Our company electronic-star has been around for 6 years now, and in the spirit of paying it forward, we’d like to share with you 8 key things we have learned about e-commerce business. Some might seem strange, but hardware business is different from starting a software startup.
Even if you raise hundreds of thousands EUR on Kickstarter or from an investor, the hardest part is to choose where and how to invest this money. To build a successful hardware company, various key components need to come to place, from choosing the right materials for your products, to contracting manufacturing, building a company-wide enterprise system, choosing the right logistics partner and on the consumer front building the brand that would appeal to them on channels close to them with after sale services to support your brand promise. We will explore all of them below. Without one of these eight elements, your company will not be successful in the long-term.
Designing a beautiful product is a great start. It is just the beginning of the product journey. A prototype needs to be tested, the right materials to be picked, considering safety, usage, and costs of production. It requires skilled designers and engineers to come together, test and choose the best alternative. Into the mix comes the cost of materials, their properties, and functionality so the product last and it’s enjoyable to use. Regulation in the EU is quite strict on what materials and how they can be used in consumer products. Certification for certain categories is required, such as food processing, baby or transport goods.
Choosing the right partner, who can manufacture and deliver products on time and in the required quality can be a tricky endeavor. Many of these factories are on a different continent speaking another language, practicing different business styles and just a few of them meet the strict EU regulations. As a new player, you need to negotiate conditions for production and delivery (if they will put the manufactured products on your ship or just leave them on the factory floor for you to pick up). Some factories are booked for the year and some will only manufacture larger quantities, think in thousands of units. While investing in manufacturing you need to be convinced that the quality of the product and product itself will be attractive to consumers that’s why it’s very important to check every new shipment from the manufacturer in terms of quality.
Information is golden. You hardware business has many moving parts and you need to know where, how and what is happening. Considering cash-flow, manufacturing information, logistics and consumer facing interfaces, either online or brick-and-mortar. It might be very costly to have confusing or missing information internally. Then you cannot make good decisions. So be sure to store every piece of information about your business in a database because one day you might need it. It’s also easy to lose trust and attention when you don’t have the right information in the right format served to your potential customers.
In the manufacturing section, we’ve touched on the international Incoterms rules for international shipping that are crucial for international contracts for the sales of goods. Once you agree on these with your manufacturer you need to arrange your end of the deal. Picking the right partner that has the right combination of modes of transport, logistic centers and a proper system to manage your freight might be a puzzle. Some international providers have steep pricing delivering across Europe which might add large cost item to your final price and some don’t have flexible enough routes to serve your needs. Consider the story of Zappos that chose their own warehouse system and delivery that improved their customer satisfaction significantly and differentiated them from the competition. Electronic-star is also choosing to use their own warehouse, logistics centers, and truck transportation in each country to smoothens delivery times, issues and related times.
Even with the most beautiful and functional product, you need to be able to let your target customers know about them. Choosing the right channels might be a hit and miss. For some products, influencers and lifestyle campaigns work, for some, it is a placement on various platforms such as Amazon or eBay (powersellers on these networks might be useful partners) and some need more specialized approach. When we are looking at consumer market what traditionally works is a functional website supported by well-targeted Adwords and Facebook campaigns, video tutorials, and outreach on specific sites such as Instagram or Pinterest based on the specific target group. We’ve noticed that women are strong buyers of home goods and are our target for the Klarstein brand. Knowing the decision-maker, his or her movements online, interests and most of all the ability to grab attention is key to driving your sales.
The story doesn’t end after the sale. You want to offer something special to your customers. We’ve decided to offer a 3-year guarantee for our products because we believe they are well manufactured and will last. We have built a dedicated customer service center for each of the countries we sell our products to. Also, our customers can send us faulty products locally and we will repair them in our dedicated repair shop. We have developed unique ways of manufacturing spare parts on industrial-grade 3D printers to be able to fix products fast for our customers. Our goal is to surprise and satisfy our customers because excellence in all we do is crucial to our success.
It all comes together with you and your team. You will be challenged with a myriad of problems and blessed with amazing luck, but the way you approach it will make or break your company. It’s really important to have all the fluff cleared out of the way with your co-founder and executive team. The communication should be clear, the roles may overlap, but the task should have an owner and the key to it all is trust. Your team has your back and you have theirs. Imagine you are on an adventure and your life depends on how well you cooperate. Running a company is very similar to going on an adventure every day. One last note, you should always enjoy it even though it’s hard sometimes.
Founders of electronic-star are lifelong friends Dominik Brichta and Peter Both who started their company during university years. After 6 years of running a successful e-commerce business, we’ve decided to open our network to innovators and help them get their products across 21 markets in Europe. If you want to find out more visit eightproducts.sk.
Photo by Marvin Ronsdorf on Unsplash