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My best mistake: why online doesn’t have all the answers

Julie and Greg Dodge of Dandelyon Gifts in Queensland had their dreams set on opening an online store. But once they’d created it, they found they weren’t getting the traffic they desired.

When Greg and Julie Dodge decided to open their online store, Dandelyon Gifts, they were excited about the hype about online retail and were looking forward to big sales. Their ‘store’, which sells “gifts for the heart, specialising in lights and love, inspiration and angels (clothes, jewellery, gifts, homewares, cards, lights, etc),” was set to go live and launched into the wide online world.

“We had not realised we had made a mistake until a few months into our start up and trading,” says Greg Dodge. Despite their best intentions and everyone’s encouragement, their online store wasn’t making ends meet. “Our intention was to set up a home based, online eCommerce gift, clothing and homewares store. Three months in we realised we had misjudged the truth about e-tail v retail. Retail gave us the sales we needed to survive as a proper business. E-tail paled in comparison. Everyone says,” get online”, so we did and found it not to be the mining boom as hyped up.”

With sales not going quite as planned, the Dodges had to come up with a new strategy. “We had to rethink our initial business strategy fast, as the online sales were there, but not enough to sustain our overall investment as a start up,” says Greg.

“We had spent three months building the store with over 1000 products on the site, then launched it in September/October 2010 and promoted it hard, as well by attending a new indoor market in Brisbane to promote the website. We soon realised that most people would not purchase online, but preferred to see it, touch it and have an experience with the products (and us too). We opened a retail store in January 2011 in West End, Brisbane and have never looked back.”

Despite the general consensus being that online was the place to be, Greg and Julie found more success in their old-fashioned bricks and mortar store.

“We set up a store in a high street (Boundary Street, West End) and opened seven days a week.  We became old-fashioned retailers who had a great online web store (that delivered little in return). The lesson was a fast one to learn and we were able to adapt as we both had retail management experience, without that we would have been in a bad situation.”

In going against the online hype, Dandelyon Gifts started to find more success. “We realised that in Australia, very few small online stores actually work – particularly in this area of gifts as niche as ours. When we investigated further and we realised that nobody knew a successful small business doing great online. It is a myth and people, like us, believed the hype. People still love the emotive attachment to shopping in “bricks and mortar” rather than “clicks and mortar” when it comes to unique gift ideas. Our sales improved enormously – and we may have vanished into oblivion if we didn’t make the change quickly enough.”

Now that their retail store is seeing more success than their online store was, Greg has these three lessons for other small retailers looking to get started:

1. Research first that others have examples of real success in your industry.
2. Do not believe all the hype about success online. Maybe one day it will work for a small business to grow into a larger business, although the larger companies like Amazon and others are way ahead in every way.
3. Be aware that nobody really has the answers yet in this space. It is a new path to experiment in. I still say do it online, however always with an air of caution. Pioneering is fun.

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Rhiannon Sawyer

Rhiannon Sawyer

[NB: Rhiannon Sawyer no longer works for Dynamic Business]. Rhiannon Sawyer is the editor for Dynamic Business online. She also looks after online content for Dynamic Export. She loves writing business profiles and is fascinated by the growing world of homegrown online businesses and how so many people can make money in their pyjamas.

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