Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Ecommerce - Tanya Carlson

Tanya Carlson is the founder of the Carlson women’s fashion brand, which has two retail stores and an online shop.

Tanya Carlson, founder of women's fashion brand Carlson.
Tanya Carlson, founder of women's fashion brand Carlson.

How and why did you develop your ecommerce presence?

We had closed our Wellington boutique in February 2012, and as a result our multi-site manager began working from home. We decided to utilise her skills and the time she would have previously spent working in store to set up our ecommerce site.

We were keenly aware that we didn't want to lose our loyal Wellington clientele, and an online store provided the perfect way for these customers to get their Carlson fix, without exposing ourselves to the massive financial risk of opening another bricks-and-mortar store. To be honest, the retail landscape has changed so much in the last five years, to the point where I believe you can no longer guarantee a certain level of sales in stores. Internationally, online sales are growing in a way that physical stores can't compete with, so to not have an online presence is no longer an option if you want to survive as a small label - especially when we have chosen the not-so-easy path of committing to keep production in New Zealand.

How did you go about setting up the site?

Because this was our first foray into ecommerce, we were initially quite reluctant to throw a whole lot of money at this untested market, so we chose Smallfish as our platform. For a small, monthly fee we were able to build our own store, which we can update and edit as much as we like, and the platform is so user friendly no coding or website-building experience is required.

Our multi-site manager took this project on and is still in charge of the day-to-day maintenance and editing of the site. There are some limitations to the colour scheme and layout of the store with this kind of platform, but it has been a great way for us to venture into ecommerce without a large financial commitment, which is ideal for us as a small business.

What sort of results are you getting in terms of online sales?

When we first set up the online store, we were warned it could take a few months for people to become aware of the site and to start shopping. So when we made our first online sale on the day the store went live, we were ecstatic. The online side of the business has grown to be a very consistent 'store' for us. Sales are getting better all the time - we're seeing increases in total sales month after month - which, of course, helps offset the often tough sales environment in our bricks-and-mortar stores.

It's been amazing for us to learn of the number of customers who no longer live in New Zealand who are still loving Carlson. Because we don't buy overseas samples to copy, and have kept our sizing and styling consistent over the last 20 years, our customers are really confident in purchasing online; they know how our clothes fit, and love being able to update their Carlson collection from season to season.

What has worked for you in terms of growing online sales?

Tying everything back to our social media. New products are always posted on Facebook as soon as they are uploaded to the online store and we keep our VIP customers informed of new arrivals and promotions via email as well. We notice that every time we send out a VIP email both the online and in-store sales of the styles mentioned spike for the next few days. It's great to be able to see our communication with our customers have a positive impact on sales so instantly.

What's your vision for the online side of your business?

It would be great to develop some online-exclusive styles. Because we don't like to 'over-produce', some of our styles are practically sold out before they hit the stores and therefore don't make it to the online store. So it would be nice to give our online customers something purely for them.

To be honest, we're really enjoying watching our online audience grow. And I know eventually our multi-site manager would love to see an integrated inventory/POS system so she doesn't have to manually update the online inventory on a daily basis.


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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