The founder of womenswear website Frockonline.com tells Laura Jackson how a unique offer and personalised service have helped the site to thrive.
What was your background before launching Frockonline?
I did a degree in biochemistry and genetics at Nottingham University, so I didn’t take a natural route to fashion. However, while at university I began designing tiaras as a hobby and won a grant from the Prince’s Trust. I went on to sell them at wedding fairs across the country and from an outlet store in Nottingham, and it was then I realised that fashion was my passion.
When I left university I did a set of short fashion-related courses. My first full-time fashion job came in 2002 when I began working in distribution at Debenhams’ headquarters. After a year there, I moved on to become a buyer and merchandiser for London-based independent chain Joy.
When I joined Joy in 2003 it only had five shops, so I had the chance to get involved with all areas of the business. I got so excited by the day-to-day running of a fashion business that I was inspired to launch the website.
How did you ensure Frockonline would be a sound business proposition?
Launching Frockonline in April 2007 was a long process. Net-a-Porter and Asos had just started to really take off and it seemed like the right time to take the plunge. I undertook a huge amount of research into the industry to make sure there was definitely a gap in the market for it. I read books on management, and organised focus groups so I could talk to my potential customers about what they would need from the site.
How do you differentiate yourself from other internet shopping sites?
Frockonline’s USP is that is offers something a bit different. I know everyone bandies around the term ‘unique’, but I like to choose labels that you can’t find everywhere. I am also very keen to find product that is worth the money you pay. Customers are getting more savvy, and they know when they are paying over the odds.
I try to stock brands that give me a good profit margin, but that also offer value for money. I think that because Frock is less than a year old and still a relatively small website, I can give more personal customer service, which is hard to do online with no face-to-face contact.
How do you keep the site fresh?
I vary the brands from season to season, but usually have between 15 and 20 labels on the site at any one time. I visit as many trade shows as I can, including Prêt à Porter in Paris and CPH Vision in Copenhagen. This gives me a good overview of any new brands, and I also regularly visit the Paris wholesale district for in-season product.
I do keep an eye on trends, but the concept of Frock is that it offers individual pieces so I don’t want the same things people see in magazines every week. It is more about making customers feel special, and trend is only one element of that.
What are your future plans for the business?
I don’t want to rush into expanding – it is more about establishing a customer base slowly and surely so that the customers I have are loyal. I plan to increase the number of brands I offer and would also like to branch out into other product areas, such as homewares. Ultimately I would love to launch a Frock own label, but I think that is a couple of years down the line.