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Network, network, network! Amazing insights you need to learn from the growth of The Travelwrap Company

19/10/2016 in Growing your business and International trade

Entrepreneur Niamh Barker is not a fan of those flimsy blankets you get on flights so she decided to create a luxury alternative. The Travelwrap Company is now an internationally successful brand and Niamh has shared with us some of the best business growth insights we've seen.

Let Enterprise Nation help you go global! Join one of our international trade missions in 2017. We're off to Singapore in September with digital and creative businesses and to Dubai in November with luxury brands.

How did you come up with the idea of Travelwrap and turn that idea in to a business?

When I working in the Pharma industry for the American company, Pfizer I used to fly to the US for meetings. I hated the idea of snuggling up in one of those awful airline blankets. My idea was to offer a very high end ‘special blanket ‘ (in the way that kids talk about!), a bit of home from home and a concept that was more than a piece of clothing. I liked the name 'Travelwrap' as it felt more elegant than travel blanket and it was a term that hadn’t been used before. So was born The Travelwrap concept and Company.

What start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Niamh 2There were challenges to overcome from the beginning and I am still constantly challenged. Here are a few examples:

Finding a mill to knit for us: We were a small start-up and I wanted to work with a mill that would be able to knit our product in quantity once we had started to scale the business. I also wanted to work with a company that provided a sustainable and ethical business model. Persuading Johnstons in Scotland that we were going to be an internationally known luxury brand some day was an uphill struggle but we got there! We have working with Johnstons since the beginning of our journey. Johnstons is an internationally acclaimed mill and the quality of our Travelwraps is second to none.

Marketing a luxury brand on a ‘shoestring’ budget: I knew from the beginning that we couldn’t afford the budget to purchase print advertising and media in the expensive newspapers and glossy magazines places we needed to be seen in so I networked hard, dug down on Google and found contact details of relevant journalists, built relationships with them ( The Times/ Telegraph etc) sent them samples, offered to do business interviews and we go a few worthy column inches in bigger publications which got us going.

Our margins were very tight as we knitted in the UK: Our original business model was B2B, attending expensive trade shows in the KK and internationally to keep feeding this revenue stream. We sold mostly into wholesale and retailers who sold the product on in department stores and independent high street retailers. We worked on this model for the first six years of the business. Although our turnover was good, our margins were getting tighter and we were either losing money or not making very much profit. In other words the business model was not working.

NiamhA couple of years ago we abandoned this B2B strategy and instead concentrated on our online B2C model, built four new parallel websites in different currencies. We geo-targeted those websites to the territories we were targeting, adjusted our price structure to suit our online audience (rather than wholesale audience) . We then brought a knitwear designer on board so that we could offer a more design lead product and started gathering a following on our popular travel review blog as content to feed our social platforms and promote our Travelwraps to. We are now a profitable business and our online sales have grown about 48% in the last year. Our export has for the first timer overtaken our domestic sales to the UK and our gross margin is very healthy!

How did you end up exporting your product around the world? How did you select the most appropriate market?

Our product lends itself well to online purchase and export as it is a one size fits all so people do not risk the whole sizing issue with buys something and having to return it because it’s the incorrect size. Our ‘British heritage’ (which is emphasised on our website ) lends itself very well to a US audience and that was our first target audience. We then looked at other ‘low hanging fruit’ territories; English speaking with spending power ad possibly ex pats. Australia and Canada were our next targets. We will probably target Germany next and other countries in Europe partly because the conversion rate for sterling to Euro.

What's your strategy for marketing and promotion to customers in different countries?

Most of our marketing budget is spent on paid social media promotion and providing content for our blog. Our advertising is targeted at territories and audiences we want to reach both in the UK and overseas. We target our website in the appropriate currency to the appropriate audience so for example our US website in dollars is targeted only at certain states within the US and to certain demographics with appropriate interests. Our travel review blog (Eat Sleep & Simply be) provides some of the content for the social platforms we well. We are just about to bring on board a digital marketer who (we hope) will provide an even better ROI and refined strategy for social platforms.

What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs looking to export a product?

Use paid social media for piloting your export strategy and then targeting your audience. You can build it slowly as it starts to work and measure your ROI. Refine as you go. An appropriate blog will provide fresh content to feed social media platforms and build your brand story and following.

How have you attracted famous fans such as Prince George?

Not sure if Prince George himself is a fan but his mum, Aunty Pippa & Grandma Middleton certainly are. We have had some great press pieces through my strategy above, good brand exposure (originally through our B2 B model) and really effective word of mouth positive feedback for our customer service.

What are your three top tips for growing a business?

Get yourself sorted financially and once you can afford to bring on board an financial director, even a part time one.

Network network network! You are much more likely to get a business lead or a bit of useful mentoring from speaking to someone out of the office than online or the desk next to you!

Forget about getting bigger. Just get better and keep refining the model; bigger will come!

Let Enterprise Nation help you go global! Join one of our international trade missions in 2017. We're off to Singapore in September with digital and creative businesses and to Dubai in November with luxury brands.
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