Advice On How To Develop An E-commerce Start Up

Interview with Managing Direct of Modern Rugs, Ben Dale

Can you explain a bit about your university life and what you did before starting up the business?

I studied for a BA (Hons) in Marketing Management at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle upon Tyne. My dissertation was a study on how to build a successful e-commerce brand looking at examples such as Amazon. At that time (around 2003) the ‘Dot-com bubble’ had already burst.

 E-commerce marketing was fresh and exciting; I found it really interesting and knew it was something I wanted get into.


What made you start up Modern Rugs?

After I finished university I was working as a marketing manager for a large e-commerce website design company called Enigma Interactive. This gave me some great experience in how e-commerce sites are created, the technology involved and the marketing techniques such as search engine optimisation and pay per click advertising.

While I enjoyed helping other businesses get into e-commerce, it was still something I really wanted to do for myself. I felt I had enough knowledge to start my own online business but I wasn’t sure what product I could sell.

My dad has a small carpet shop in our home town, obviously carpets seemed too large to sell online but rugs seemed well suited. They were not too big to deliver with couriers and not easily damaged.  Selling online would also mean I could offer a much bigger selection of designs and sizes than any physical shop could.

Can you explain how you went about starting up?

I started the website while I was at Enigma Interactive, working on evening and weekends to develop the site. I didn’t really have much money to invest into a bespoke website, so I used an off the shelf e-commerce website design package which cost just £30 a month. This allowed me to design and manage the website myself.  

I contacted some large rug importers and asked if they would supply me through my dad’s business - some of them agreed. I made sure the website was well optimised for search engines and soon it started to rank well for the target keywords bringing relevant traffic to the website without any high marketing overheads.

Orders starting coming through and within a couple of months I was in a position where I felt confident I could run it as a full time business. I left my job at Enigma and we converted my dad’s carpet premises into the warehouse and office for Modern Rugs. Since then the business has grown and grown every year.


How did you get to where you are now? And what are the next steps for you and the business?

Some people have the misconception that setting up a successful e-commerce business is easy, but building the business to the point it is at today has involved a lot of hard work. We have over 10,000 designs on our website now which has been gradually built up over the last 8 years. We have always tried to stay ahead of our competition with innovative features such as our product videos. The next big step for us is moving to new larger premises which will allow us to employ more people and hold more stock. We’re always looking at new exciting products and new ways to grow the business, for example we should soon be at the stage where we can look into targeted television advertising. There is always new advances in e-commerce technology, which will allow us to constantly improve our website and our marketing.


Can you give your top five entrepreneurial tips?

1.       If you really believe in something but you are not successful the first time, try not to give up. Refine your
ideas, work hard and try again.

2.       Get experience and gain skills in all aspects of business.

3.       Research your market carefully.

4.       Always try to stay one step ahead of your competition.

5.       Do something you enjoy and you’ll find it all the more rewarding.


What skills and traits do you need to succeed as an entrepreneur?

I think you need to be committed 100% to what you are doing; I might even use the word obsessive! Of course you also need to have good general business sense and skills. The ability to take calculated risks is also important.

Finally, there is only so much one person can do, so I think it is important to surround yourself with the right people that are going to work with you towards your goals.

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