely. Previously we’d planned to grow our high street presence with more shops, but that totally changed. Soon we thought of ourselves first and foremost as an e-tailer and all our efforts went into growing that aspect of Séraphine.”
What’s the key to selling online?
CR: “Obviously, you must have products that people want to buy and prices they’ll pay, but your website must present what you’re offering in a good way, inspire confidence in visitors and allow them to find what they want quickly, the buying process must be quick and easy. Three years ago we invested heavily to create a much better Séraphine website. Recently, we’ve made our site much more responsive, so it looks and works better on smartphones.”
Are you surprised by Séraphine’s success?
CR: “Without wishing to sound arrogant, not really. I believe in the brand, our products and our fantastic team. Passion is crucial, and I’ve been very lucky to hire some brilliant people. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but my vision was always to grow a successful international brand. Our US success has surprised me, because it’s a tough market. So many people advised me against it. In fashion retail, being too small can threaten your survival, you need to focus on growth.”
What tips do you offer to others seeking to replicate your success?
CR: “Never assume that customers will come to your website, you need to make it happen. Have a sound marketing plan. Network as much as you can and find a mentor, someone who can help guide your key decisions. Have a vision for your business, too, because this can help you to grow. Don’t try to grow your business too quickly; learn to walk before you try to run. And remain agile. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities and don’t be afraid to change your strategy.”
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