Q&A with Hunting for George
Sisters Lucy Glade-Wright and Jo Harris launched the online store Hunting for George in Melbourne in 2010. Starting with a small selection of products, the sisters now sell homewares, accessories, gifts and furniture from a variety of designers and manufacturers, as well as their own collection. Hunting for George was recently named a finalist for Best Small Independent Retailer in the 2016 StarTrack ORIAS — Online Retail Industry Awards.
Co-founder Lucy Glade-Wright and marketing manager Jonno Rodd spoke to Internet Retailing about investing in the user experience, finding the right software to run a small business and creating win-win partnerships.
Mark Freidin: Can you tell us a about how Hunting for George started and how the choice to go online superseded opening a storefront?
Glade-Wright: We had our hearts set on starting our own bricks and mortar shop. We planned what it would look like, what products we would sell, who are customers would be, what type of service we would offer, even what colour paint would be on the walls. We obsessed about every little detail. Problem was – we couldn’t afford it. So we decided that if we couldn’t make the physical space of our dreams, then we would create the digital space of our dreams instead! And that’s how Hunting for George began.
Tell us a bit about the nuts and bolts of the Hunting for George website — what it’s built on and how it has reached its current state?
Rodd: The Hunting for George website is built on Magento Community and WordPress open source software. We also use a number of SaaS add-ons and integrate with a number of external platforms. We’ve been using Magento for over five years now and it’s undergone a number of major facelifts during that time. The entire website and integration is managed and owned in-house. Being a small business with high expectations and big ideas has its challenges. Resources are often strained and it’s hard to find software packages for small business that deliver on their promise. We’re not at an enterprise level where we can afford to build, customise and maintain our own dedicated platforms, such as inventory management or WMS [warehouse management system], so we’ve had to trouble shoot third party platforms and adjust where we can.
This does mean we’re forced to be creative, and time spent working on our own solutions ultimately makes us a stronger business with greater knowledge and skills in-house. We are also now quite lucky to have found a couple of gurus that assist us in maintaining the site, but more importantly they care about our business and enjoy problem solving and working towards shared goals.
How do you manage inventory, warehousing, and accounting?
Rodd: This is one of the biggest challenges in our business, everything needs to integrate with our website as it’s the hub of everything we do. Initially we used an accounting package called Saasu. We outgrew this quite quickly […] We made the switch to Xero as our accounting package a few years ago and also used Unleashed for inventory management. Xero has been the best external software package we’ve used to date, but we were still looking for a reliable inventory management system. We are now using Trade Gecko as the inventory system that sits between Magento and Xero, but we have spent considerable time ensuring that is a stable platform as well. If there are any hot tips out there for inventory management platforms that can work seamlessly with a business like ours then I would love to chat with them.
How do you approach the online user experience? For instance, when you hover on a product on Hunting for George, the image changes to a lifestyle shot. Isn’t this a time-consuming feature?
Glade-Wright: As a digital space we rely heavily on visuals and copy to tell a story and communicate on a personal level with our customers. We wanted to bring the best parts of the offline shopping experience online. This means personality, information and energy. From a design point of view we’re always focusing on the little things we can implement online that are important in improving the overall experience. We are a design focused team and we create all our content in-house, as well as aligning with our hand picked brands for visuals. Our priority is placed on creating original content, because without it we would just be another online reseller. We plan large scale photoshoots but also shoot content in our studio on a regular basis. Our team works in-house to edit, manage, upload and repurpose all our content everyday. We always maximise usage of all content we produce, as it is a very time and resource-heavy process to create.
What are the biggest drivers of quality traffic to the Hunting for George site and what are your most effective marketing tools and channels?
Rodd: Organic, email and social drive the most qualified traffic to our site. The most effective marketing tool we have is branding and story, this flows into every marketing channel. Consistency in our message is key and our focus as a small growing business has always been on the things that are free or low cost and that we can control.
How do you create, curate and manage all the content on your blog?
Rodd: Our blog is collaborative effort. It’s a digital version of our Community Journal and it’s called Community for a reason. Everyone in our team contributes to the blog as well as like-minded individuals that help to bring a unique point of view to anything related to the home. When it comes to curating content we are interested in talking about what we’re creating and things that inspire. We share stories on our brands and basically just have a lot of fun with it. Our Community blog allows us the freedom to explore and is an important part of the story telling process. It’s also another way to repurpose our content that creates a permanent fixture on our site. This helps our SEO efforts and also acts as a customer acquisition channel.
What is the strategy behind your decision to work with local designers and manufacturers? How do you create a win-win situation for both parties?
Glade-Wright: We place a high value on collaboration, as the more you expose yourself to different concepts the stronger you become. Being able to collaborate and share ideas with fellow designers has resulted in some beautiful products. We often work with people that we admire and those that can bring a different set of skills. The key to any successful collaboration is communication. It’s so important to outline and understand your main objectives from the start and ensure that you monitor these throughout the project. Ultimately it needs to be mutually beneficial for both parties, this doesn’t always have to mean financial gains as we often partner for other reasons.
We run a project called the Hunting Collective, an annual collaboration with 12 artists. We put a lot of time in this project documenting our artists to help tell their story. We do this because of our love for collaboration and storytelling. It’s important for us to continue these types of positive projects as these are what give us so much satisfaction.
What are your future plans for Hunting for George?
Glade-Wright: Our focus is to scale and refine everything we do. We’re on a really good path to that already and are excited to see what the next 12 months hold.
What advice do you have for other startups?
Glade-Wright: Say yes to everything at the start and then learn when to say no. As a startup you need to know everything about your business, even if other people are working on it, it’s up to you to be across all areas. Be sure to maintain control of your business because if anything goes wrong you need to be responsive, and the only way you can improve your business is to have a thorough understanding of what’s going on.
This interview has been lightly edited.