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Beach to boom: Fashion entrepreneur taking it global

Sandradee Makejev is a Sydney entrepreneur who has managed to do something quite extraordinary.

At a time when even major fashion labels are struggling, Makejev has taken her burgeoning retail business – St Frock – to enviable heights, with turnover growing by 2400 per cent between February and December 2013.

The business started out as little more than a weekend Bondi Beach market stall back in 2005, and Makejev says the drought at the time resulted in sunny conditions and great sales every weekend. While the weather and an element of luck may have played a role in the early days, her social media savviness and sheer hard work is to thank for the success that has followed.

Having studied and worked in fashion marketing and PR for a number of years before starting St Frock, Makejev had the words of a strategic marketing lecturer echoing in her ears: “If you don’t have an online presence, you don’t exist.”

Migrating from the Bondi markets to a Pyrmont boutique in 2009, Makejev was an early adopter of Facebook fan pages, and saw the growth potential in complementing her boutique sales with an online store.

“Our strong online presence is key to the success and future of St Frock. I have Facebook to thank for where I am standing today and we work closely with their advertising team in utilising the best business products on offer to make sure we are leveraging the best out of our online presence,” Makejev says. She also believes that had she not chosen to go online, she would have had to close her boutique within 12 months after the GFC.

While the bricks and mortar store has performed well, especially in an area of Sydney not known for boutiques, the online store has been the main growth driver.

“Last year was just an enormous year, and the biggest challenge was the constant restructuring, separating of roles, and employing more staff. We went from earning $20,000 a month in February, to doing $250,000 in September. By December we ended up having to relocate because our space was just too small. We had staff who didn’t even have a desk to sit down at. We had boxes to the ceiling, and it was like a maze. We finally found a space to move our head office to in Ultimo, and by December we were doing $500,000.” In less than a year, the brand has also gone from employing just three full-time staff, to eighteen.

There are many ingredients that make up St Frock, but broadly speaking the brand seems to have hit the sweet spot in terms of the price point for 18-35 year olds (generally $39-$79), and complimented it with incredible social media engagement.

“I know for me, that when I go out shopping I’m always looking for that one thing that I could maybe take home – and if it’s $40-$50 I’m likely to purchase it and be able to go home without worrying I’ve broken the bank and spent $300 on a dress,” Makejev says.

The brand currently has 159,219 Facebook likes, and 10,324 fans actively talking about St Frock (liking, commenting, and sharing posts). On Instagram, the brand has 7,334 followers, and regularly cross-publishes content on their Facebook page. It’s this sort of following that means Makejev pours serious time and energy into their social media output.

“We keep our fans engaged through consistent content, and our creativity. We’re always tapping into what our fans are thinking or feeling, or even eating, and the kind of clothes they want to wear, the articles they want to read. We’re always mixing it up.

“We put a lot of time and effort into engaging with our fans, we do our own photography, we have a copywriter, we think a lot about what we’re putting online.”

Fashion Dog, Nhu Nhu

Alongside their own social media pages, Makejev also has a cute brand advocate in ‘Fashion Dog’ – her own dog Nhu Nhu which accidentally became a social media success. Originally a rescue dog without much hair, Makejev bought her some little sweaters for winter to keep her warm, and posted the photos online to a huge response.

“We decided to separate the pages and make her own page – Fashion Dog Sydney – and now she goes to parties, gets invitations to launches, Fashion Week, and she’s also Bark Ambassador for Parched March – an event that raises money for the NSW Animal Welfare League.

“She’s developed her own personality and following, with 10,000 fans on Facebook now. I guess it started as a very indirect way to talk to female dog lovers about St Frock, because she is listed as the ‘Customer Happiness Manager’. All the images are usually about showings that we’re going to, and it is all fashion related. We don’t heavily push St Frock on there, but there are mentions involved. We crossover content quite a lot, and it’s all just a bit of fun. She has custom-made clothing, and a huge wardrobe. Once she gets to 20,000 fans I’ll probably start a dog range for her!” Makejev jokes.

Now with the goal of reaching $1 million in sales every month, Makejev says she is regularly asked by other businesses how to transition to online, and how to best run social media campaigns. She explains that there is no silver bullet, and it’s continuously evolving. “Nothing ever stays the same, and you have to keep moving to where your customers are. We listen to what our customers want, and react with the right stock quickly alongside excellent customer service.”

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Stephanie Zillman

Stephanie Zillman

Stephanie is the editor-at-large of Dynamic Business. Stephanie brings with her a passion for journalism, business, and new ideas. On her days off, you might find her reading a book on the beach.

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