E143: James Ewens

How Furniturebox Stands Out in a Competitive Market Whilst Maintaining Relevance and Scalability

james ewens black and white furniturebox

eCom@One Listen on Spotify

Podcast Overview

Do you think that your company stands out from competitors? When you’re battling to be heard, getting seen in a crowded landscape can be the hardest yet most crucial part of the success of your business.

Pushing forward and focusing on customer satisfaction is the key to their success, James tells all!

eCom@One Presents:

James Ewens 

James Ewens is the Head of eCommerce at a rapidly growing furniture brand, FurnitureBox. Working to grow and scale businesses for over 14 years, James manages all things eCom and has a passion for SEO, growth and furniture. 

In this episode, James talks about key techniques and strategies you can utilise to stand out from other competitors, giving advice from his 14 years in eCommerce. He also discusses the biggest challenges whilst growing a business and how you can handle it all whilst staying positive and sustainable

Tune into this episode to discover superb techniques to boost your business through a crowded market place and learn how you can tackle big first time business mishaps such as shipping, managing suppliers and so much more.

Topics Covered

1:30 – How Did James Get Into The World Of eCommerce

3:00 – James Biggest Moment In His 14 Year Long Career

6:39 – How Does Furniture Box Stand Out In A Competitive Landscape  

9:50 – How To Handle Customer Service With Different Technologies 

14:45 – What is Working Well To Increase Sales For Furniture Box 

18:26 – Specific strategies James Has Used That Has Helped Boost SEO

22:40 – The Biggest Challenge While Growing A Business 0

27:54 – How To Keep Quality High In High Volumes Across Hundreds Or Products 

32:55 – How Does Furniture Box Maintain Sustainability And Stay Eco Friendly 

37:46 – James Advice To Stay Up To Date With eCommerce Trends 

39:53 – What Is On The Roadmap For Furniture Box For The Next 12 Months 

43:43 – Book Recommendation – Dissonance and Resonance Book Series

Richard [00:00:02]:

Hi, and welcome to another episode of eCom@One. Today's guest, james ewens, head of ecommerce at furniture box. How you doing, James?

James [00:00:09]:

Good, thanks for having me on.

Richard [00:00:10]:

No problem at all. Looking forward to getting stuck in, but I think before we do, it'd be good to introduce yourself to our listeners and tell everybody how you got into the world of ecommerce.

James [00:00:20]:

Sure. So I've been around the ecommerce world for 14 years now, so decent length of time was in not early doors, but certainly as we became more tech, led have really been there with a few different providers from the start, really. So, yeah, sort of growth around using tech to expand ecommerce sales. And that's really been my focus for the whole time.

Richard [00:00:48]:

Yeah. So 14 years. Long, long time. That's quite rare, to be fair. Obviously, it's like 50 years in probably any other industry. So obviously you've seen everything from having to code things, absolutely everything, to now it's a little bit easier in some respect on the tech side, isn't it? I was talking about this. It used to take you forever to build a website, and it was very easy to rank a website, for example, back then, whereas now it's a little bit more challenging and a little bit the other way now.

James [00:01:22]:

Yeah. SEO was definitely a lot easier back in those days, for sure, wasn't it?

Richard [00:01:26]:

Just bring back the good old days, eh? Obviously you've worked for a long, long time. What would you say has been your sort of biggest moment in your career to date, then?

James [00:01:38]:

I think probably the biggest moment in my career, really was the opening of our new warehouse of Furniture Box. So we had a tremendous growth through 2021 and we realized that we needed to invest in a new premises for the business, a new home. We like growing our old warehouse in Mirror in Wiltshire, so we sort of embarked on a journey for our new warehouse in Chippenham. And I think probably the crowning achievement, really was that first package being loaded onto a truck in Chippenham, knowing that we'd done it and nothing had fallen over. And most importantly, we didn't drop a single parcel in that first week at launch, which that doesn't necessarily happen with a warehouse move. So the ecom stack and the growth that we had seen, obviously that's one part of the business, but if you can't get the parcels out to fulfill those orders, then it's pointless, isn't it? So I think that's probably the highlight. I mean, I could also probably say the launch of the new French Box website if we're going to go ecommerce, but I think, really, the warehouse was such a monumental amount of work to really cap that off. That was the achievement.

Richard [00:02:55]:

So I'm right in thinking then, obviously, COVID and those sort of couple of years, 2021 22 or 2021, huge growth because everyone's at home buying things for their home or garden, and that's what you sell. I believe I was maybe a bit too much of a consumer during lockdown, far too much, to be fair. Knew everything, pretty much. And obviously companies like Furniture Box, obviously a massive, massive opportunity, but huge, huge growth. And quite often it's more selling. Getting the sales through the website. It was almost like shooting fish in a barrel back then, wasn't it? Getting the orders through. But if you can't deliver them, you can't process those orders, obviously, then it's pointless, isn't it? So that was a big focus then, sort of at the back end of COVID then, for you.

James [00:03:47]:

Yeah, very much. We were an online furniture business during COVID It couldn't have been any better for us, really, could it? We appreciate we are very lucky to have lived through that landscape, and all of our growth is driven by that. But I would also say that there are lots of businesses that you can look at that also had phenomenal growth, but had growth for two years and then stopped. What we've been able to do differently is continue that growth. Even when the store started to open back up, our growth didn't drop off. We continued on that path. And a large part of that is down to the fulfillment and the ability to ship orders, but also the customer service element. That's been the thing that separates us, really. And that's our USP, I suppose.

Richard [00:04:35]:

Yeah. So a lot of people coming back for more, which a lot of people focus on the acquisition, but ultimately it's obviously making sure that acquisition is fulfilled very well. Great experience, customer service, like you say, great experience. Overcome the customer and then the chances of them repurchasing, lifetime value, et cetera. So that's been pretty instrumental furniture. We've worked with a lot of different furniture companies over the years. I have personally and the team have. How does furniture box stand out? Because it's very competitive, isn't it? The industry, as is most, to be fair, but furniture has its own challenges, I would say, as well. How have you guys managed to navigate a very competitive landscape?

James [00:05:20]:

Yeah, I think there's two sides of it. So while, yes, it is a very competitive landscape, it's also quite an old school landscape. And most furniture companies, certainly in the UK, they're very old school in their nature. They rely on old school marketing techniques, they have an old school delivery policy. They've not kept up with the kind of things that we're doing. Our USPS really are that 99% of our products are on next day delivery anywhere in the UK. I mean, obviously in a furniture space, large items, large fulfillment problems, that's pretty unique. And obviously compared to the big boys that are offering a twelve week delivery window, like, are you going to wait twelve weeks or you're going to come buy it from us and you'll get it tomorrow, ultimately. But I do think that the other really key USP that we have that I think we're incredibly proud of is our customer service. Like our trust pilot. We're 4.9 on trust, Pilot. Go find another large scale furniture retailer that's at 4.9. Like it doesn't really exist, it's just us. And that coupled with the delivery service being so fast, I think that builds an awful lot of confidence on that first visit to the site. And as you said, that sort of acquisition piece, not only is it great for lifetime value and returning customers, but it's also great for the word of mouth marking that would come off the back of that. By, by providing a great service, you're going to tell two or three people that you've had a great service. Then that recommendation happens, and then you've got three new customers, and then they give you another three new customers. I think that's really what we've done differently. And I think we've tackled that, like I said, by not being old school in our mentality, looking at how tech can drive growth and how we can offer different shipping options in the checkout, and how we can offer split fulfillment, how we integrate trust pilot. So well, it's all kind of basic ecom stuff, but a lot of furniture retailers just don't do it. And that gives us the opportunity, right?

Richard [00:07:21]:

Yeah. I mean, that piece around the delivery, I mean, a lot of times you go and look for something and it's the standard, isn't it? You'll wait, whatever it is, eight weeks trying to think something we recently looked at getting it was a new table for Christmas for the kitchen. We've been buying one every year, we just haven't quite made it yet. It usually gets to about November and oh yeah, we wish you get a new dining table sort of thing and then you start and you narrow down the one you want and then ultimately quite often it's an eight week lead, isn't it? And then it's like, we'll leave it, we'll do it next year and I still haven't done it. Whereas obviously people are going straight to your site, they're seeing obviously the trust factors around the reviews and whatnot, but also that next day. That's an incredible sort of proposition, isn't it? Having that next day. But on the customer service side, then obviously that coupled together and that reputation, have you got any sort of things you would say to our listeners about sort of managing that customer service piece? Have you got certain tech that you use to bring in all the inquiries from the different platforms?

James [00:08:24]:

Yeah, I mean, from a customer service perspective, we've been partnered with Gorgeous for quite a long time now. Gorgeous allows us to take all those queries, as you said, from the different platforms that we sell on, put it all in one place because our agents are really easy way to manage it, obviously. Integrated live chat for the site. It's just a very simple way of managing all of your customer service queries. But the tech is part of it because obviously having gorgeous makes it easier, but you still got to have the right people to manage that team. You've got to have people with the right temperament. No matter how good our tech is, our customer service team are absolute rock stars and without them, the tech wouldn't matter. Like, frankly, they are the difference in what we've done. And while the tech helps, it's all down to them.

Richard [00:09:13]:

So do you have like, a specific training program, then, internally with the customer service guys?

James [00:09:18]:

Yeah, I think the training program is really important, but I think also it's about certainly in our case, I think it's the type of people we hire, right? You hire the right people and you nourish those people and then they deliver the results. And like I said, I think Neil and Emmy and Pete and our customer service team and Caroline now, they've all kind of had an element of progression in the business. I think that sort of drives that desire to see the business succeed. And that desire means you're going to try harder, right? So I think that's been a large part of it. But Neil really, especially as the head of CSMA, what he's been able to do with the team in a massive expansion of growth to maintain those trust pilot scores, and that continual service is it doesn't happen. It's completely unbelievable. So part of the back for those.

Richard [00:10:08]:

Guys, big tip of the hat to the customer services team, then.

James [00:10:11]:

Yes. Without them, we don't exist.

Richard [00:10:14]:

Just a brilliant philosophy, isn't it? Ultimately, there's going to be with your type of products, there's a lot of questions. When you think about high value commitment, purchase something that somebody's going to buy for, it's going to be a prime place in a home. It might look nice on the photos, but is it this down here? Is the size correct? Is this there's a lot of questions. They've got to know the products pretty well, haven't they, and really understand the product set. It makes all the difference, doesn't it?

James [00:10:50]:

Yeah, it really does. And then also understand the likelihood of stuff breaking in transit. We work with every courier under the sun and how we manage those career relationships and the breakages that are inevitably going to occur again. That's just how good they are. They just deal with that and that entire journey from the moment that somebody buys to the moment they have a problem to the moment that problem is resolved, that is all powered by the CS team. And, yeah, that's the most important element.

Richard [00:11:25]:

I think that's a great takeaway there, because it's inevitable telling the type of products you do, there's going to be a higher average than normal in terms of customer service inquiries and breakages, like you say, big items, heavy items, multiple deliveries coming from multiple points, places, stuff is going to go wrong, isn't it? So how you deal with those challenges is obviously then you can take a potential disaster through to a VIP experience where they're getting absolutely what happened. They arrived and it was whatever, it smashed rings and the next morning there was brand new on arriving with this, that and the other. And I spoke to Neil on the phone and he assured me that you can turn that into because everyone really, if you're a reasonable human being, realize that there are going to be the odd challenge, especially in your game. We went to town on our house and garden, as I said right at the beginning, during that first sort of six weeks, first six, seven weeks, amount of things we bought, and garden furniture, particularly. It's big stuff, really. We bought a big day bed and it came on like two pat. No, it came on a flatbed truck and there was so many pieces to it and it was all very good, but it was very well packaged, very well secured with all the extra bubble wrap and whatnot if it had just been put on the back of the land? I don't think without that, I don't think it would have made it one piece, to be honest. And ultimately that probably came out of the country initially from somewhere. And there's a lot of touch points where things can get damaged, isn't there? And in that type of product set.

James [00:12:56]:

Yeah, very much exactly as you said.

Richard [00:12:59]:

Yeah. So driving traffic and sort of increasing sales, what's been working well for you on that side of things? On the sort of more on sale on the acquisition side.

James [00:13:11]:

We'Ve really had a couple of different strategies around driving traffic to the site. The first has obviously been the traditional methods of being as effective as you can in your PPC game, improving your SEO where you can all the normal stuff that everybody else does. Nothing particularly special there. The difference in strategy that we've had is we've really focused quite heavily on brand awareness and getting the brand messaging out there, but also spreading the brand awareness through perhaps nontraditional channels. I've spoke about this a few times before, but our marketplace strategy and our growth of the number of platforms that we sell on has really been a key focus for the last year and a half, certainly, maybe even you could say two years. The idea of getting your brand in front of as many people as possible through as many different sources of acquisition, whether that be from Robert Dyess or Manimano or ONBI or Ebay or Amazon or the Range or Wayfair, doesn't matter. We take as many of those points that we can and get the brand in front of people. And frankly, we don't care where you buy it from and we'd obviously prefer it if you buy it from our website. But if you buy it from rodias, that's fine too, because you're going to get the same experience and the packaging and the branding is all Furniture Box. When you receive it, you're not thinking that you've received it from Robert Dyas, you've received it from Furniture Box. Right. So then we'll Google Furniture box. We've done quite a lot of work of developing QR codes on all of our instructions. This was quite early on in the process, we decided to do this. So all of our instructions have a QR code that takes you to our club pages on Furniturebox Co. UK. So again, you're being redirected to the home of the brand, not back to the sales channel you bought it from. So that's kind of more of a traditional piece of offline marketing, almost. But that growth that we've had across those channel platforms means that the brand has been seen by more people. More people can tell the story for us and then ultimately more people end up coming back to us. That's really been the difference with what we've done compared to what most of our competitors have done.

Richard [00:15:20]:

Love it. So leveraging well, one point, leveraging other platforms, but typically a lot of merchants will leverage that platform and then not then potentially just keep going back to Amazon, for example, as an example, to purchase, where actually everything's coming as branded as Furniture Box. There's QR codes, taking them back to the various sites on the site, but leveraging the platforms that have got the eyeballs, ultimately. So doing a lot with product feeds and things like that, I would imagine, and making sure the product feeds are optimized.

James [00:15:53]:

Yeah, a lot of product data. Obviously, as with all furniture, there's a lot of attributes, there's a lot of complexity in the product without wanting to throw too much positivity towards them, but we work very closely with a pin provider called Pimberley, and Pimberley has been key to our growth and we've been quite a few times saying it. But without Pimberly, we couldn't have grown on the number of channels that we've done. As you said, the product data feeds, the management of the product data, having all of that in one place with one sort of central source of truth has just allowed us to do that. Just without it, we couldn't have done it.

Richard [00:16:35]:

So we talk a lot about SEO on the podcast and sort of my background specifically is SEO now. Have you got anything that you could share with our listeners? Obviously, you mentioned it's got a lot of attributes. For example, you've got very strong categories, subcategories in some instances. Obviously they take you through to your product pages. They're absolutely key. Is there any sort of specific things you've been doing this last couple of years that you've had that's helped the SEO side on that?

James [00:17:09]:

Yeah. What do you want to start? Obviously, I think the important thing to understand with SEO. As you'll know, it's a journey that never stops. You can never just sit back and let something exist. I think the key things that we've done that perhaps it is not special, but we've just done a lot of it, is optimization of keywords, getting the long tail data right, getting the product title right, getting all of your attributes into Merchant Center so that shopping can pull those out. I mean, that's really basic stuff. But get that right, and that's probably 20% of your journey sorted already. And I think the other thing that we've done really well is we very early on in our growth, started to look at branded versus non branded terminology. And again, it's not rocket science, it's basic stuff. But understanding how your branded versus unbranded keywords work is an absolute eye opener. You'll very quickly learn what you should be focused on and where you shouldn't be focused on just by doing that exercise. And I think that's been really key. We've worked with a few different SEO partners over the past two and a half years, and they've helped navigate those journeys and obviously all the Google updates that have existed at that time. We've been very fortunate that we stayed very resilient during that time because we're generally always ahead of the change, and that's probably been the largest success point. And I think finally, the other thing that we've done really well is we focused on our own brand blog content. So instead of relying on looking at trends that exist online and then just quoting other articles, we've done a lot of work of developing our own content. So we had a really cool campaign that went viral over Christmas where we were looking at the resurgence of friends, and we did the friends house, but in different design choices. So you could do a Stockholm Scandi style friends house, an industrial design, more classic British wooden design with our stuff in. So some of it wasn't our stuff, but a lot of it was obviously tailored around our stuff. So that was a really cool campaign that we did. But I think that in house content, that's key as well. And it's nothing rocket science based. It's nothing that everybody knows to do this. Just we've done it. I think maybe the difference, I think.

Richard [00:19:40]:

That will resonate because I think a lot of people that's been doing, I mean, 14 years, you've been doing this for a long, long time. And I think the fundamentals don't change. We could argue that, I guess, but ultimately quality, there's a lot of things you can do to categories, so categories, products, et cetera, blogs. And I think a lot of people that's been doing this for three or four years plus, they sort of know, but they don't do it.

James [00:20:05]:

They don't do it.

Richard [00:20:06]:

They don't invest the time. Do that research. You said there brand and non brand segregating those traffic in your reporting and understanding what's happening with non brand brands. And quite often brand is not focused on the keyword research and we need to focus on this set of keywords. Well, that has its place, absolutely. But let's not forget you're trying to build a business that's got longevity around the brand. So working in, like you say, some brand blogs that are maybe to do with something that's very topical at the moment that I've got a house full of Friend fanatics it's actually on the night before last, I walked home, I got her back about seven and a half and I was flipping it. Friends is on again. If my wife was shopping for something and she saw your blog, that would very much be, oh, I've spotted this on such and such because that would have brought her in or that would have piqued her interest on social because you're promoting that blog sort of thing. That's topical. Yeah. Brilliant. So obviously a crazy journey this last few years. What would you say has been sort of the biggest challenge growing the brand of the business over the last few years?

James [00:21:15]:

I think the biggest challenge has been stock and inventory. I think that anybody that's been involved in shipping out of the Far East for the past two years will know it's been a very difficult journey. Lots of brands have struggled with it. We've struggled with it same as everybody else has, trying to keep the right inventory in stock for the right period of time. Especially when you look at something like garden, which is a very seasonal item and is very dependent on the weather like we've seen this year. Our garden stuff has perhaps not performed as well as we would have liked because we haven't had the weather for it yet. Hopefully we'll start to have better weather this weekend. Hopefully that's the hope. But when we get that good weather, I mean, if tomorrow is sunny again, we couldn't have fluked that any better, could we? To have a bank holiday with good weather, it just doesn't happen. I think the challenge has been inventory and getting inventory in and then making sure that you've got the right inventory at the right time. That's been the real challenge. I think we've done a pretty good job with that. But we have also made mistakes and if we hadn't have made those mistakes, maybe we would be in an even stronger position than we are now. But I think the difficulty with the Far East shipping situation made that whole process a thousand times harder than it would otherwise have been on a normal year.

Richard [00:22:42]:

Yeah, it's been a lot to wrangle with, hasn't it? I mean, the cost of shipping. I've just been out to the Far East recently actually, and spoke to a chat with owned a freight forwarding company and we were talking about price and it's like five times the rate it is now, I think, depending on what timeline you look at. Obviously, managing those cost changes, let alone getting the stock in the first place, and getting availability and raw materials and so forth, is just career issues, et cetera, et cetera, the list goes on, doesn't it? It's so much to navigate. That's nothing to do with digital marketing. So much to navigate, isn't it? Very challenging.

James [00:23:18]:

Yeah, very challenging. And I think that the one thing that I would say to other brands that have been through this journey and you just touched it there. Like your digital marketing should still be involved in that because you need to be promoting the right products at the right time based on your inventory. We have monthly calls on that at Furniture Box. It's quite a key part of what we do. We look at what the overstock position looks like. We promote based on the overstock position, we would perhaps remove products from sale, where we're going to be in a position of being out of stock. You just need to be reactive. And I think if you're not reactive, then you're going to put yourself in an even bigger hole. I think that's one thing that everybody could take away from this. If it's the one thing they do take away, your digital marketing team does still need to be involved in this conversation because they need to be promoting the right products.

Richard [00:24:13]:

I think that's got to resonate with everybody. I think everybody is sitting here listening, has got a warehouse stacked full of probably every penny they have. In the corner somewhere, there's that 100 grand worth of stuff that you need to shift or whether it's dealing with your returns, we probably won't go into the return side. But ultimately, if you've got 50K sat in your returns department and you've got a couple of whatever it is, whatever your numbers are, 100 grand sat in that day bed and it's now winter. Maybe we should have done something with that four months ago, but obviously use leveraging your tech and then your digital marketing, obviously the tech to understand what you've got, making sure your warehousing, your stock system, et cetera, is giving you the data, but having those conversations. Like you said, if you're catching up with your team once a month, minimum. Right, we've got a real challenge here, or we will have a real challenge here. It's going to be the wettest summer on record and we've got 700 day beds to shift or whatever it is that we need to figure that out. Yeah, obviously I was scanning your website before I came on, and there's obviously a lot of great stuff, but, like, quality the quality control of the products, obviously you referred to bringing stuff in from Southeast and whatnot what sort of advice can you give to our listeners about sort of the QC side of things and quality control?

James [00:25:34]:

Yeah. Alongside the journey that a product goes on to get from source into a customer's hands that entire journey, that product is going to be handled 1520 different times. So there's two elements to quality. Number one is the packaging, making sure that the packaging is strong enough to survive those 15 or 16 touch points. And then also the quality of the product being strong enough that even if it does take a knock, you're still going to have a good product when it arrives with the customer, or when the customers built it, or when the customer's fallen off a chair and landed on it. Those things also matter. For us, the inspection and Qi side is a partnership between us and our factories. And every product goes through an insane level of quality control before it will leave the factory. And that is things like drop tests it's, things like making sure that the product physically fits together properly, all of the basic stuff. But I think kind of like the SEO journey, lots of people understand how to do it, they just don't do it, whereas we do do it. And it really sounds stupid when you read it that way, but that is really the simplicity of it. It's just if you're going to say you're going to QC something, you see it and that's what we do. And also then building that relationship with our suppliers, with our factories, so that when something does go wrong, we've got an ability to fix it. And going back to customer service piece, how stuff's going to happen? Like stuff's going to break, there's going to be issues, it happens. But how you respond to those issues and how you solve those issues is more important than stopping issue happening in the first place. Sometimes, obviously, if you can stop all issues, that's great. But customers are customers, right? They're going to be things that you don't expect them to do with the product. Spray painting it in the garden, for example, was quite a good one. Teenager went out and sprayed lovely green paint all over a set of rattan furniture. They thought it was sun bleached. It wasn't. It was spray paint. You can't predict that. You've just got to be in a position to react to it. And that QC process is everything that happens there. But it's nothing special. It's just making sure it's done.

Richard [00:27:57]:

Doing it. Yeah, doing it. Which I think a lot of people take for granted. Quite a lot. I guess it depends on the scale of the organization. Before I had the agency, I used to import from China, probably one container a week for about five years. And I had a guy out in Shenzhen full time for us that was going into factories. Factories. Before he was testing stuff to a level not probably to the level you are now, but we were doing random tests and going in way before the containers were shipping at the beginning of the relationships. And then in some instances, we were. There watching the containers been loaded, locked down, sort of thing if they were hired. And we would have in containers of electronics which might have half a million quid in one container sort of thing. So it was quite potential high risk if something or very high risk if something went wrong. But having somebody on the ground there but you touched on it, that supplier relationship, I think that's where a lot of people maybe go wrong, whether they're very much focused on squeezing the last cent or dollar on the purchase price, but ultimately building that relationship with that supplier. Which might in turn mean you can talk about sort of negotiating better terms because you've got a better relationship with them, which when it comes around to paying that bill, you've now got 90 days instead of 30 days or whatever it may be. So so key, isn't it?

James [00:29:22]:

Yeah, very key. And you can also use that for tackling some of the overstock issues or speed of delivery issues as well. Obviously the lead time from the forest is long. How you manage that supplier's workflow is really important and building the relationship with them will allow you to get them to hold more stock for you, for example. So if you need quicker, turnaround on some of your faster selling lines. If you're building that relationship with the supplier, they'll be willing to keep raw material on hand to build more of that product, or they'll be able to hold in their warehouse more of your stock, so that when you need to ship it in an emergency, you've got that stock there to do it. So your forecasting is built into that too. And that relationship is key. If you don't have a relationship, you're just going to beat them down on price every 5 seconds. You're not going to have that relationship and that relationship will come back and bite you. Maybe your 1st, 2nd, 3rd container will be fine, but your fourth container, especially when there's a problem, if you don't have that relationship with them, you've really lost.

Richard [00:30:29]:

Yeah, that's great advice. So, sustainability, how do you guys approach sustainability and sort of ecom friendliness?

James [00:30:38]:

It's a difficult one. Ultimately we sell flatpack furniture so sustainability is something that's very hard for us to get right. I think there's a couple of different initiatives that we've embarked on over the last year. One is looking at the reduction of non recyclable items in our packaging. So we've started doing a lot more with recyclable cardboard, recyclable polystyrene, removing plastic, all the normal stuff that everybody else is doing. But we've also tried to look at different materials that we can use in our products. So instead of using wood and high gloss, which is if anyone knows the process for high gloss, it's not a particularly friendly process. So look at how we can replace some of the high gloss stuff and then also look at things like recycled plastics so a lot of our garden furniture range this year, we're using a higher quantity of recycled plastic in it. And we've been working with a couple of UK based companies to develop outdoor products that are solely made from plastic taken from the ocean. Although not necessarily that's a sustainable product. It's sustainable in the source of the plastic, which is really as best as we can do. I think there's also a second point there which goes back to the whole point about trust pilot and the quality of the product. In the first place, we don't design flat pack furniture that will break in a year's time and thus get replaced. We're looking at a dining set that should last you five to ten years pretty easily if you look after it. So the sustainability piece is that you're buying the product once, not buying it three times in its life. It's hard to get that messaging across, but that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to give you a product that is quality that you don't need to replace. And again, look at the returns. If your return rate is high, if we were 15% return rate or 10% return rate, all of that product is wasted. So getting the product right in the first place means that you don't have the returns. You're not wasting that in its own you can't really talk about that as sustainable, but that is sustainable because you're using less raw materials to build the product if you happen to replace it every five minutes. So that's part of it. And then also we do an awful lot and it's kind of connected to sustainability, but we do a lot of recycling of our furniture back into charities. So we work with a local workshop based charity called KFR and we recycle some of our returns. So perhaps if there's a small scratch in the glass or a mark on a high gloss table, the table itself is perfectly fine, but there's a small scratch on it. We instead of reselling that or putting it in the bin, we will donate that to KFR. And that might go to a low income family or perhaps a homeless person that's just been put into a home. That charity element means that product still hasn't gone in the bin. So none of our unless it's completely ruined, like a glass tabletop smashed, obviously not much we can do about that. But if it's a scratch or something that we can reuse, we'll donate it to charity. That product then goes on and lives another life for it again another four or five years. So that's kind of how we tackle it. But ultimately it is difficult. We are a flat pack furniture company that sells product from the Far East, so there's a limit to what we.

Richard [00:34:07]:

Can do right, but there's obviously a lot you can do around that you say is lost. There's a lot of things there, but that quality and investing that time in the quality and then down a good service to make sure that the product turns up in one piece idea. But if it doesn't, and there is a return and there is a challenge, you're then repurposing that piece of furniture, or whatever it may be, maybe reworking it, reselling it or donating it, giving it to local charities, et cetera. Different things locally or nationally, which is great, rather than just having material sat piling up in the warehouse. That's just causing obviously challenges commercially. But also you can give that to somebody potentially and that can help somebody else. So, 14 years, I'm going to go back to that. Obviously a lot of changes. We both can remember the glory days of building a website, eventually getting it live, changing a meta title and getting on page one of Google.

James [00:35:02]:

Those were the days.

Richard [00:35:03]:

Maybe putting an old tag in there. Yeah, page one. Obviously things move super quick, don't they? Obviously a lot of change. We could probably do two or 3 hours on ecommerce SEO and categories and subcategories and whatnot, but how do you sort of stay up to date with trends in the digital marketing space? What's your sort of advice to our listeners?

James [00:35:25]:

My advice to the listeners would be to get the basics right. And I know I touched on that earlier, but it really is the key to any SEO journey is to get the basics right first. And depending on your ecommerce platform, if you're on shopify, like Shopify collections, man, it's such a quick thing to fix. Just do it. The number of sites that you see that haven't solved that, it's like just do the basics as you said. All of the stuff keywording, getting your meta titles right, getting your wording of your description right, making sure that your feed to Google is good, all of your simple stuff, robots, making sure that you're crawling, doing your indexing, all of the really basic stuff that is still relevant now. Okay? It's a lot harder to jump straight to page one. You don't have to rely on a lot of other factors, but just do the basics. And as long as you're doing the basics, you will start to see that return quicker than if you go after that golden solution that doesn't exist anymore. Yeah, the shiny thing isn't there anymore. There is no shiny thing anymore. We're past that point. We don't have that anymore. So you just have to get the basics right and then let Google do its thing. And I think the other thing that you can do is just stay on top of the Google updates. It's boring stuff, but spend some time understanding what the Google updates are going to mean. And if that means working with an agency to dive into that data, fine, do it, it's worth it. But just make sure that you're aware of it. And sometimes those changes, don't look at them necessarily as negatives for all this is going to affect my site badly. Look at the opportunities that exist by all the other people that won't react to those changes. And I think again, it all goes back to the same thing. Just get the basics right, do the simple stuff and then you'll start to see the success.

Richard [00:37:22]:

That's great advice. So obviously a really crazy few years. What can you share with the listeners that's on the roadmap for furniture box in the next year or so?

James [00:37:35]:

I wish we had a roadmap for the twelve that would be nice, wouldn't it? A lot of what we've done has been reactive. We've seized on opportunities as we've seen them. We've kind of a mantra internally that we fell fast, so try something. If it doesn't work, move on. And that's really been a large part of what's channeled the growth over the last two and a half years. But I think for us, the next twelve months are going to be expansion into or continued expansion, should I say into the US. We've already started to get a bit of a foothold in there. I think the opportunities that we have there with the number of channels that exist over there walmart, Wayfair, Amazon, all the normal stuff, but then the opportunity is obviously enormous. I think once we've had a decent crack at us, it'll be back into Europe again. We had a pretty good European arm to the business until Brexit and the changes that Brexit forced upon upon us, I think that will be something that we look at going back into this year. Whether that will happen in the next twelve months or the twelve months after that, who knows? But I think Europe will offer an opportunity same for the US. But I think, obviously, the ease at which you can go into the US, there's no language barrier, there's no issue with translation. The customer service is easy. Like the three PL set up over there is already very evolved. There's a lot of options there. So US is probably a little bit easier because it's an easier market, I think. But I think Europe will still be a thing.

Richard [00:39:17]:

That's great. That ties in with what you said at the beginning about sort of being on the channels ultimately we've not talked about it much but you've mastered the feed technology and the feeds that you're feeding in the UK while the Walmarts, et cetera you can list on all the different massive players out there, can't you? Very easily. We do quite a lot with Feedonomics, for example, and they've got access and partnerships with certain big people, should we say, out there in the US, where it's relatively straightforward to list your thousands of SKUs. But obviously, you've got the pick pack ship, three PL CS stuff nailed. So, yeah, exciting times for you, then.

James [00:40:02]:

Yeah, really exciting times. And I think as the final point there, I think the growth that we've had I sort of mentioned Pimbley earlier, but for brands that already have a strong presence in the UK with their own ecommerce platform, the ability to expand that growth onto channels is probably the easiest way that you can increase your turnover. Even easier than getting your SEO nailed or your PPC nailed. By selling on the additional channels, you open yourself up to a much larger customer base than you would otherwise be able to get yourself. And that's really key. I've said this several times, but having a good PIM solution or having a good if it's not a pim, some sort of product data management is a really good example. Something like that. To allow you to take that product data and put it somewhere else and not only put it somewhere else, but put it somewhere else easily and quickly. Doing it via Excel sheets and having tons and tons of data spread across a million different files and your images spread all over the internet, that's not scalable, it's not something that you can do. You need a repeatable strategy. And for us. That's pimbly. For others, that could be phenomenon. It's the same idea. So, yeah, brilliant.

Richard [00:41:20]:

Well, thanks, James, it's been an absolute pleasure. I've gone so quick, I'm thinking, how are we already at the end? But I like to finish every episode with a book recommendation. Do you have a book you'd like to recommend to our listeners?

James [00:41:31]:

Well, I'm going to probably get told off of this one, but my wife is an author, so if I didn't recommend my wife's book, I would get shouted at. So shameless plug for my wife. But Alison, she's written a series of novels that are far greater than they appear. She got a series of books called Dissonance and Resonance and they are excellent books, so they need to be more popular than they are.

Richard [00:41:56]:

We'll tag those up and we'll thank you for that. So, for the guys that want to find out more about furniture, boxing yourself, what's the best way to do that?

James [00:42:05]:

It yeah, LinkedIn is probably the best. I'm pretty active on LinkedIn. You'll see lots of stuff posted by me. So people want to go follow along on our little journey, then you're more.

Richard [00:42:14]:

Than welcome to yeah, that's brilliant. Well, thanks for coming on the show, James, and I think yeah, I'm looking forward to watching from afar the ever Expanding Empire of Purge Box.

James [00:42:24]:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Richard [00:42:26]:

Thank you.

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