Arlo & Co: From humble beginnings to ORIA’S People’s Choice 2017 finalists
We talked to Gemma, Founder and Creative Director of Arlo & Co, People’s Choice Finalist, Small Business category, StarTrack ORIAS 2017.
So how did it all get started, what’s the inspiration behind Arlo and Co?
A teacher by trade, I was on maternity leave with a 19 month old, an 8 week old, and a crave for creativity. Suddenly, my career focus shifted, and the need to get back to doing something meaningful, creative and independent – but still flexible – was bubbling. I’d already been making name plaques, cake toppers and nursery mobiles for friends and family for a while – but it was really just a hobby. A lot of encouragement from all friends and family saw me finally take the plunge.
So, with some basic photography of my first ideas, and a ‘just start somewhere’ approach, I began using Instagram as my only marketing tool, and launched Arlo & Co. I made the products in our makeshift garage studio, and ran the business from the kitchen bench, often while breastfeeding an irritable baby. Driven by a genuine ‘can do’ attitude, I was blissfully naive, but giddy with excitement. And as the virtual till began to ring, I realised my hunch about the need for more personalised, high quality, beautiful decor and gifts, in a style that was innovative, was spot on. Six months in, I brought my husband on full-time as my right-hand man, and we’ve grown from there.
What is your role/key responsibilities?
I’m the Founder, Co-CEO, and Creative Director of Arlo & Co. I not only front-line the designs, but also overlook all areas of the business. My main contribution has been executing the marketing strategy and creating and managing the content, product releases, brand and culture.
With my greatest strengths being communication, connection and creativity, my work has extended right into customer experience at all levels. I’ve created a vision of Arlo & Co that is vivid and compelling, and that helps motivate our employees to want to achieve it.
Who else in involved?
Gemma leads her team with a creative, friendly and inclusive style, which she believes is nicely balanced by her more measured, analytical, stoic husband Damian, Co-CEO, who now runs the business by her side.
Damian’s family background in small business, and degree in Industrial Design, have been a big part of elevating Arlo & Co to the next level. Damian heads up the manufacturing department of Arlo & Co, spending his time focusing on analysis of operational and productivity metrics, research and development, overseeing financial management, and focusing on strategic matters.
The husband and wife team lead a team of 8 with honesty, integrity, and a commitment to good communication. “We have a people-before-profits attitude and we try hard to motivate our employees with a balance of keeping focused on the big picture, while still remaining willing to learn, and hands-on in our approach.”
When you first embarked on your online retailing journey, what were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The Arlo & Co journey to date has not been seamless.
“We’ve certainly had to overcome our lion’s share of challenges, both big and small. A particular example that come to mind is the obstacle we had with our first website.
Being an online-only store we needed a user-friendly website with a secure check-out people would be comfortable using. Answering to our limited budget, we set our store on a simple BigCartel e-commerce platform. In the beginning the site fulfilled our needs. However, BigCartel’s inadequate customisation capabilities started becoming very apparent, very quickly. It resulted in never-ending – sometimes agonising – email threads about colour, name, and other types of customisation. There was constant follow up involved and things regularly slipped through the cracks.
So we bit the bullet and invested in a much more sophisticated customisation-friendly e-commerce provider, Shopify. And we haven’t looked back. While we’ll always be dealing with customisation enquiries – it’s the basis of our business after all – the process now flows like clockwork”.
You have been nominated by your customers in the StarTrack ORIAS – how did you feel when you were told you were a finalist in one of the biggest eCommerce awards – knowing it was your customers recognising your outstanding products and service?
Honestly? We were gobsmacked! We know our customers love our products and they feel like they’re part of our brand. Compared to some of the companies that have been nominated for this award in the past, however, we thought we might not have the reach to achieve a spot on the finalist list.
Even as we kept getting emails, DMs, and comments from our customers saying they’ve voted for us, we never imagined we’d actually become finalists. So when we received the news we were blown away by the support.
What makes Arlo and Co a favourite in your customers’ eyes do you think?
We know our customers are the lifeblood of our business. So we invest time and resources into regularly talking to them, hearing their feedback, and using those insights to increase our overall customer experience. Instead of talking about why we think our customers adore Arlo & Co, here is some feedback from them:
“Totally in love with my beautiful products. So original and great quality too. Your customer service was top notch and you guys were such a pleasure to deal with.” – Tanya Katselos
“I have ordered numerous products from Gemma and her team! Every time she amazes me! The products are absolutely beautiful and the service is amazing!” – Bianca Flaskos
“From the kind emails received from Gemma and the team at Arlo & Co to the attention to detail on their products I thoroughly recommend you make a purchase today” – Alysha Devlin
“The buying process is so easy and owners and staff so, so friendly and considerate. I only have positive things to say.” – Katie Pope
What was life like before StarShipIT?
Kicking the business off with a ‘just start somewhere attitude’ meant that I had to experiment with with several systems and processes. One of those being fulfilment.
Imagine this, for a moment…
Two toddlers, 3 large crates of parcels, and a slow moving queue at the Post Office – twice a day!
Now throw in printing off addresses individually and fulfilling all shipped orders individually too (trying to get more than 8 number and letter combos right in a row as the kids pull at you because they’re bored).
That was a gargantuan obstacle as our production volumes skyrocketed and our growing customer list became monumental.
So we invested in cloud software StarShipIT and organised Australia Post parcel pickups meaning we stopped double handling data and automated tracking status communication with customers.
In a nutshell? Lifesaver.
What made you decide to partner with StarShipIT?
The decision to partner with StarShipIT was an easy one for us. The ability to integrate our Shopify website platform across multiple shipping carriers was an important detail for us. The set up was simple, and the StarShipIT support team readily available when needed.
What is life like now, with StarShipIT?
We ship over 300 orders a week on average. Using the StarShipIT system, we are able to process far more orders per day than manually. I’d estimate that we save 30-40% of our packaging and order fulfillment time (25 hours a week!) which we can now use in other important areas of our business.
What’s in the future for Arlo & Co?
We have some exciting things planned for Arlo & Co. We just released our new Father’s Day Collection and over the next few months, we’ve got plans for some product redesigns, and a new Christmas Collection too. In addition to that we’ll be expanding our product offering to include a more diverse wedding/celebrations range and we’ll also be launching a corporate gifting range too.
If you win the People’s Choice, Small Business award, what will you and the team do to celebrate?
I think it’s fair to say that the caliber of finalists for the People’s Choice, Small Business award this year is incredible.
And just by being named finalist alongside those other amazing companies – some of which we look to as role models *cough* Hunting For George *cough* – we feel like, in a way, that’s already a big win for us.
If we were to actually take out the award this year, we’d definitely start by celebrating on social media with our customers and followers, and then extend those celebrations with Friday night drinks with our team (accompanied by some very loud singing out of tune – which is what we’re super good at).
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who would love to follow in your footsteps and start an online business?
Do your research. You don’t have to spend years on it, but make sure you have a basic understanding of who your customers will be, who your competitors are, and what your unique value proposition is.
In retrospect, if I could do it all again, I’d set up quality systems much sooner. So I’d say that if you’re planning on starting an online business, by all means, stick to what your budget offers in terms of website, CRM, automation, etc. but make sure you’re upgrading as soon as you can to keep the customer experience as smooth as possible. Happy customers are often returning customers. And they’re the ones that spread word about your business.
And finally, I’d suggest being ready to take risks. The risks should be calculated and strategic, but they’ll be risks nonetheless, and if you’re not prepared to take them, it will probably take a lot longer to grow your business.
Gemma and Damian’s winning combination of innovative and creative products, outstanding personalised customer service and a people-centric approach have undoubtedly got them to where they are today. Gemma, we wish you and the rest of the team at Arlo and Co all the very best for the finals and we have to say, with your dedication to your customers, your team and your amazing products, we think you deserve to take it out!
The StarShipIT Team x
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