Auckland mother Lynley Edwards talks looking to Australia for business inspiration and the power of social media.
What does your business do?
The Lunchbox Queen is an online retail store which sells bento lunchboxes and all sorts of waste-free lunch solutions like sandwich wraps, reusable food pouches, that I started in 2014.
What was the motivation for starting it?
It was when I was helping out at my kids' school on school trips - I couldn't believe how many lunchboxes were full of chips, biscuits and lollies and I thought if I could just show parents that healthy food doesn't have to be boring and that it is presented in a nice way then kids will actually be able to eat it.
I'd seen similar businesses in Australia and they were going really well so started importing things to present food in a fun way like egg shapers and fancy food cutters and I'd post pictures of the lunches I was making on social media and then everybody started asking me 'Where do you get those lunch boxes from' so now that's mostly what I do - importing the lunch boxes. I try to inspire people with these lunches and the photos I post, I don't hard sell.
Where do you import product from?
Some are from the United States, some from Australia and New Zealand. We have a huge range of about 150 products but our most popular boxes are around $45 but they go up to the stainless steel ones for $100.
How big is your team?
It's only me but during the really busy times over summer I rope in my kids and family to help pack the orders. I do around 200 orders per week, on average.
What are you goals for the year?
I really need to hire someone to pack the orders part-time because now it's taking up almost all of my time. If I can free up some time then I'd love to do some nutrition education on how to pack healthy lunches or perhaps put out a book.
Increasingly more and more mothers are starting their own businesses - what do you put this down to and is it easy to start a firm nowadays?
Starting a business is such a great solution for mums because even though they will be really, really busy they are still able to be flexible. For me, whenever the kids are doing a sports event or helping out at school, I can still do that. If I haven't got work done during the day then I catch up at night - flexibility of time is fantastic.
I have a background in research, marketing and PR so I knew the channels and how social media worked before I got into it, which meant I was able to start without any financial outlays. I didn't find starting hard and because it was a new product I still had confidence because I knew similar businesses were doing well overseas.
What are your thoughts on the importance of social media marketing?
I've done practically no paid advertising - it's all social media. When I started it was something so new and was a bit of a novelty doing bento boxes but now there's more eco-awareness and people don't want to use rubbish in their lunch box.
People told me I wouldn't be any good in business I was too nice, but you don't need to be a hard-nosed pushy salesperson to succeed. Even if it's online, you just need to give great customer service and be a good customer to your suppliers and build proper relationships with bloggers.
We use bloggers and influencers but we don't do any paid promotions with, but because I started this in 2014, bloggers weren't really paid for content back then. I just send people products and they blog about them - it's a reciprocal thing - sometime they'll post about my stuff and I'll share their posts.
What's the most challenging thing about running an e-commerce business?
Being on my own and coping with demand in the really busy months and a million things at once can be a challenge. I work from home but I have a warehouse close by where I hold most of the stock. The problem for me is my house is really tiny and that's why I haven't brought in someone to help me pack until now.
What advice do you give others thinking about starting their own business?
Research similar businesses overseas to see what is working well, then start small so you can quickly adapt to the local market.
Find creative ways to team up with NZ businesses and bloggers who have the same target market as you to build your social media profile.