Why I started online gift retailer Ellie Ellie

Danielle Plowman is the founder and managing director of online gift retailer Ellie Ellie.

Danielle Plowman, Ellie Ellie

She’s created a successful online handmade gift and jewellery retailer Ellie Ellie. Here Danielle Plowman shares what it’s like to run an online business and where the idea to start Ellie Ellie came from.

What is Ellie Ellie?

Ellie Ellie is a multi-award-winning online personalisation giftware company on a mission to bring people together through all life’s moments. We sell unique and innovative gifts through our own website as well as other well-known gift retailers! All our products are personalised in-house by our amazing team, creating local jobs and proudly flying the flag for small independent business’.

What is an ‘average day’ like for you?

Well like many people my average day is somewhat different from what it used to be because of COVID, so I am now working from home!

I am not a morning person at all, my morning always starts with a walk along the beach (I live just 20 metres from the beach) in order to wake me up. Then when get home I make a cup of tea ready for our daily togetherness meeting on Google. As one of our core values at Ellie Ellie is togetherness it was really important to that we still stayed ‘together’ during this crazy time as much as we could (in fact it is even more important than ever).

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A big hello from team Ellie Ellie this Thursday morning 👋 ⁠ ⁠ We just wanted to pop by and let everyone know we are all well and are continuing to keep safe, whilst of course, keeping the business running as normal as possible, during this challenging time. ⁠ ⁠ We also wanted to thank every single one of you who have chosen to support our small business. Whether you have liked an Instagram post, told a friend about us, shared a photo, downloaded a freebie, or made a purchase from us, all of this makes a difference so thank you. 🙏⁠ ⁠ We feel humbled that so many fo you have chosen us to help connect you with your loved ones during this time and we couldn't be prouder to do this for you. It is our mission to bring people together through ALL life's moments and there couldn't be a more important time to do so.⁠ ⁠ So keep safe everyone, keep connecting and we will all get through this 💪 Have a great day 💖

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Sometimes our meetings are about strategy, challenges, focus and general business, but other times they are a chance to have a catch up with everyone which is really important for team morale and culture.

After this I then have 1-2-1’s with my managers checking in on trade, design, merch, buying, marketing as well as HR with any government updates, policies and strategy for the business structure during this crazy time. The rest of the day can be different on a day to day basis, juggling loads of different things including calls/Zoom meeting with suppliers, retailers, agencies, accountant etc as well as designing our next collection, working on business development projects, interviews (we are currently hiring) and planning for our next peak season.

When you were younger what did you want to do?

I think in my early years I wanted to be a dancer as I had always done some form of dancing (and still do). However, when I was 10 or 11 we did a project at school on repeat patterns after visiting a local museum and that is where I became obsessed with design. I also used to design and make my own clothes from a young age as I was too small to fit into adult clothing and with my mum being a keen sewer, together we used to design and make my own clothes.

This lead to me doing a fashion degree at Kingston University. My degree was super hard, it is one of the toughest fashion courses in the country and it really taught me a lot about hard work and resilience which are really important traits when running your own business.

How did Ellie Ellie begin?

Before starting Ellie Ellie I walked a very long and winding road, full of knock backs and failures. After completing a degree in fashion design at Kingston University specialising in childrenswear.

Unable to find a design role after graduation (we were in a recession) I set up my own girlswear shop on the Sussex coast whilst juggling a number of other jobs. After two years and not making a penny of profit in the shop I decided enough was enough, I had tried and tried to kick start my career and nothing was working.

I went and got a job at Chichester theatre just for the summer in the wardrobe department to save enough money to go travelling and in 2009 off I went travelling the world. I ended up settling in Melbourne for a while where I got an amazing job as a sales and marketing manager for a childrenswear company. They even sponsored me to stay, but then the skilled migration list changed and I could no longer apply for residency.

I carried on travelling for a few months returning home penniless. When I returned I looked for several design jobs and found nothing again (yep no one wanted to employ me!).

It was then when I was looking through an old notebook I found a reference to a website called www.notonthehighstreet.com which a rare customer in the shop mentioned to me one day. I then applied to be a partner with them with some of my jewellery designs. I was accepted and that’s when Ellie Ellie began.

What’s the thing you love the most about running your own business?

Our mission at Ellie Ellie is to bring people together through all life’s moments, so when we see the joy our products bring to people, whether that celebrating a special birthday, reminding someone you miss them or helping someone through a bereavement this is the BEST feeling in the world. The feedback and reviews we get from our customers often bring tears to my eyes. I feel very lucky that I can make a difference in people’s lives through the gifts I design.

What setbacks have you faced and how did you overcome them?

CASHFLOW! I had no investment nor a penny to my name when I started so cash flow was an issue.

My biggest revenue stream was with an online retailer where the payment terms for this was three weeks in arrears. I had to find a way to fund my overheads for three weeks before getting one penny of my earnings. So I had to get my first credit card! However, it was a simple and risk-free strategy as I never spent a penny until I had an order, so I knew for sure I would be able to pay the credit card back.

I had longer lead times to allow myself to order my jewellery findings after an order was placed. I sent my products out as large letters so I was minimising my spend before I got a cashflow in place.

Do you have any advice for budding business owners?

NEVER GIVE UP and remember if it’s easy everyone would do it.

I believe anyone can have a business. You don’t need to be the smartest person, you don’t need to have a degree, you just need to be prepared to never give up, so when things get tough (when most people give up) keep going.

Take every opportunity that is thrown at you, make as many mistakes as you can at the beginning so you learn quickly what works and what doesn’t work and make decisions based on numbers and gut; both will never be wrong.

What are your plans for the future?

Well, our plans have certainly changed a bit since the pandemic hit in March. Before COVID we had been working on a wholesale website in order to grow that part of the business, as well as working on our marketing strategy to try and build our direct sales. However, like most businesses these plans went on hold as soon as the outbreak of COVID-19 happened. Our main focus became keeping everyone safe and making sure the business stayed sustainable throughout one of the most challenging times we have ever known in business.

Therefore our business growth strategy has taken a 360 change and we are now focused on developing our workshop team by recruiting two new mangers (they started this week) in order to support the growth we have seen in sales as well as providing more support in-house while half the team still remain working from home for the foreseeable future.

If you could go back and give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Trust your gut, it is always right.

You can do anything you set your mind.

Dyslexia is an ability NOT a disability.

To find out more about Ellie Ellie, visit: www.ellieellie.co.uk

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