Tracey Topp is the founder of Canterbury-based online merino sock and clothing retailer Cosy Toes.
Why did you set up Cosy Toes as an online-only business?
I began my business almost 10 years ago. When my two boys were little I recognised a gap in the market for warm socks made from wool for baby and child so I found one manufacturer in New Zealand who was willing to help me out with bringing merino socks for little people back on the market.
I operate Cosy Toes from home in a very small rural township - Rotherham in North Canterbury.When I started my boys were only nine months and two-and-a-half years old. Because of these two reasons I wanted to still be able to look after my family and be at home - plus there just isn’t the foot traffic here in Rotherham to open a shop. I wanted the business to be working and viable by the time both boys were at school and the only way I could think to work this was by starting a website, from which I knew there was the potential to reach the world.
How did you go about getting started online?
I knew nothing about websites really. I knew a local couple who had a website for their tourism motorbike business, so I asked them about their site and they put me in touch with a lady who was running theirs who said she could help. I didn’t shop around and the first website was all designed and built for around $500 and featured a limited amount of product. However, every time I needed something updated, I had to email her to make the changes on the website and although she was very good, after around three years I outgrew this arrangement as I couldn’t wait in a queue for updates.
How has your site developed since then?
That initial lady put me onto a man who ran a web development business from home and my website evolved so I could update products myself, although I couldn’t change much else. This relationship lasted around 18 months.
About this time I looked at the web development company Zeald and was very tempted to go with them for my third website. Instead I went with a website company that promised they could do all that Zeald could do - and more - for a much lower price. A business owner friend of mine had already gone with this company so I went with them too.
This was the biggest mistake in my business life! The website was a mess, their service was shocking and the stress of it all was terrible. During this time I won the 2010 South Island Enterprising Rural Women’s Award, but I was so embarrassed by my website, and there were just so many functional issues with it that I couldn’t get addressed by my developers.
So I went back to Zeald and they built me a website in six weeks. They made a beautiful job and I’m so proud of my website now. I’m not saying it is perfect but my customers and I can both use it with ease, it’s fast and looks professional.
What are some of your goals for the future of the business?
Most of my customers are from New Zealand, but as well as looking after them I have goals to grow the Australian market. I’ve just had a functionality added to my site to deal with multiple currencies, which is helping with this.
What role does social media play in your business?
I use Facebook, which links to Twitter. I try not to post links that go outside of Facebook anymore, though, as I find you get more response from staying on there and posting photos, plain-text posts and so on. I also have posts that I know will interest my Facebook likers to go back to my website - without posting links - and join my mailing list. You need to be savvy with how you use it, and I read a lot about what works for others and what is not working anymore.
What advice would you have for other small online retailers?
Don’t stay stagnant – keep up with the times. If you know your website is awful your customers and potential customers will see it too. This will be costing you more business than you realise.
Treat your website like a bricks-and-mortar store. If the front door is broken and hard to open, fix it quick, and the same goes for your website; if your website is hard to use people just won’t be bothered.
Make sure you get on with your website providers and they offer a professional service. Before going with a company find their portfolio of companies they work for and ring a few for references.