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Top 50 Q&A: Suzanne Carroll, Cool Clutch

Welcome to our weekly Q&A with Internet Retailing’s 2019 Top 50 People in E-Commerce. You can find this year’s Top 50 report here, and see our previous Q&As here.

This week, Internet Retailing interviews Suzanne Carroll, founder of Cool Clutch. Suzanne ranked 31st on our list this year.

Short on time? Here are the three key takeaways from the interview:

  • Cool Clutch was born after Carroll started selling her household goods online, and realised she enjoyed online retail.
  • Carroll is aiming to have Cool Clutch in at least one winery in each wine region in Australia.
  • Despite starting as a way to keep wine cool, Carroll is particularly proud that her product helps people with medication.

Internet Retailing: What does a typical day look like for you at Cool Clutch?

Suzanne Carroll: Having just employed my first staff member it has enabled Cool Clutch to have more structure around its week. Previously I was working in the business and reacting to orders by picking, packing and replying to wholesale enquiries. I felt I was muddling through the week reacting, rather than being proactive.

Now we have very definite daily tasks with planning and implementing strategies around social media, email marketing and sales. Our day always starts with me checking figures on our Facebook and Google Ad spend verses online sales while Donna picks and packs our orders ensuring all orders are dispatched within 24 hours of receiving.

IR: What are your daily concerns?

SC: Cash flow is always king in any business so I am always checking our bank balance especially during the winter months.

Between September and March we are busy and our cash flow is better but during the quieter months it is important to be able to cover recurring payments.

That is why on the top of our list for 2020 is growing our overseas sales. Cool Clutch will follow the sun.

IR: Where did the idea for Cool Clutch come from? What drove you into designing products?

SC: After a bad experience in the corporate world I found myself over 50, unemployed and unemployable. I would never work for someone again, but felt too young to retire.

Selling unwanted items from around the house made me realise that selling online was fun and made me think about business ideas for an online store.

I noticed that no one was marketing cooler bags to women. No matter how much I googled I could not find anything anywhere in the world that I would be happy to carry my wine in. So I decided I was going to create a handbag for my wine, I would take on the role of caring about what women carry their wine in.

Although having no handbag design experience, I was clearly the perfect person to do this. Everyone knows I don’t like to miss an opportunity to have a glass of wine with my friends and family. There is nothing better than getting together for a glass of bubbles and a giggle. It’s good for the soul and cheaper than therapy. Women of the world, needed a solution.

When I woke up on October 30, 2015, I had a product idea, brand name and tag line and Cool Clutch was born.

Very soon I realised that although my main focus had been wine, women were embracing Cool Clutch all over the world. They appreciated that finally there was a stylish cooler bag designed for them. Whether it was their lunch, makeup or medication to be kept cool, finally there was a stylish cooler bag and more excitingly it was combined with their handbag.

IR: What advice do you have for others looking to start up a business from scratch? What were some roadblocks you ran into, and how did you overcome them?

SC: Gosh where do I start?

I suppose the most valuable lesson I have learned is, just when you think that you know everything about your business, technologies change, algorithms and trends change and you have to start all over again. It sometimes feels like you are changing a tire on a moving car.

I have also particularly learned a lot about dealing with China. Their culture and approach to business is very different to the way that the Western world does business. Especially when it comes to refunds or replacements. This has been a costly lesson to learn. We now never have an order dispatched from China without it being inspected by a Quality Agent.

Also I have learned to understand and accept my areas of weakness in the business and employ experts in that field to fill that gap.

IR: What is on the cards for the business for the rest of 2019? What’s the next exciting project?

SC: Lots of travelling and lots of sales. At the beginning of September I will be visiting China to inspect with my Quality Agent our three stock orders of over 4000 handbags. In those three orders are 10 new handbag designs.

When I return I will be visiting our existing customers, as well as finding new customers in SA, WA, NSW, ACT, Tasmania and of course Victoria. Many wineries sell our products, such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Wynns Coonawarra, De Bortoli and Seppelt Great Western, and our products have been extremely successful addition to their cellar doors.

With around 70 wine regions in Australia, my aim this year is to have at least one winery in every wine region stocking our products. We already have three wineries in Napa Valley, California, and intend to increase that to 10 by the end of the year.

IR: What are some other e-commerce brands that you look to for inspiration? Who do you think are the leaders in the space?

SC: There are so many amazing e-commerce brands kicking some fabulous goals and most were represented in this year’s Top 50.

I was absolutely stoked to be amongst women such as Julie Mathers from Flora & Fauna, Kate Morris from Adore Beauty, Sandradee Makejev from St Frock and Jane Lu from Showpo.

[They’re] a lot younger than me and therefore filled with more energy and I just love watching them excel and enjoy living vicariously through them.

IR: Did you foresee all of the ways customers have used Cool Clutch bag – from wine, to breast milk, to makeup, to medication?

SC: To begin with, absolutely not!

My focus was purely to create a stylish handbag to carry wine and nearly called our flagship product a Wine Clutch instead of a Cool Clutch.

Research soon indicated that there was a huge need for a cooler bag specifically designed for women as they didn’t have anything stylish to carry anything that needed to be kept cool.

I am particularly proud of it being used to carry medication.

In May we received this email from a customer:

“I have recently purchased a Cool Clutch bag and just wanted to let you know that you have changed my world.

“My daughter Ella has anaphylaxis and we are required to carry epipens.

“When we travel to Hawaii or during the hot summers and cool winters, we store the epipens in bulky insulated lunch bags, now with the cool clutch the medication can be stored in a fashionable insulated hand bag.

“I know other parents would appreciate this option, perhaps you could link your social media pages to the Anaphylaxis Australia pages.

“Thank you for changing my world (the ability to store alcohol is also a bonus).”

IR: What is the strangest thing you’ve heard your product used for?

SC: We have known customers to carry their dog in their handbag!

IR: Is there anything else you wanted to add?

SC: I don’t know if you have noticed but in the 2019 Top 50 report there are around four of us that are over 50 (sorry if I have insulted anyone in my assumption).

From reading all their backgrounds I am definitely the oldest to have started their business in that age group and I am extremely proud of that as well as my achievements to date.

We now have our products patented in 22 countries including Australia, the US, Canada, the EU, Hong Kong and China and intend to take Cool Clutch worldwide in the next five years.

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