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We are starting a series of interviews with different WooCommerce entrepreneurs. We’ll listen to their stories — how they became successful and what their thoughts are on the ecommerce landscape. We’re starting our series with our very own Nicholas Jones or Nick J. as we call him. Nick started GardenWare back in 2003 and later on, Wooassist. He has since stepped down from managing Wooassist to focus on his other WooCommerce businesses and now only takes on a consulting role.
So, let’s get started.
How did GardenWare start?
I was working as an accountant for a footwear importer that were selling Sloggers garden clogs and boots. Customers would ring from small country towns and ask where they could buy them. There were no stockists within hundreds of kilometres so we would take their credit card and address details and send them some in the post. After a couple years there was about 100 people. It was 2002 so ecommerce was not very big, but I thought a small catalogue might work. We designed the catalogue and a small website, placed a small add in Gardening Australia magazine, and mailed out to our small list.
We got a few sales and added garden clothing, gloves and hats to the range. In 2004 we added tools and watering cans not long after. Back then only 25% of sales were online. Most came from the catalogue, but every year that changed a little until the business was 95% ecommerce.
What are some of the major challenges for GardenWare?
Initial growth was the biggest challenge. I wanted to focus solely on my online business but the revenue was not enough, so I needed to supplement my income by consulting and my partner working a separate job. I wanted us both working for GardenWare full-time and pushed growth to make that happen. I would bet heavy on certain advertising and promotional campaigns, but they never met my expectations. I learnt the hard way that businesses growth comes best from demand not from supply. For a small business without funding it is much better to be patient and work those second jobs to supplement your income.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
The most rewarding has come from personal discipline and time management. When I am healthy mentally, emotionally and physically I am able to make better decisions. A 30-hour week’s work where I have exercised, meditated, read some good books, and spent time with loved ones can be much more effective than a 60-hour week where I don’t look after all the other areas of my life so well. Although the occasional 60-hour week is still needed.
What are your tips on how to make a business start-up a successful one?
Know yourself, product, and market. Waking up every morning to give your heart and soul to a business that may not succeed is a challenging task. You don’t have to love it, but doing something you don’t hate is very important. It is much easier if you have a personal interest in the product, or at least distribution or marketing channel. Take a thorough assessment of your personal strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. I am an introvert and enjoy working on my own in my own time. It’s not surprising I have built a network of successful ecommerce businesses and my few attempts at bricks and mortar retail stores have failed.
How has ecommerce changed over the past 10 years?
Ecommerce hasn’t changed much for my businesses. While the technology has changed, the marketing principles are decades and hundreds of years old. You find a product people want, let them know you have it, sell it to them for more than you paid, and entice them to come back and buy more.
What do you think is the future of ecommerce?
I see as technology improves ecommerce and bricks and mortar retail merging more. The big market places like Ebay and Amazon will continue to grow so to compete in commodity price-based products you will need to be there.
How did you get started with WooCommerce?
In 2003 I was using my web hosts managed platform to sell. It was functional and easy enough for us to get started, but lacked the ability to take advantage of marketing strategies like upsells, cross-sells, rewards programs, abandoned cart reminders, custom shipping options, etc. So in 2009 I did some research and decided on Magento. WooCommerce was out then but didn’t have everything I needed at the time. We worked with Magento for a few years successfully, but the development and server costs seemed high. I looked at WooCommerce again and it seemed ready. We converted my two sites over in 2012 and have built all sites on WooCommerce ever since. I have no plans on changing ecommerce platforms.
Do you have any advice for aspiring ecommerce entrepreneurs?
If I was to speak to my younger self I would say invest more in yourself than the business. It can be easy to neglect your own education and work like a mouse on a treadmill. The problem with this is you are limited by working with your current skills and you can often miss the forest for the trees. You need to step back learn a new skill, read a business or motivational book, and get back to the grind the next day with a fresh brain. Recognise the value of your time and don’t try and do everything yourself. If you can find someone that can do something better and faster than you then delegate it to them and work on yourself and the parts of the business that only you can do.