Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: E-commerce - Holistic Hair

Nigel Russell is the founder of Auckland-based natural hair care company Holistic Hair.

Nigel Russell, founder of Holistic Hair.
Nigel Russell, founder of Holistic Hair.

Can you tell me a bit about Holistic Hair?

Holistic Hair is a natural hair care company primarily focused on finding natural alternatives to help alleviate specific hair and scalp disorders. I am a certified trichologist, or hair doctor, and my focus when consulting with clients is to find a natural solution to their issues.

The concept began in 2007 and it is a home based business, made up of myself and a sales rep. We also use a contract rep who deals with out-of-town customers and an accountant. We don't use a distributor, selling direct to our primary sales channels, which are health food stores. We also sell to pharmacies and hair salons.

Why did you choose to have an ecommerce presence for Holistic Hair right from the start and how did you go about setting it up?

The main objective in creating an interactive website with ecommerce facilities was to provide constructive advice on how to effectively control hair and scalp problems using a variety of mediums.

We also felt that, given we don't have a distributor, we would be able to reach a wider customer base through the site.

Setting up the ecommerce component of the website was very involved and quite a challenge. We employed a company called Profiles, which specialised in this field and they assisted us by first getting us to list and photograph all our products and then to group them in a way that would be user friendly for the customer. We felt if people needed to scroll through long pages they would lose interest and move away from the site.

We use the PayPal system for payments, which has been very successful and easy to monitor. The original cost for the site was around $4,000, but there are also ongoing hosting costs and we have paid to have the site updated several times. PayPal also take a commission per sale.

You also sell through a number of retail channels. How have you managed those relationships when you're also selling products direct to consumers via your own website?

Our main focus with our online business is to reach customers all around New Zealand who may find it hard to source our product locally, so many of our online sales are to rural parts of the country. We also do sales to the UK, US and Australia, so there's no conflict of interest there.

The online business is primarily based on a consultation model, allowing me to advise and recommend products directly with the customer and we always give them the option of buying it nearby by providing a detailed list of our stockists.

The beauty of the online transaction is it's instant. The product is paid for and immediately delivered, so no wonder it is growing so rapidly. It also gives you the ability to be in direct contact with your customer and they become your product champions if you treat them well.

The other issue is that some retailers are very slow to pay. I still have unpaid invoices from November last year and I think retailers need to realise if they want to compete with the growing online phenomenon they should clean up their act.

What strategies have you found useful for driving people to your ecommerce site?

We employ a company called Social Media Manager, which has created a Facebook page for us that we use to inform customers of promotions, run competitions, network with like-minded companies, publish positive feedback and post shots of us in action at expos or markets. We have created online video tutorials on how to use the product and we also use Pinterest to connect with our target market. We also publish a regular newsletter to update customers on things like new products or events.

What are your future plans for the business?

We want to be exporting consistently and to find a channel offshore that can represent us and effectively convey the 'made in New Zealand' message.

Given Holistic Hair has a relatively specialised offering, the ecommerce site will be an important component in providing customers offshore with information and product availability. What we have found is customers may buy online the first time, almost as a trial, then locate a retailer nearby and continue buying from them. I think this model would also work well offshore. I have noticed that most of the major cosmetic companies globally all have an ecommerce site so I firmly believe you can market to both the retail customer and the online shopper.

We have also recently introduced an online ordering system for our retailers, so again we can be in direct contact with them to offer deals and specials.


Coming up in Small Business: The use of cloud computing is also on the rise in small businesses. If you've got a good story to tell about how you've used cloud computing to make a difference in your operation, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com.

- NZ Herald

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