It has been said that retail has changed in the past five weeks more than the past five years following the coronavirus lockdown.
And Jane Nketiah is probably more aware of that than anyone, having signed up more shops for her online canine outfitters business in the past two weeks than the past two months after the seismic shift from bricks to clicks.
She creates unique outfits for dogs, including collars and harnesses, leads, bow ties, and coats, but her USP is she makes everything in ranges, and made-to-measure for non-standard size pets, all tested by her own Jack Russell, Jack.
Her Marple-based Barkley andFetch business is well positioned to attract the more tech-savvy consumers after a thorough grounding in e-tail through the Excelerate Labs initiative offered to Greater Manchester entrepreneurs by social enterprise The Women’s Organisation.
Since harnessing the latest digital techniques and ecommerce platforms, Jane has experienced a 400% increase in sales for the first quarter compared with the same period in 2019, and a phenomenal 800% surge in turnover for May, against the same month last year.
But she admits that before she embarked on her business support programme, the prospect of turning her passion into a commercial success seemed extremely unlikely.
She was splitting her time between working four days a week as a freelance fashion designer and running her canine outfitters business from home.
Jane was no longer enjoying her mainstream job, but wasn’t confident enough to give it up and take the plunge on her own.
She said: “I knew I had a good range of products, but I didn’t feel ready to throw everything into it. I was attending markets, selling bits online and also wholesaling. I really felt like most of it was pure luck how I was getting sales and was always scared that the luck would run out sometime soon.”
However, when the pandemic hit in March Jane was immediately laid off from her freelance role: “This hit me hard. As well as losing my steady income, sales literally dropped to zero overnight.
“Everybody was out buying toilet rolls and paracetamol, and nobody was buying non-essential items anymore.
“I knew I had to do something drastic to turn this around, so I concentrated on my online presence, from Instagram and facebook to my website and Etsy store.
“It was so scary, but I tried to stay positive throughout.
“I signed up for online courses about Instagram, SEO, Pinterest, PR etc, and tried to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible.”
She acknowledges the help her business advisor, Mike Marsden, was able to offer through the Excelerate Labs programme: “He has questioned me and pushed me to do things much faster than I would have done on my own.
“I really like having someone to bounce ideas off and put pressure on me to get things done. I like having a meeting date in the diary which I consider a deadline to work towards and to tick off the things we discussed previously.”
She said the programme also provided the perfect conditions for her business acumen to flourish: “I felt I needed a helping hand as it can get very lonely and you can go up and down with the belief in yourself when you’re on your own.
“I also did not think the future for me was selling at makers’ markets, even though I enjoy this as it’s great to meet customers etc. I knew my future was online and wholesale, but was unsure on how to get there.”
Jane added: “Gradually my sales started to increase, and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. People started spending again and the only place they could do this was online, so it really took off.”
Barkley and Fetch now trades across an impressive array of digital platforms, including her own website, facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and Etsy, the American e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies.
At the moment Jane works out of a clothing and alterations business she shares with her husband and they employ one full-time seamstress, but the aim is that from this September they close the alterations shop and Barkley and Fetch becomes the seamstress’s employer.
As the world begins to emerge from lockdown, more opportunities are opening up. Jane said: “I have signed up two new wholesale customers who will be opening their shops again in the next couple of weeks and I am in discussions with a new dog grooming shop opening in Islington as well, which has been a target of mine to sell in London.”
The Women ‘s Organisation’s ‘Excelerate Labs’ programme is part funded by European Regional Development Fund to support women led Greater Manchester businesses to help them drive significant business growth.
The initiative can help generate more revenue and profit through access to new markets, while attracting and retaining more customers.
It can also offer access to targeted business networking, which drives sales, improves supply chains and develops a business’s social capital. Or it can help create new revenue streams, or reinvigorate/reinvent the company.
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