How I set up my online business
The light-bulb moment that led to the creation of a highly successful online business
Name: James Dowsing-Reynolds, founder and managing director.
Business: Dowsing & Reynolds - Leeds-based online seller of vintage light bulbs, lighting and hip hardware.
When did you set the business up?
James Dowsing-Reynolds (JDR): “I set up Dowsing & Reynolds in 2013 by chance really. I was making a lamp for my wife and had to source some vintage light bulbs online. I ended up with surplus stock that I decided to sell. That went well, so I used the money to buy more. They also sold well and the business was born.”
Why decide to sell only online?
JDR: “It was an easy decision, because our products appeal to a niche market. And having to pay high-street overheads wouldn’t have been viable. Also, our website generates a lot of bespoke orders, which we wouldn’t get so much from high-street footfall.”
How long did it take you to set up the business?
JDR: “It was instantaneous. I’d been dabbling in concrete sculptures as a hobby and my wife, Ally, spotted a concrete lamp on an interiors website that she loved, but it was so expensive. She said I could make something just as good for a fraction of the price, which I did. So, I sold off the excess bulbs via an eBay store I’d set up, then as orders increased I recognised the business opportunity. Not long after, we moved from an eBay store to our own website and the company has continued to grow year on year ever since.”
How did the transition to your own website go?
JDR: “Fairly easily. Using an online market place such as eBay is great way to start selling online, because you’re guided through loading products, adding descriptions, images, promotions, etc. Moving to our own website was a smooth transition for us, because Ally built our website in her spare time, adding everything slowly but surely. Once the website was ready, all we had to do was hit the launch button.”
What about your latest website?
JDR: “In early 2017 we hired our in-house website wizard, Fred, to create our new website. We’re delighted with it and - crucially - we’ve had nothing but positive feedback from our customers about how it looks and how easy it is to navigate. Because it was done in house, any concerns we had were easily put right.”
How important is it to have a website that’s easy to navigate?
JDR: “It’s crucial to an online business, because your website is your shop front. First impressions really count in retail, so if your website is slow to load, doesn’t look great or it’s hard to navigate, most customers won’t buy. Setting up your website so it’s on-point from the moment you launch should be your main priority when launching an ecommerce business.”
How important is it to give web visitors confidence in buying from you?
JDR: “If your website doesn’t give people added confidence in buying from you, they won’t. And if they don’t have a good experience first time - why would they buy from you again? It’s a top priority for our business, we place customer service above everything else.”
How important are images when selling online?
JDR: “Hugely important, especially when selling high-quality products such as ours, because people can’t physically hold them and look at them. We try to ensure that our images are pin-sharp, so customers can see the detail within our products and the quality of the finish. We also want to create fantasy with our website lifestyle shots, to offer our customers inspiration and style advice on how the product can fit into their home.”
Your website also features a customer enquiry live-chat service…
JDR: “It does. Customers are different - they want different things. So, we believe that offering different ways to contact us is essential. Our operations team deal with our live-chat services, telephone and email enquiries, while our marketing team assists with our social media enquiries. Not limiting customers to just one form of contact allows them to buy at their own speed. It also allows us to offer excellent after-sale care. If a customer has a concern or query, one week or three months after making their purchase, we can provide support, which helps us to retain their trust and hopefully encourage them to buy more from us in the future.”
What key advice do you offer to someone considering starting an online business?
JDR: “Provide exceptional customer service throughout. If a customer has a problem - even if it’s their fault - try to resolve it. Ecommerce is all about first and last impressions, so, from first clicking through to your website to receiving whatever they buy and any after-sales support, the customer should have a good experience.
“And I’d advise basing your business on something you’re passionate about and make sure your brand reflects your values. When starting this company, I also wanted to ensure that our staff were always well looked after. We have an amazing team of people who enjoy their work and are happy to go above and beyond. While this benefits our customers, it has also helped our business to grow year on year.”