Ciao Bella Travel – what women want!
Ciao bella Travel – What women want
Sisters Sarah Tate and Kirsty Keane know that the web is truly the ideal place to promote and market unique and useful niche products. Take a look at their very friendly and inviting website ciaobellatravel.com.au. A niche site that focuses on providing practical products to female travellers. The concept of the site has been the result of a fascinating journey.
It’s 7.30pm and I have just dialled Kirsty Keane’s phone number. The phone rings and is answered by Kirsty’s husband. He deftly wants to know who it is when I ask to speak with Kirsty, and lowers his guard when I identify myself. To get Kirsty at a time where she won’t be interrupted has taken a few emails between us to lock in this time. The baby is settled and we can talk. Having an online ebusiness has given Kirsty the flexibility she needs to be a mum, and also to look after her and sister Sarah’s business. There is no such thing as regular work hours yet the sisters love what they do and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Ciao Bella Travel (ciaobellatravel.com.au)is the brainchild of Kirsty and Sarah and offers the busy lady traveller a one stop shop for all things compact and convenient for modern travel.
The evolvement of the business
Growing up with entrepreneurial parents, Sarah and Kirsty were both young and ambitious. Kirsty a marketer who had experienced regular business travel, sometimes spent two weeks out of every four living out of a suitcase while travelling for her work. During a hasty Asian trip Kirsty once again experienced the inconvenience of travelling with cumbersome travel trivia such as bottles of shampoo, moisturisers, make up removal pads, travel accessories etc. Hotel room hair care and skin products just didn’t offer the quality needed. She thought there had to be a better solution to this, so she started investigating what was available.
Sarah who had recently left her marketing role joined Kirsty in the search for good quality products; skin and hair care products available in smaller more convenient packages. They found these products were hard to find, often in poor supply and expensive. From this early start “single shots” was born. Single shots is a concept where small amounts of cosmetic, hair care and other travel related products are provided in small reusable and disposable containers, which means convenience, fresh product and less luggage weight. In Kirsty words –
“Single Shots – instead of lugging cumbersome bottles of lotions and potions with you on your next trip, you can just grab a handful of “shots” to throw in your bag. As the Single Shots range are formulated by a herbalist and are made from high quality ingredients, packing light no longer means compromising on the way you look and feel while travelling.”
The product idea eventually morphed into the online concept store. Travel regulations also had restricted liquids carried on board to 100ml or less, which gave the Single shots products a lots of exposure.
In November 2006 the ciaobellatravel.com.au site went live, Sara and Kirsty sat excitedly with glasses of champagne waiting. They were rescued by family and friends that visited the site and placed their first orders. The site has been running now for 2 and a half years and has grown continuously up until October 2008 (400% growth) when the effects of the global financial crisis started to be felt. Kirsty says things are definitely starting to pick up with sales growing again from May 2009 with a record day in June, then their best ever day now in July.
Sarah is the backbone of the business in terms of business operations, bookkeeping, graphics and professional photographs, and Kirsty’s strengths lie in marketing, building partnerships and relationships, emarketing via the e newsletter, and adwords. However both have a good understanding of all avenues of the business and most decisions are discussed and jointly decided.
The site has not been without its trials as the sisters knew nothing about selling online. When designing the site they wanted all the bells and whistles and realised the cost and development time would be prohibitive. In searching for a vendor to build the site it came down to a Google search of web developers in Brisbane and then meeting with three that met Sarah and Kirsty’s criteria (budget and capability). “We wanted a local company so that we could meet face to face as we are not overly computer literate!”
As well as other mistakes early on which had to be corrected they relied heavily on trial and error. They chose Media Two, a Brisbane based ecommerce web Development Company. A graphic designer assisted with design and worked closely with Media Two who advised, built, hosted and now manage the technical issues of the site for Ciao Bella. The site development took 6 months. (2 months longer than planned).
The nuts and bolts
The site has an online admin panel and content management system (CMS), and inventory is controlled and managed through this interface. All supplied by Media Two.
Search engine optimisation techniques (SEO)and Google adwords are consistently used, tested and updated. The site is hosted by Media Two
They chose MYOB as their accounting system and worked with an accountant on initial set-up.
They love Google analytics and closely monitor site stats meeting weekly to review key stats against industry benchmarks. They make site tweaks where appropriate to increase conversion rates. E.g. they streamlined their checkout process when their conversion funnel showed they were leaking sales. Now their checkout abandonment rate is below industry standard.
What makes the site successful
* Good copywriting
* Tasteful design elements and functionality
* Marketing, marketing, marketing.
* Travel tips form Ciao Bella’s own well travelled Foreign correspondents in Australia, Paris, London and Latin America
* A travel Forum with handy posts on just about everything useful for the travelling lady
* A travel planner in conjunction with Girls guide to the world, find out where to eat, drink, sleep, sightsee
* Travel tips
* Weekly email
* Member sign up (5%discount)
* eNews and competitions
* A gift of some sort or sample is always sent out with every parcel
* The site has a reminder service which allows browsers and shoppers remind them to top up with “Single shots” and other creature comforts to make their trips more enjoyable before they fly
Business stats and marketing
The most effective forms of marketing have been Google adwords, media releases and very importantly, relationships with media outlets. Kirsty suggests that for every $1 they spend on marketing they have a return of $4. The travel tips which are downloadable and word of mouth are very strong marketing tools. Email marketing plays a large role in promoting to existing customers, with a 40% open rate on mail out campaigns. There is currently a subscriber base of around 3500 members and growing.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)and Search engine marketing (SEM) is done by Reload Media in Brisbane. SEO and SEM are the best vehicles in terms of return on investment(ROI), and are used as a benchmark when comparing other advertising opportunities such as banner adverts. (Of which some have not worked that well). Vision 6 software is used for email marketing, with a template designed by a graphic designer.
The primary demographic is 25-36 year old travellers. Kirsty thought based on her experiences as a business traveller that the ideal target market for Ciaobella Travel was businesswomen. In late 2008 Kirsty and Sarah asked Nutshell marketing to do a survey for them. The results were very interesting. There was a 33% response rate to the survey which is a very high engagement rate for a survey. The survey divulged amongst other things that there was more traffic from female leisure travellers than business travellers much to Sarah and Kirsty’s surprise . Given this information, more leisure travel apparel and products were added to the site to cater to leisure travellers seeking a convenient one stop shop for all their skin, hair and travel products including stylish and comfy travel clothing. The average sale is around $80
The business has been approached by upmarket hotels, airlines and is exploring partnership opportunities with fashion and travel clothing businesses.
Kirsty and Sarah’s advice for other online retailers:
* Find out what your customers want, know your target market. (The girls thought overseas business travellers were their target market yet were surprised from research that holiday travellers were frequenting their site in greater numbers)They introduced a site poll so they can test new product ideas and price points with their customers first.
* Know beforehand what you want your site to look like and function (planning). Its very costly to modify. Look at industry leaders sites.
* Spending in print media did not bring any noticeable business
* Understand the SEO process and cost per click (CPC) before outsourcing otherwise at your peril.
* Surround yourself with good people.
* Listen to customer feedback, peer groups and friends and be flexible.
* Build it and no one will come, there is a lot of hard work in driving visitors to the site let alone getting conversions (sales)
* Experiment with social media…it’s free! When the ladies started their Twitter account it brought in a lot of traffic (5th largest source for the site at one stage) have a Facebook page but need to spend more time on it.
Kirsty’s final words: Consult with experts but also be confident in your own ability!