INNOVATION & GROWTH
Sculpd: 5 tips on growing a new e-commerce business
Giles Harrison, co-founder of at-home pottery business Sculpd, shares his thoughts on building a flourishing customer base and managing a growing e-commerce company.
Keep delivery times as short as possible
Giles Harrison launched Sculpd, which sells at-home pottery kits, in April 2020 along with two friends and co-founders, Guy Vero and John Clements. Together, they had spotted a growing trend for craft hobbies and noticed a gap in the market for a business that made pottery accessible and modern.
“The idea was born in that mission to make pottery accessible to everyone, make it something that isn’t serious, that can be done as fun and can fit into your busy lifestyle,” explains Harrison.
Sculpd’s kits contain air-dry clay, paints and varnish, plus tools and brushes for making and decorating pottery at home. The proposition has clearly resonated with customers; in 18 months, Harrison and his co-founders have taken the company from a kitchen table venture to one with a staff of 20 people and customers across the U.S. and Europe.
Here he shares fives lessons he’s learned in growing a thriving e-commerce business.
Build a community
Finding new customers and encouraging people to visit your website is key. And often, the best way to attract new customers is through existing ones.
Harrison and his co-founders found their fledgling customer base was very engaged and wanted to interact with the business. “It became apparent that our customers were extremely creative, and they loved showing off the process and the output of their work,” he says.
“We got huge amounts of people tagging us on Instagram sharing the pieces they’d made. That drives a lot of customer-to-customer interactions, with people talking about different techniques they’ve used.”
That engagement early on has helped to grow Sculpd’s Instagram following to more than 76,000 in around 18 months. Not only that, but Harrison says that customers often recommend Sculpd to their friends. “We saw a huge amount of word of mouth – and still do. We’ve leveraged that with a refer-a-friend scheme. That was a big lever of growth for us from day one,” he says.
Make use of user-generated content
Producing fresh content for social media can be time consuming and costly. Yet keeping your business’s feeds regularly updated can be an important part of your marketing – especially on channels that drive a lot of traffic to your site.
Having an engaged community meant Harrison and his team were able to make use of the pictures Sculpd’s customers were sending to them on the business’s own social channels. User-generated content is now a key part of Sculpd’s social media, with the team running competitions to encourage customers to send in pictures of their pottery or allowing individuals to take over the brand’s Instagram for a day.
“People love creating something to a particular brief, so we created a competition format,” explains Harrison. “We’d say ‘this week the challenge will be a vase of some description’, and that’s been hugely popular. It’s been great to engage people but also to generate specific content for us to use in social media.”
Carry enough inventory to cover delayed orders
For e-commerce businesses, knowing how much inventory to carry is always about striking a balance. Too much, and you could end up with cash flow issues. Not enough, however, could leave you struggling to fulfil customer demand. In the early days of Sculpd, the business ran from a small warehouse, which did not have the capacity for large amounts of inventory.
“Getting materials on a regular enough basis to satisfy demand was a problem,” Harrison explains. As Sculpd was a new player in the market, and its orders were typically smaller than crockery companies’, clay suppliers were reluctant to prioritise them early on. “It was a constant battle to make sure we always had enough. We had to onboard loads of different suppliers in order to keep that consistency for the customer,” he says.
Now Sculpd has a much larger warehouse space (as well as more customers), the company can stock enough inventory to cover contingencies. “If something’s a week late now, it’s not catastrophic,” says Harrison.
"It became apparent that our customers were extremely creative, and they loved showing off the process and the output of their work."
Look to your customers for new product suggestions
When it’s time to expand your product range, finding out what will be popular with your existing customers could be a good place to start. For Harrison and the team at Sculpd, the business’s engaged community helped to guide where they should take the business next. “They ask us to bring new products to market so we use that as a really big input into our product development cycle,” he explains. “That’s been a really organic way of doing it.”
Sculpd has now reached a stage where Harrison and the team can afford to take a step back and think more strategically about where they will invest in new product development. “Obviously we’re always listening to our customers, but also we’re pushing the innovation side of our product ranges [now], bringing new concepts to market that perhaps no one would have thought about,” he explains. One recent example has been Sculpd’s new filament lamp kits, which let customers create their own desk lamp.
For major events in the commercial calendar – such as Christmas and Black Friday, as well as events specific to your business such as a new product launch – it’s best to plan early. That way, you reduce the risk of your orders being held up by unforeseen delays in your supply chain.
“We now plan in months in advance to make sure that we are well placed to meet particular deadlines, because of the learnings we’ve had over the last year about how long it can take to get international freight and those kinds of things sorted,” Harrison explains.
Looking to get started in e-commerce? Get insight and expert tips in reaching your next e-commerce goal with The E-commerce Playbook from FedEx.
Disclaimer: The information provided on this page does not constitute legal, tax, finance, accounting, or trade advice, but is designed to provide general information relating to business and commerce. The FedEx Small Business Hub content, information, and services are not a substitute for obtaining the advice of a competent professional, for example a licensed attorney, law firm, accountant, or financial adviser.
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