Robert Johnston has run a successful barber’s shop in the Berkshire market town of Hungerford since 1988 and prides himself on the closeness of the shave he and his six barbers offer with their traditional open blade razors.
In 1997 Robert’s wife, Charlotte, set up The Gentleman’s Shop to accompany the barber’s and two years later launched an eCommerce website. It sells luxury shaving and grooming products, gifts and accessories for men from top brands like Geo. F Trumper, Truefitt and Hill, Simpsons and many more with pricing from a few pounds to £600 for a Dovo open razor set.
The couple have learnt many lessons along the way and attempted more approaches to eCommerce than most small businesses.
Originally Actinic desktop ecommerce software was recommended by a customer and this worked well for several years, but in the summer of 2003 they were approached by a new media company promising to build them a bespoke website on its platform.
Robert Johnston says: “We agreed to pay approximately £45,000 over two years, to develop the site with the aim of increasing the visitor numbers and order value.
“Although we retained our previous traffic and sales, if we needed to change any site functionality, such as moving the payment provider, we had quotes of several thousand from specialist programmers as the site was based on Polaris.”
Finally, in April 2005, the couple were told that the website would no longer be supported and they couldn’t find anyone to take on their hosting.
“We approached Actinic again with our wish list of features and design requirements. The completed site was handed over within one month and cost a fraction of our custom-made store,” says Robert.
Having been the first retailer of gentleman’s grooming products on the internet, the Gentleman’s Shop had a very good position in the marketplace. The recession however changed everything.
“Our niché market suddenly had less to spend on luxury grooming products. Coupled with the massive growth of male grooming websites and discounting by our suppliers selling direct, we experienced a 70% drop in sales for the first two quarters of 2011,” Robert explains.
“We needed a radical change in our approach, so to cover the sales shortfall we started to list our products on Amazon. We also wanted a mobile optimised version of our site to keep up with our customers’ requirements and attract new ones. This time Actinic Online, the cloud-based ecommerce solution, was the answer.”
On launching Robert added a Facebook store page and introduced a dedicated mobile site. The new platform also enabled the Johnstons to list their products on Amazon but still process all orders from the one back office. This way they had the flexibility of multi-user access as well as integrating all sales channels in one place.
Robert says: “One of our biggest concerns about moving platforms was about jeopardising our Google rankings. We set-up 80 friendly urls that are identical to our old site and this maintained traffic from Google whilst the new site was fully indexed.
“We retained our first page listing for searches such as ‘shaving brush’ and with no extra marketing our conversion rate has tripled from 1% to 3%. Once it was good enough to have a website, but the power of Amazon and growth of mobile commerce cannot be ignored and multi-channel retailing is the way forward.”
Having tried bespoke, boxed and now web-based cloud ecommerce solutions, Robert and Charlotte are now confident that their present approach has the right balance of cost, flexibility and functionality. The cloud architecture means the system updates automatically and keeps up with the latest developments in the ever-changing ecommerce landscape.