My name is Karine. I am French and I’m the Co-Founder and Creative Director of www.BODIEandFOU.com, an Award-winning online concept store that my sister Elodie and I launched seven years ago.
The story behind us….
BODIE has been Elodie’s nickname since she was little and FOU, which means mad in French, was the grammatically incorrect nickname my New-Zealander husband, Steve gave me when we met (it is French for crazy – but the masculine version).
Right from the beginning, we wanted to create more than just an online store. Our vision was to create a lifestyle brand with international appeal and an online shop with a real boutique feel and a great, stress-free shopping experience. An inspiring place where we could share our passion for design and fashion with like-minded customers, open 24/7, convenient, approachable and friendly.
Seven years down the line, we are slowly achieving this. We now have an amazing community of customers and like-minded followers sharing our passion for beautiful and inspirational designs from around the world. 17% of our orders are International (coming from USA, Australia, New-Zealand, Scandinavia, France and the rest of Europe) and we get a lot of repeat orders. However, it hasn’t been a walk in the park so let me share our little adventure with you….
How it all started…
Elodie and I had been thinking about starting some sort of interiors business and had been pondering about the way to go about it for a while. Without a huge amount of savings and no investors, our options were limited. A retail store was too expensive and a stall in a local market (Spitalfields Market) seemed limiting. One evening, Steve mentioned a meeting he had with an online business. That night, we both went for a run and while I was stomping the pavement, my mind was racing like mad. By the end of our run, I knew it had to be online. So off we went…Elodie, her partner, Steve and I pooled our savings and we launched BODIE and FOU with £20,000.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly….
Running a business is an incredible experience. It’s challenging, demanding and will push your limits a lot further that you could ever imagine and while we’ve experienced our fair share of downturns, I would not change it for the world.
Saying that, running a business requires you to be resilient, focussed, driven and passionate about what you do.
A brief timeline
Year 1 (2005): A very slow start. With no e-commerce experience and equal amounts of naivety and passion, we thought we would be inundated by orders as soon as the site went live. The first month we had one order and the second month, we ‘experienced’ a fantastic 200% increase and drank all our profits celebrating our first three orders!
What we did to save the day: We got our acts together and started doing PR. That first Christmas, our Cognac glasses were featured in The Telegraph (and they are still one of our best-sellers to this date) and our rocking glasses were featured in The Evening Standard.
Lesson learnt: Plan your PR campaign 6 months before your launch to build awareness and create a relationship with the press. Go and see journalists yourself rather than pay for an agency. Nobody but you will know how passionate and how good your business is. You need to pass on this passion, energy and belief onto people.
Year 2 (2006): As if it was not enough to look after a new business and a baby, I thought it would be a great idea to buy a SECOND website www.Wheredidyoubuythat.com – a great lifestyle site that had brand awareness and was well-optimized in search engines – things BODIE and FOU didn’t have as a new business.
What we did to save the day: Acquiring a well-established site was actually the best business decision we made as the income coming from www.Wheredidyoubuythat.com* enabled us to stay afloat while BODIE and FOU was growing.
Lesson learnt: Growth requires cash. It’s not enough to sell, the more you grow, the more money you will spend on stock, overheads, marketing and systems to ensure your business can cope with the growth so think about what’s next.
*we’ve now sold it
Year 3 (2007): By then, BODIE and FOU sales were growing year on year and we had moved to a proper warehouse in Bristol with full-time staff.
After a successful Q4 selling period, we flew to New-Zealand to spend Christmas with my in-laws. It was from an internet cafe near the beach that I realised that our business account had been hacked and £18K* had been stolen from us! That Christmas at the beach was the most stressful time I had experienced as a business owner…well I thought it was…
*we got everything back
What we did to save the day: Fought hard with the bank to get everything back including the loss of interest and then moved on.
Lesson learnt: Have several accounts to transfer money so not everything is stored in one place.
Year 4 (2008): The year when the economic downturn hit the country. With the word RECESSION printed on every single newspaper throughout the country, online sales stopped suddenly and of course we ran into a cash flow crisis. With no money coming into our accounts to pay our suppliers and our warehouse, soon the Bailiffs came knocking on our door.
What we did to save the day: We negotiated payment plans with our landlords and suppliers and kept our head down. Despite, going to work feeling sick with worry on a daily basis, I made sure that none of our money issues had an impact on our customers and we carried on offering the best customer service we could. That Christmas, more people purchased their Christmas gifts online in search of a bargain and it became our best Q4 ever since the launch. Since then, we’ve never looked back.
Lesson learnt: Always be nice to people, you never know when you will need them. Go for a secure payment system that will transfer proceeds from your online sale in a matter of days not weeks.
Year 5 (2009): By then, we had paid all our debts and had moved the business back to London. Two months after moving into our brand new warehouse in North London, our landlord went bankrupt and never installed the wi-fi and radiators. We spent 3 months running two e-commerce websites on the back of a USB key and a very cold winter packing orders without central heating.
What we did to save the day: Make things happen. Work hard, be resourceful, focus on what you can do to make things better and don’t give up. If it was easy to run a company and become an entrepreneur, everyone would do it.
Lesson learnt: Have faith. Trust that things happen for a reason and sometimes, a bad thing is a good thing waiting to happen. For us, it meant that while the paperwork was sorted out between the landlord and the bank, we didn’t pay any rent.
Year 6 (2010): By then, the bank had ceased the ownership of the building. I came back from our Summer holiday to find out that we had to move out and had two weeks to find a new space, get removal quotes and move all our stock.
What we did to save the day: Acted quickly and found nicer, sunnier office spaces with central heating within our budget. That Summer, I think the “Universe” finally got that we deserved a break and we moved into a nice unit in Chiswick, changed the organisation and hired new members of staff. Once again, we turned a corner.
Lesson learnt: Don’t procrastinate! Surround yourself with good people who will be better than you at certain things. Delegate, trust people to do a great job and aim to build a nice team of people who will be part of your vision.
Year 7 (2011): By then, everything was cruising nicely. Our email marketing campaigns achieved an average 27% open-rate which is very impressive for an independent company like us. We launched our Facebook page, opened a Twitter account, and started curating inspiring boards on Pinterest.
We started working with a business mentor and launched our first mail order catalogue in Q4. Mail-order is a very expensive exercise in general but even more so for a small company. For us, it was almost a make or break investment and while failure would not have meant the end of our company, it would have put us in a more fragile financial situation.
What we did to save the day: Asked a lot of questions, listened to the answers, learnt as much as we could about mail order and aimed to launch an amazing catalogue. Our first catalogue was a success with customers, journalists, bloggers and even received an Award
for Best Market Entrant from ECMOD and Catex, the UK mail order Organisation.
Lesson learnt: Take risks, get out of your comfort zone, push yourself. If you fail, learn from it, if you succeed, learn from it.
Year 8 (2012): This year, we have launched a second mail-order catalogue in Spring which was again a great success and we’ve just released our Winter one.
What we did to save the day: Be focused. Look at the things that work for you and aim to improve them before moving onto the next thing. With our first catalogue, our AOV went from £65 to £75 and sales increased by 17%. With our second catalogue, our AOV went up to £115 and sales increased by 20%
Lesson learnt: Keep learning, always try to get better at what we do, aim for the stars and believe in the bigger picture.