Award-Winning eCommerce Entrepreneurs Offer Top Tips for New Startups
Product Innovation and Quality is the Key to eCommerce Success, say Online Sportswear Specialists
Startup power was the theme of the evening at the Europas Awards last week, with no less than thirteen of the thirty-five awards dedicated to celebrating the new and brave of the tech generation. In response, the founders of international award-winning eCommerce sportswear brand, Proviz, have come forward to offer their hard-earned advice for the benefit of the digital entrepreneurs of the future.
Jersey-born brothers Anthony and Rupert Langly-Smith (both marine geographers by training) have built an international sportswear brand, now distributed in 40 countries, and offering the largest range of specialist enhanced visibility sports products on the market. Their success has come despite launching the brand at the height of the UK recession in 2008.
The key to success lies in spotting a gap in the market for products that are innovative, high quality and fulfil an unmet need, the brothers say. The best ideas are often born out of necessity, and it was whilst commuting in London by bike during the dark winter months that they noticed the inadequacy of traditional fluorescent high viz protection. This, they thought, looked like a very real gap in the market. “We got to thinking ‘what if we could make the cyclist themselves the source of light?’” says Anthony.
With no design, manufacturing or retail experience to their name, the brothers took a leap of faith and set up their own firm, creating and selling a small set of highly reflective products. “We made quite a lot of mistakes in those early days,” says Rupert, who was tasked with figuring out the design and supply chain side of the business. “We didn’t know about simple things like labelling, tags. I remember trawling through all these sourcing sites to figure out how to get hold of good, reliable suppliers.” The hard work soon paid off, though, and their first piece of kit was the Triviz lighting device, which used electroluminescent lighting, typically used in advertising billboards. The device went on to win a Red Dot Design award and, just two years after deciding to go for it, Proviz had a small selection of products and was taking its first orders.
But the real turning point was the development of its iconic REFLECT360 range. “One Guy Fawkes night we took the family out and all we had was some of our early Nightrider jackets,” says Anthony. “They had these really bright reflective strips and I remember being caught in headlights and cars clearly slowing down. I said to Rupert, ‘imagine what that would be like if the whole thing was reflective?’ You’d know if you’ve seen someone wearing one of these
So, working with their suppliers, the pair designed and made a jacket just in time for a big trade fair and suddenly found themselves surrounded by press and retailers wanting to get a look. “We got our biggest ever order from a major retailer just off the back of one jacket on one mannequin,” says Anthony. “It was a real game-changing moment for us.” Four years later, the REFLECT360 range continues to be one of the company’s most popular collections and has turned Proviz into champions of high visibility. “Proviz is about visibility, and that’s what we focused on right from day one,” says Anthony.
The key, though, to any successful brand is to keep moving forward and for Proviz that means constant innovation. Ten years on, it is still doing just that, with the launch of its new elite performance gear. “Traditional reflective materials are rigid, non-breathable and don’t typically lend themselves to comfortable high-performance clothing,” says Rupert. “We’re particularly pleased with our growing elite ranges especially since we were told a decade ago this would never be possible.”
Anthony and Rupert’s 5 tips for Budding Entrepreneurs
Don’t give up your job too soon:
“When anyone ever asks us about setting up on their own we always say, ‘make sure you have a steady income’ – even if it’s just a part-time job – from somewhere else in the early days. You’ll want to put all your energy into your new endeavour, but it takes longer than you think to get revenue coming in and the last thing you need is to get six months down the line and have to pack it all in because you can’t pay the rent.”
Specialise in what you do:
“Really focusing on the high visibility aspect of our industry has been key to our success. We think very carefully about the types of products we want to sell and why. Decide what your offering is, why it meets a specific need, and stick to developing what you do well.”
“Don’t rest on your laurels – we’ve seen some competitors who are still making the same stuff they were making fifteen years ago. We want to be seen as the high visibility sportswear brand and every idea, concept and technical innovation is in service of that.”
Be willing to take risks:
“You’ve got to take punts. We discussed whether a fully reflective jacket would just be too much – we wondered if it might be a bit ridiculous? But there was nothing else out there on the market and it’s ended up being the best thing we could have ever done. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes – it’s how you learn what works.”
Research your market and suppliers:
“This was something we found quite tricky