As our journey with Microsoft to uncover UK businesses harnessing technology and digital tools to scale up and enter new markets enters the home straight, Josephine Home founder Stephanie Betts takes us into the world of five star hotels and interactive design.
(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?
Josephine Home is a British homeware and lifestyle brand with a unique focus on the experience of the products. Our focus is on the feel and the longevity of the products and, in that sense, I guess we are often considered as a luxury brand because of the care which goes into making our products. However, our overall prices remain affordable. For the quality we deliver, we hope to become one of the great British retail homeware brands.
The business started as a bespoke company, and we did a few five star hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental and Soho House. Now, having demonstrated the quality of our products with some demanding customers, we are focused on increasing our retail presence.
Currently stocked at Harrods, where we sell linen, throws and many home accessories, we are about to launch the brand in Singapore and in Japan this spring – before looking at the US sometime next year.
(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?
Launching at Harrods and increasing our space to 500sq. ft very shortly after launching was a key milestone, as it increased our visibility with the public but also with international customers and buyers. This enabled us to launch the brand in new countries, thanks to the gravitas our presence at Harrods afforded.
We grew fast in the first few years, but more steadily recently as we aim to grow profitably. Because of this the business has paid particular attention to the product and client mix – deciding to take the time to prepare the business for growth in terms of products, clients and structure before starting to scale-up. The idea is that when we are ready to scale-up, it will happen faster and safely.
A more recent milestone has been the appointment of a new chairman with incredible retail credentials. He was the MD of Waitrose and a board member of the John Lewis partnership before helping smaller brands like Dorset Cereals and Tyrrell’s crisps to scale up and launch internationally. It was a big step for us, and he was also joined by another high-achieving retailer who is now our director of sales, marketing and PR after, amongst others, launching Dyson in the US and in Asia. We now feel ready for the next step up.
(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?
Other entrepreneurs are a great source of inspiration business-wise, and the attention to detail of someone like Jon Ive is simply a huge breath of fresh air in an increasingly bland and undifferentiated market. His and Steve Jobs approach I am sure will inspire generations of entrepreneurs to never settle for less than the best.
Closer to our field of expertise, someone like Brunello Cucinelli and companies like Loro Piana or Hermes are leading lights in terms of their quest for quality, perfection and a seamless experience for the customer.
Even closer to home, I constantly get inspired by nature to create new products and by the very special artisans we work with to develop new products, textures and colours.
Hopefully, our attention to detail and love of craftsmanship shines through our product offering and in the way everyone at Josephine Home talks about our products and our mission to only deliver the best experience to our customers, to the very best of our abilities. We have some lovely videos on our website which we think tell people everything they need to know about us!
(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?
The biggest challenge is to find talent, passion and integrity. You really need that special mix to succeed as a team. So finding the right people is key and is the main driver of success I think.
(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?
We are still grappling with technology and this is our next big move with a brand new interactive webstore. All new brands have a huge opportunity these days if they can harness the power of digital and turn customers into brand advocates – gaining a shot at beating the bigger and more established players.
Your connection to your customers, current and future is much stronger when they discover you by a “word of mouth” digital process rather than through an ad. It is also much easier than before to engage with your customer base thanks to the various digital platforms, amplifying your message at a much lower cost – whilst keeping a very human touch.
(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?
For us the obvious hurdle is connecting with remote or international customers, but an assured delivery in two days (anywhere in the world) is a great tool!
We need to keep an eye on our delivery costs but it is a great way to build customer relationships – they order and they feel that you are very responsive when the parcel is with them under 48 hours, in Hong Kong, Singapore of New York.
On the back office side, there are many more hidden challenges such as managing stock in multiple locations and ensuring that the overall picture is always accurate – this is a big job.
(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?
I think, like most young companies, we try and keep a lean structure so that people like accountants, lawyers, stylists etc. are employed on a part-time or project basis. Technology today really enables us to have people in a number of locations without any obvious impact on the business thanks to our IT systems, but also because FaceTime and Skype. We have two brand ambassadors based in New York and Singapore respectively, and it really feels like we are in the same office. We can do up to five video calls a day – when needed!
(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?
I think that PCs and telephones, with all its new incarnations, from Skype to FaceTime, are crucial – but then all our back office functions such as stock management would simply be impossible without technology.
(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?
My dream asset would be an incredibly interactive website, where we would address customer queries in real time and stream down the right information to them from mood boards of other relevant projects we have completed. It would great to be able to show customers what our products would look like in their room and to be able to help them style their room remotely. This is the stuff I dream about!
(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?
We want to become the benchmark brand – in the UK and globally – people refer to when they look for or simply talk about great pieces for their home – from linen to accessories, from the bedroom to the other rooms of the house. We want to be the reference when it comes to what I would call the “fantastic basics” which are everyday products made great by using the best raw materials and the best craftsmanship so they deliver an enjoyable experience every time you hold them or look at them.