Having left behind her corporate career in 2015, Lucy Smith has assembled a community of talented creatives and told Business Advice how Postcards Home competes with bigger brands and the role social media plays.
(1) Please tell us a little about your personal background and how you came to set up Postcards Home
I studied the history of art and design at university and always knew I wanted to work in creative circles, so when I moved to Kerala for six months in 2014 for my husband’s work and fell in love with the contemporary Indian design scene, the startup stars aligned and Postcards Home was born.
I quit my job in advertising back in 2015 and set up meetings with my favourite contemporary global designers and creative social enterprises with a plan to develop an online homeware and gifts boutique to showcase their work. The rest, as they say, is very much a work in progress.
(2) How have you gone about marketing your products and what have you found is effective or not?
In our first year of business it was all about growing awareness, so we heavily invested in PR, PPC, promoted social posts and direct flyering just to get our name and products in front of consumers to try and build up a following. We’ve found that a balance of reaching out for new customers through online advertising and PR, whilst making those loyal customers work for us through referral schemes, reviews and re-targeting has been the right mix to secure steady sales.
(3) What kind of supply chain does your business have and what struggles have you encountered in this space?
Because we buy directly from independent global designers using traditional artisanal methods to produce their work, each product we sell has a fairly long production time.
We don’t want to put the designers and social enterprises we work with in the position where we force them to cut corners and compromise either the quality or sustainability of the pieces that they make, so we have to be careful to factor that in to our buying cycles so that we don’t run out of stuck of a product that has just received press for example. This can become problematic when we have urgent wholesale orders that we absolutely don’t want to miss out on, but it’s all a balancing act.
(4) What parts of your corporate background have you leveraged to build your business?
From product development at a startup smoothie company, to the marketing of margarine at Unilever, to community management at a brilliantly bonkers experimental advertising agency, I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some incredibly talented people throughout my career, who I’ve sneakily stolen tips and tricks from.
I’m incredibly grateful that I have a good understanding of how my website was built and how to drill into my analytics to look at where my traffic is coming from, tweak my shopping ads and reach out to referral sites for example. Even if I don’t have the specialist skills to be able to mend the issues myself, I can at least understand what’s going on and the problems I want to solve.
(5) How do you go about competing with bigger brands and what advice could you give to others looking to do likewise?
Stand out, be personal and have confidence. Don’t get put off by bigger brands dominating your category – the market must be big enough for you both or it’s not the right market to try and break into, you simply need to find your niche and own it.
We’ve never competed on price even though our products are often more expensive than our bigger competitors due to the way they are made, but we take time to explain why this is to our customers and we think they like us all the more for it.
(6) What kind of role has social media played in taking your business to where it is today – and what are the pitfalls to avoid here?
Instagram in particular has played a huge part in our growth – it’s such a great way to build a catalogue of your products that has topical relevance and naturally fits into people’s every day. We even use an app which publishes our posts on our website to create an “Instashop” people can purchase through.
Our main challenge with social media is how to balance the time we spend sourcing, curating and publishing content with the many other things we need to do to keep the company running. No small business owner has time to fall down a social media rabbit hole more than once a day.
(7) What have you learnt since starting up about pricing your products and forecasting cash flow?
Forecasting cash flow is almost obsessional for me now – my worst nightmare would be not being able to invest in inventory for the peak sales seasons so I have to keep daily on top of our finances.
(8) Do you think enough help and support is available for small retailers like yourself so you can reach the next stage of growth?
I constantly attend webinars and go to lectures and workshops focused on small business growth, which is both great for gaining knowledge, and also to build up a network of other small businesses I can talk to about opportunities and issues that I’m facing. The most valuable resource I’ve found is the honesty of other small business owners who are willing to be transparent about how their company is performing, especially when it’s not doing well.
(9) What facet of business will you be focusing most on in the next year, and why?
As the company has grown, the way the website is built needs a little adaptation. I’m dreaming of a full UX deep-dive next year that can make the site as consumer-friendly as possible and improve the experience of our customers. To do that we’ll need to first focus on funding to be able to invest.
Sarah Goodwin and Millie Wilson knew there was only one business idea they wanted to combine their talents to realise – bringing Mexico and the UK together over a glass of Mezcal.
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.