Inside Track: Orlagh Nevin, co-founder of shampoo.ie

Speedy delivery and expert advice is at root of success of online hair product company

Orlagh Nevin: “We try to ensure that our customers are surprised and delighted with their purchase and will want to shop with us again”

Orlagh Nevin: “We try to ensure that our customers are surprised and delighted with their purchase and will want to shop with us again”

 

What is special about your business? We are the only dedicated, Irish-owned website selling luxury hair care products. We are also unusual in that we offer personal advice. Customers can ask our expert to make product recommendations based on their hair type.

What sets your business apart in your sector? A few things. We do next day delivery, we put a nice surprise in with every order, and all deliveries are gift-wrapped. From buying online, I know that when some internet purchases arrive they can be very disappointing as the packaging is basic and the item loses some of its appeal. We try to ensure that our customers are surprised and delighted with their purchase and will want to shop with us again.

What has been your biggest challenge? Cost of delivery. When customers shop online, their biggest bugbear is paying for shipping costs. The mass movement to online purchasing means there is a growing need for low-cost dependable delivery services. No one is providing it and there are few options if you want guaranteed next day delivery.

The cost of shipping is generally weight related, which is a problem when posting beauty products. Because the postal charges are so expensive we end up absorbing a lot of the cost and that reduces our already tight margins. Most of our competitors are UK-based and much larger so they can cut deals with postal and delivery services which we are unable to do.

What has been your biggest success? Our level of repeat business and the number of customers who get in touch to say that they were delighted with the speed of our service, the presentation of our products and with the surprise. Our business is growing mainly through word of mouth recommendations.

What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business? Let your customers know that their business is appreciated. You are asking people to part with their hard-earned cash. Always treat them like you would like to be treated.

Who do you admire most in business and why? I admire women in business who have retained their energy and remain authentic. In particular, Karren Brady, who is probably best known as Sir Alan Sugar’s right-hand woman in The Apprentice but is an amazingly successful businesswoman in her own right, and Caroline Keeling, the CEO of Irish-owned fruit company Keeling’s, who was a powerful speaker at a recent women in business network event.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment? The biggest issue any new e-commerce business faces is awareness. If people don’t know about your business or your business is not represented online, you have a big problem. I think the Government needs to look at how it can assist companies in developing their e-commerce skills and search engine optimisation.

I also think they need to look at how they reward start-ups, taking one person at a time off the live register. There are no real up front incentives for people who take a risk, invest their own money (no matter how little), invest their time and leave permanent employment to follow an idea that may ultimately create jobs. We employ three people part-time now.

In your experience are the banks lending to SMEs currently? I have had no experience of looking for money as we started the business from our own resources. Initially, I set it up three years ago with my brother, Ciaran (a hairdresser) as a part-time interest. But it has grown steadily and the full potential is becoming apparent.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? Making assumptions about things and letting myself get distracted – by social media for example. Social media plays a key role in creating brand awareness but it is just one element and one channel in terms of my communications plan. However, you can easily become distracted by looking at the number of likes and comparing your number to that of other sites. Social media has its place but you need to have a balanced approach.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business? Getting the market to trust a brand they are unfamiliar with, and competing with large, overseas operators who have greater budgets at their disposal to woo customers and do so even though you are offering a superior service and better pricing.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it? It’s too soon to put a price on it not least because the value is dependent on the potential purchaser, the size of your customer base, your repeat business and how it is growing year on year. However, I’m happy to chat to any potential buyer.

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