Posted: Tue 13th Jan 2015
In a new series for 2015, we're profiling an Enterprise Nation member each week. This week, meet Carol Lovell who started luxury travel accessories business, Stow London, which is selling into Fortnum & Mason and beyond.
Q: When did you start Stow London and what were you doing before?
Stow London was conceived in Jan 2013 and officially went live in September of that year after a successful Kickstarter campaign helped finance our first production run.
I had recently closed a jewellery business called Cape Gem, importing independent handbag and jewellery designs from Cape Town which I set up when my children were very young. I ran it for 5 years which fitted in with my young family.
Before that I worked in recruitment, managing middle and senior management appointments for the travel industry - I was co owner of HARP Wallen Executive Recruitment. I sold my 50% of the business shortly after my first child was born 12 years ago.
Q: Did you start Stow London solo or with a partner?
I set up with a business partner who had very complementary skills to mine. However, after 15 months it became apparent that she was unable to contribute fully to the business alongside her other commitments. I found myself suddenly running a growing business overnight which at the time felt overwhelming but now I embrace it and am lucky to have expert retail advice from an experienced investor.
Q: Your products are made in Southern Spain - how did you decide on this location for manufacturing?
Initially we wanted to manufacture in the UK, but after a number of fruitless emails and calls to British leather manufacturers who either seemed disinterested or unfamiliar with making our type of products, we started looking to Europe. We found our manufacturing partner through LinkedIn, via a Fashion and Accessories Group forum. Our now partner answered our appeal and is based in a Spanish town renowned as one of the true homes of hand crafted luxury leather goods. He plays a vital role in interpreting my designs. As I am not a designer by profession he has been instrumental in advising what will and won't work.
Q: You have sold into Fortnum & Mason - how did you do it?
Luck and persistence. I had been introduced to the head of buying some years ago when she bought one of my Cape Gem handbags. When I saw she had moved to Fortnum & Mason I repeatedly tried to contact her via email about Stow London. I chased her down at a Trade show and stalked her after she was talking at an event and I very nearly tripped her up at the same show as I saw her walk past our stand! After a while I think I caught her at the right time and she suggested I meet the relevant buyers. I knew the products would stand up for themselves in person and so when they started taking pictures on their phones I started to feel hopeful.
Q: Are you looking for more stockists or focused on online sales?
Definitely looking for more stockists in the UK. I have a hit list of high end stores and suitable online partners for this year. It's ambitious. I had wanted to mainly grow the business via our website as that's where the maximum profit lies but we have no shop front and it's a product that needs to be touched to be really appreciated. Also, if a store like Fortnum & Mason, and websites like Hand Picked curate us, the trust in the brand grows faster.
Q: How are you attracting people to the website - and then attracting them back?
We invest a monthly sum in a SEO consultant who works hand in hand with our website manager. I wanted to do more with Google ads but it's expensive, however we hope to work more on shopping (visual Google) ads this year which I hope our products are well suited to.
We subscribe to pressloft so journalists can easily download our product images - this has worked well and has brought their readers to our website.
I personally run our social media - I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google plus, and LinkedIn. These are not big sales converters for us but they are really important as we don't have huge budgets for advertising and other forms of brand awareness - plus they are great for chatting with existing and future customers or partners.
We run partnership activity with travel companies and other lifestyle brands and have a database of existing customers who are the first to know about any offers or promotions. We value them highly and whenever there is an issue with an order I speak to them - these calls often end up in long chats and suggestions for products which is great feedback for me.
Q: What are your business growth plans for the next 12 months?
I am very excited about a few things which are currently under wraps but we are working on samples of new products for both our men's and ladies range and will introduce more colours to both this year.
I'd like to employ a permanent member of staff! I currently work with remote freelancers and have ad hoc temp staff at busy times.
We plan on driving more sales through all channels by adding new stores and website partners and I expect we will soon be looking for new premises.
Q: How does it help the business, being a member of Enterprise Nation?
Enterprise Nation has been a fantastic investment of money and time. I have attended a number of their events. These are always incredibly upbeat, useful and of high value in terms of the panels they get and the other businesses who attend. I often go to the blog and website for helpful tips and advice and really keep a close eye on what they are doing next as I know I will find it relevant to my business. What would we all do without it?
Join Carol and other business owners by signing up to be a member today.