Interview with Gillian Crawford Director Lily Blanche

Tell me who you are, what your company is and what it does.

I’m Gillian Crawford, I’m the founder director of Lily Blanche, a demi-fine jewellery brand specialising in lockets and personalised jewellery.

How did you get into ecommerce?

We started as a relatively traditional business, supplying outlets such as National Museums of Scotland, The Scottish Parliament Shop and many shops and businesses around the country. We still have lovely stockists such as Kensington Palace, the Tower of London and Edinburgh Castle, but I could see that the large organisations were moving towards more own brand products and the smaller outlets were under pressure. I also felt we had a product with international potential. It was while I was selling at a trade show that I realised just how old-fashioned and limited a way of doing business it was and realised I needed to harness the power of digital to reach the right customers directly.

Why is ecommerce a good model for your business?

I like ecommerce because it is such a flexible model, the potential is enormous and it is a highly productive method of selling. It allows us to speak directly to our customers and keep control of how our product is presented. During the Covid-19 lockdown it has been the only way to keep trading so it is a vital model for a company with goods and services.

How does ecommerce differ from traditional businesses?

Unlike traditional shops, we are never closed. People can buy from us, all over the globe at all hours of the day and night. Using data, we can tailor our offering for specific customers. We have many more tools at our disposal for measuring data and for targeting customers than a traditional shop. We’re not limited by bricks and mortar but can speak to our customers wherever they are.

Who are your main competitors?

In one sense anyone selling jewellery or gifts online is a competitor. We can see who Google would define as our competitor using a tool such as Ahrefs which means we can also use tools to get behind our competitors’ businesses. We target a demographic which is similar to online jewellery brands such as Astley Clarke or Monica Vinader.

How has your business evolved / grown over the past five years?

We’ve doubled in size year-on-year since we moved our focused almost entirely on ecommerce in 2016. We’ve moved offices in the last year but kept our original studio and our team has grown. We’ve developed technology to print and size photos for our lockets and we’ve added engraving inhouse as a service. It’s been a growth story.

What are the biggest challenges facing Lily Blanche?

The biggest challenges, other than obvious things such as managing staff in an age of social distancing, are around managing growth and building the team. Finding employees with the right skill set and recruiting to culture are also important. Balancing my time and prioritising activities are also challenges for me personally.

How are you dealing with them?

I’m a founder director of the Institute of Ecommerce, which is about building a knowledge base and an ecommerce community. That has been extremely helpful in terms of peer-to-peer learning and engaging with experts who can help me grow and automate aspects of my business.

What do you see as the opportunities going forward?

The opportunities are enormous. We are currently using platforms such as Amazon and Ebay to expand internationally. The ecommerce model we have developed is scaleable and replicable, so we have plans to both scale Lily Blanche and build ecommerce businesses in other niches

Thinking about specific areas of interest, what platform are you currently using and why?

We are currently on Magento 1 and we are lucky to employ a full stack developer, so we don’t have agency costs to the same extent as some companies. We need to replatform soon because support for Magento 1 is ending in June. We are thinking about Big Commerce or Shopify as new platforms because they will be more cost effective for us than Magento 2.

What expansion plans do you have for Lily Blanche and are exports something that you would consider?

Absolutely. We have just built Amazon shops in a number of European countries and we are currently working with Ebay to move into new markets. We see platforms as a low risk way of exploring new international markets.  Social media has also helped to grow our business and expanding our social reach is key to our growth.

How do you find and train your ecommerce staff?

We recruit to culture and train on the job. Every member of my team is currently in a training scheme which is SQA accredited. We also have several team members undertaking courses in ecommerce at Strathclyde University Business School and we have worked closely with Stirling University on internships.

How do you use automation in your business?

We use it mainly in marketing in terms of email, Facebook, Instagram and Google ads. We are always keen to use more automation wherever possible.

What systems do you use for measuring data and how do you use data in your business?

Google Analytics, obvious and we love Ahrefs for keyword research and backlink building. We use Deepcrawl and Ahrefs audits along with Google Console for measuring the functionality of the website. We use Helium10 for Amazon and Fanpage Karma for social measurement, among other tools.

What fulfilment system do you use and how happy are you with it?

Because so much of our jewellery is personalised and because customer service is important to us, we do our own dispatch. We use Royal Mail mainly for shipping as they are so reliable, and our customers like them. That has been increasingly important during the Covid-19 situation. We’re looking to add an expediated overseas shipping service such as DHL to the mix and we will eventually move to Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA) for Amazon services where possible.

What are your favourite apps/ plugins?

There is quite a lot of them. We use Hotjar and LiveChat which we love. We use Trustpilot for reviews.

What are your top ecommerce tips?

Use the most up-to-date techniques and automation and combine it with good old-fashioned service. Keep on top of ever-changing developments in ecommerce by joining a club or institute where you will be an informed ecommerce community. Collaborate with other ecommerce businesses,

What advice would you give to someone starting out in ecommerce?

Take the plunge. It’s a brilliant and highly productive model for doing business. Prepare to really immerse yourself and learn about selling online in all its aspects. Even if you plan to outsource the technical elements to an agency, it will work my better if you understand the issues. It’s absolutely the future of trade and it is still in its infancy so its never too late to start.

What has been your biggest bloomer and how did you fix it?

We’ve probably made every mistake in the book, but they stemmed from outsourcing elements of our business to other people. I made it my mission to learn everything I could about every aspect of ecommerce so at least I could work out who the skilled and knowledgeable practitioners are.

What has been you the thing your most proud of?

My team. They are amazing. They’ve really help drive the business. I’m also proud of the feedback we receive from customers, who tell us how much our 2, 4 and 6 photo lockets mean to them, especially when filled with meaningful photos of their families. I’m proud of our product and of the fact that we have created a thriving and profitable business from noting and we’ve helped to build and grow an ecommerce community in Scotland.

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