A passion for kitchenware and cookware combined with a programming background and a vision of the future was all that was needed for Hal Pritchard and Natasha Luke to cook up a storm online.
Everten Online is the culmination of a small family business that started in Cairns, North Queensland in 1986. Originally started by Rosie Watson and her son Hal Pritchard in Cairns selling knives wholesale to the processing industry.
In 1993 the family moved to Sydney and opened Rosie's of Pyrmont at the Sydney Fish Markets, selling kitchenware to the catering and restaurant industries, the fish processing industry and the public. In 2003 partners Natasha Luke and Hal Pritchard opened up a second shop in the Hunter Valley Wine Country called The Waiters Friend.
Everten Online was a natural extension for Natasha and Hal, adding to and complementing their bricks and mortar establishments in Sydney and the Hunter Valley.
"It was an unprogressive industry set in its ways. We wanted something in this industry to drive our business" Hal said. Having been in the kitchenware business for 15 years, Hal had thought that selling online was a good idea. He had been watching the trends overseas in American and the UK and knew that there were efficiencies in online trading to increase choice, lower prices and provide greater service.
Initially when Hal and Natasha launched the Everten website they were taken aback by the astonishing growth of the site. "We expected a 10- 15% growth rate in the first year" says Hal. "We didn't expect such fast growth and had to move into a warehouse after just three months". The online sales were consuming all of the retail store's stock, so initially a 260 square metre warehouse in Hornsby followed by a 1300 square metre warehouse in Mount Ku-Ring-Gai in NSW became the new base for the fledgling online operation. As Everten had a relationship with suppliers through their shops, stock was not an issue. Suppliers were however nervous about having their brands sold online but are coming to understand the promise of the platform. Today Everten employs around 8 people in the warehouse. Looking at IT, the original content management system was a heavily modified off the shelf package that cost around $400 at the time and could handle about 2000 items. Hal's programming skills and his knowledge of the knife and kitchenware industries immediately gave him a competitive advantage in knowing his product and his customer. As the site grew Hal moved to an open source platform utilising Xcart, once again heavily modifying it.
The site is hosted in Australia. It was originally hosted with Iinet, then Netregistry, and now it's with ICO hosting. "They are not the cheapest yet offer a very solid and reliable platform." Hal is still very much involved in the development of new technologies for the site and all graphics are done in house. Currently Hal, Natasha and the team can only manage an organic growth of 45-60%. He is mindful that he will eventually have to outsource this side of the operation if he is to effectively manage the growth of Everten and their other site Candelabra.com.au.
An email newsletter is sent every week to Everten's database. Six weeks after a sale, customers are asked about their customer service experience. (An independant review process is conducted by shopping.com (see press release here) All marketing is done online using Yahoo, Bing, Facebook and of course Google. Google analytics is used to monitor site performance. In Hal's early days he favoured Stat counter and recommends this as a good starting analytics platform (and its free). Hal admits he doesnt like paying for marketing yet to accelerate the growth of the site in the early days pay per click (PPC) was the tool of choice in driving traffic to the site, and this was crucial in getting Everten off the ground. Now search engine optimisation (SEO) is outsourced through an Australian based search agency. Hal goes on to tell of colleagues who have outsourced SEO to India, only to find 35% of irrelevant traffic from India coming to their sites due to poor backlink practices from Indian SEO companies." The demographics of Everten's customer are dispersed across Australia by population density. to give an example, a 75 year old lady recently bought a knife sharpening machine online" says Hal.
Natasha brings a systematic discipline and rigour to the business. She is responsible for the financial planning and systems. It is also her analytical approach and strategic vision that has provided a snapshot of where Everten has come from and where it can go. No major decision happens without discussion between Hal and Natasha. This collaboration is crucial to the success of the operation. Hal makes it very clear that Natasha plays a very important role in the business.
Hal is amazed at the lack of understanding in the retail industry about websites and the need for retailers to have everything about their sites working perfectly and complete before launching. He is fully aware that a website has a life of its own and it is a continually evolving system and is never complete. It's because they understand and 'get' online retailing, that he and Natasha are so good at it.
Based on Hal's experience he suggests having a strong business plan in place. "The business model must work form day one, so planning is crucial" says Hal. "Big features should come later. Add a few products, build, test and grow. Do this in an iterative way and focus on the small detail and don't waste money". Hal further suggests that a good operator needs to be disciplined and have a good team because the sum total of the success is the result of a great team. Hal and Natasha feel that the big retailers will be forced to come on board by the sheer inertia of the growth of online as customers start to demand it more. The more retailers that start selling online, the more buyers there will be online which means more customers for Everten.
Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules have been excellent drivers of traffic and business to the site. The global financial crisis and the focus on eating in more frequently has also helped boost sales, and the site continues to grow from strength to strength.