The ABCs of Creating a Successful Gifting Business
We are now nimble enough as a company to work close to the market as well as plan ahead. Jackie Jackson
The Letteroom started life in 2009 by sometimes operating out of a bathroom. Since then founders Jackie Jackson and Sherrie Mead have grown the online gifting retailer into a a business with a raft of loyal customers and a full-time team. Here they explain how they did it and what they’ve learned along the way.
The duo met as parents with children at the same school working on a committee together. Jackson’s clipboard and organisational skills were spotted by Mead, who had recognised a gap in the market for personalisation.
“I had been a casting director for commercials and a fashion stylist, so I’d always an eye for fashion and colour and always liked retail. This all melded together but I wasn’t very good at adding up and realised I needed a business partner,” says Mead.
Jackson, meanwhile, had a background in fashion accessories buying and an eye for product. In early 2009 they raised a small amount of capital and by September were scouting for product.
Starting with A
Jackson and Mead settled on lettered products as a focus for the business. “Personalisation was just coming to the fore and the idea of letters echoed this theme,” says Jackson. “People want something that tells their story.”
The company now focuses on products that are ‘contemporary with a twist’ such as a personalised children’s train set, which remains a bestseller from the early days.
Autumn Fair has become a big date in the calendar. Jackson and Mead choose product together and put budget aside to take advantage of close-to-season.
“We are now nimble enough as a company to work close to the market as well as plan ahead. We can go to Autumn Fair and buy instantly if we want it, and buy with confidence if we see the right product,” says Jackson.
The Letteroom initially used Mead’s bathroom as its packing room and family would help out with daily trips to the post office to post packages.
An early milestone was the decision to invest in a Royal Mail service to come and collect parcels each time. “That felt fantastic,” says Jackson.
A bigger stepping stone was joining notonthehighstreet.com. Mead says: “Notonthehighstreet also saw the opportunity around personalisation. They were integral to our success. They elevated us and still do, giving us a marketing platform, an opening to customers and ideas. Our staff levels quadrupled.”
For Jackson, one of the things she would do differently now include putting in a stock control system. She adds: “We employed someone full-time for customer service after two to three years, but I would like to have had someone earlier, it frees you up to grow your business.”
Mead highlights to high a spend on the initial website as well as some ill-considered product choices as her lessons. “We didn’t think the whole journey of that product through in some cases, is it too heavy to send, will it smash? These are things you need to think about.”
Top tip: Be focused on your customer
Jackson advises: “At Autumn Fair have an image of your customer in mind. Narrow your search before you go, and know if you’re looking for something for the home, or for children. If you scattergun, you’ll come out with nothing.”
Top tip: Be ready for the first hurdle
The buzz and fun in a business comes from the setting up, choosing a name and creating a website, notes Mead. But reality hits the moment you start going to trade shows. “That’s when businesses tend to fall and you will need to get over that hurdle.”
Both Jackson and Mead are also adamant that not going it alone has given them the confidence and capabilities to create the business they have today.
“[Having a business partner] gives you a sounding board and if have an off day, you know someone else is there. It would be lonely on your own, it’s a warm feeling and it’s important,” says Jackson.
Mead agrees: “I’d recommend a business partner to anybody. We’re very different and alike at the same time. It shouldn’t all be serious either, there should be fun.”