Labels4Kids – International E-commerce Case Study

Introduction to the company
Labels4Kids provides personalised name labels for the school market internationally and started with a small UK e-commerce site from a home office based in Stirling, Scotland. The business has grown to include now 5 web stores internationally and has another 3 about to go live this year. Labels4Kids however provides to many countries via the UK web store.

Your international e-commerce story
Labels4Kids was started by Ann-Maree Morrison to meet a gap in the school market for vinyl waterproof labels, which are microwave, water, sterilizer and dishwasher proof and would not fall off.  After discussions with local mothers, friends and online research Ann-Maree felt there was a requirement in both the UK and Europe for a high quality, colourful and fun means of labelling not just the usual clothing but every other item taken to school.  This has resulted in a range of vinyl labels for kit, woven sew on, iron on and stick on labels for clothing, bag tags and gym bags which can all be personalised with a choice of colour and image as well as the owners name from the Labels4kids website. Complimentary products continue to be added to the product range. More information about Labels4Kids can be found at http://www.labels4kids.com/about-us

Secrets to your success

Commitment
A lot of hard work and commitment and investigation time and testing was required to get the business off the ground In addition the business will go through ups and downs and every week there is a new challenge. You have to be committed to continue to drive the business into new markets, products and sales areas if you are to continue to grow and committed to continual reinvestment of finances for the next stage of growth. Sometimes this reinvestment can be quite a scary proposition, like our new office investment in 2014, but with careful monitoring and planning this is vital to continue growth.

Networking
Ann-Maree believes that networking for the sake of it is a mistake but the right kind of networking and the right connections at the right time in your business growth can make a huge difference. She encourages anyone thinking of exporting to approach SDI or UKTI and find out what support is available in terms of training, introductions or funding.

Investment
Labels4Kids has recently moved to a new, larger ecommerce platform allows us to also have a specifically designed mobile website for the rise of mobile technology, more used of youtube and clearer enlargable photography, better segregation of products to help the customer find their way to the right product, more customer led and customer loaded reviews, better use of social media channels and more instructional videos. We are aiming also this year to split the English site into both US and UK to cater for the US market and look at expansion in the US, as well as targeting Europe more via our social media channels and new website as we have seen no European competitors with as much use of social media channels or as clear a site for ordering.  The site has evolved dramatically this year, more so than in any other year so far.  We are very pleased with the new look website and the faster load times and video content being added by product, with the ability to show more images closer up and the addition of customer input reviews.

Ann-Maree’s growth plan has changed over the years. The initial view of franchising all markets has changed and Labels4Kids is now looking at this in some markets but is also growing in other Countries from the UK managed by Head Office in Scotland. Although Franchising is not off the agenda this is not something Ann-Maree is relying on for growing the business as investment in the current economic climate is difficult. An Indian franchise which was close to completion for example, fell through when the Rupee dropped dramatically last year. An Australian franchise fell through when Ann-Maree pulled out on the deal as the person was not the right fit for her organization. So there are major challenges in selling a Country wide franchise. There is a lot of interest but it takes time to close the right deal in the right location for a Master license. Franchise experts Platinum Wave in Edinburgh are working on this for Labels4Kids and will continue to do so. Meanwhile Ann-Maree is concentrating on other avenues of growth such as new UK markets and  growing some Countries in Europe as well as the US from the UK head office. She is only willing to franchise to the right investor for the right market. Labels4Kids are still in discussions with several people in foreign countries.  The UK growth has been supported by internal promotions to both Business Development and Operations Manager positions. Ann-Maree is a devotee of promoting internally wherever possible and training up younger staff to be the Managers of the future. She is actively involved in the Young Enterprise Scheme in her spare time as well. The US market is to be grown from the UK along with other European operations which is the reason for the new Head Office to cater for growth.

International strategy
Ann-Maree believes that the business concept and success in the UK can be replicated in foreign countries.  Hiring of multilingual European staff this year showed that getting to page one of google in France was possible and should also be possible in other countries. She also believes that there is much more growth in the UK market to be achieved through brand and product recognition and awareness and has recruited staff to actively push the labels4kids brand via video and facebook content.

 Ann-Maree’s growth plan is to franchise the Labels4Kids business by Country offering Country specific franchises and we are in discussions with several people in foreign countries at present and has brought on fully qualified franchise professionals to help with the negotiations. European Franchise coverage is going well and she is also looking at the idea of either licensing or opening a branch in the US to cater for that market, as large as the UK if not larger if you count the Care Homes as well. We are currently talking with US businesses who we could work with and investigating possible locations for setting up in the US.

Challenges you have overcome

Finding logistics solutions
We have not had to raise any capital but for us logistics has been our biggest barrier as we personalise labels to order and we cannot produce and dispatch in a day or two in many cases, or keep them around the world in various warehouses so the whole logistics and delivery network open to many stores like ASOS or Amazon is not possible for our business. We still have no realistic solution to this problem but have worked around it in many ways. 

Finding the right website developer
As part of the growth process finding the right website developer has been a nightmare and even with a fully covered job specification things go wrong and have done. We are happy we are now with the right developers but have a long road ahead to fix everything as we want it. Also as things move so fast in ecommerce just as you fix some things there are new issues coming at the front end.  It’s a bit like a sausage factory!

Overcoming growing pains
Biting the bullet to invest in more staff and websites and premises, and therefore losing at the bottom line for a period of time is a hard decision so we have been walking a fine line between when and who to invest in and now feel with the return on your money in the bank being so low, now is the right time to invest for future growth. To grow sales further now is the ideal time for someone to invest and we are taking that opportunity. There is talk of the UK economy now starting to grow and so we want to be prepared for the rush once everything starts to get back into a more sustained growth phase.

Top tips for new SMEs exploring e-commerce

  • Expect your e-commerce project to be 6 months to a year over due by the time bugs are ironed out.
  • Plan for your future so if you think you want to trade interernationally one day buy a  system NOW that can do that in each language.
  • Do NOT use google translate. Do it with native speakers.
  • Learn as much as you can on optimisation yourself and do it yourself.
  • Do not fall for all the sharks out there who offer first position on google and sell on tonnes of add on services.
  • Remember usabiltity – a good website will rank well if it is easy for the user and is clear to navigate.

Conclusions
UKTI has been great for advice on website optimisation and international reviews of the site . I would recommend the ECR review.  Also the UKTI offers some introductions which are worth following up and courses on various issues like legal compliance and websites.  Well worth keeping in touch with them and being kept in the loop.

Topics: E-commerce
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