Ben Slater, co-founder and operations director of WAE+ explains why he thinks his one-year-old, self-funded business will take £15 million in sales next year, after a dazzling growth trajectory in a popular and ‘under-served’ niche.
When and why did you first decide to set the business up?
I first decided to set up WAE+ with my business partner Darren Cresswell when I ran Turn90, a company that specialises in developing ecommerce websites and, after working on a number of successful sites for other retailers, we decided to launch our own retail business.
We started working on WAE+ in 2011 as an office supplies retailer, but have since branched out to consumer electronics, toys, wholesale food and drink, and parts and components.
When did the business become a reality?
WAE+ was launched in September 2011.
What help did you have in setting up your business?
I worked with my co-founder, Darren Cresswell – we didn’t have any external help in setting up the business. We are self-funded as banks are currently very cautious about lending to start-ups. As we have grown we have started to get more support from Government organisations but it’s taken a while to appear on their radar.
How difficult was it to start as an ecommerce business?
There were a number of challenges – technical, economical and logistical – involved in setting up an ecommerce business but, thanks to having web development experience and funds from our previous venture, both Darren and I were confident we could make it work.
Planning is very important as, with the growth of the business, you quite quickly become a more conventional retailer – with hiring staff, moving into bigger offices and getting a dedicated warehouse – so you need to be prepared for those changes.
Were there any hurdles that you had to overcome, and if so, how was it done?
Our main hurdle to setting up in 2011 was the recession so, to ensure success, our focus was on keeping costs low. This was achieved by working on the website design and sourcing manufacturers, suppliers and couriers for products and delivery ourselves.
When did you really start to feel like you were taking off as a business?
When our first year results came in. We beat our projected revenue of £1.5 million to achieve a turnover of £1.65 million in our first year.
We’ve also been recruiting and, on our first birthday, we celebrated with 16 members of staff compared to two a year ago. We’re now on track to do 10x the business that we did this last year so everything is changing very rapidly. It’s a challenging but fun time and great to see our ideas coming to life.
Any advice you would give to people wanting to set up their own ecommerce business?
Find a niche or sector that isn’t being supplied well. We have an extensive wholesale food and drink offering which other online retailers may struggle to compete with. I would also advise that companies wanting to enter this space invest in their technology platforms and customer service.
Be prepared for the bad times, there is a hard slog ahead and it will undoubtedly be stressful at points so always think positively. I find writing lists of what I need to do and checking them off is a satisfying way of seeing what progress you are making/have made.
What software did you use when setting up the business?
We built our own software platform.
What plans do you have to grow the business?
We have just launched a toy range ahead of Christmas, so anticipate having to recruit even more staff in the run up to the festive period, to meet demand. Also, with customer conversion increasing as quickly as it has done over the past 12 months, we expect next year’s turnover to jump from £1.65 million to over £15 million.
We are just opening a new Distribution Centre to ensure we can efficiently serve many thousands more customers a week from across our huge range.
If you could have done anything differently, what would it be?
We would have been ensured that our delivery service actually delivered on time! We have switched to UPS now and they have so far saved us from any headaches.