30 Digital Champions: The Scottish fashion retailer mixing it with the big boys

As the first business featured in our Microsoft 30 Digital Champions campaign, Fat Buddha Store is a perfect example of a company displaying what can be done by thinking digitally.

As we found out in our interview with director Leslie Docherty, the growing company has lessons business owners from many different sectors can take on board.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

We’re a clothing retailer based in Glasgow, and we started our bricks-and-mortar store ten years ago. We had experience running a business for someone else, so when we noticed a gap in the market and a good-sized unit became available, we jumped at the chance to start our own company. The learning curve was pretty steep, and we’ve had some scary moments, but we’re still here celebrating our tenth year.

A big factor in our success has been our online presence: we run a number of multi-language websites, as well as selling on eBay and Amazon. We simply wouldn’t be able to have achieved what we have without these online channels.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

Introducing our first Epos [point-of-sale] system allowed us to reduce our excess stock and carry an inventory that was in sync with our business needs. This freed up some much-needed cash which we invested in a second website, and the subsequent increase in orders gave us better discounts with suppliers.

Our move to a bigger store required a move to a new Epos provider with much greater functionality, and now we’re a lean, mean, fighting machine — we use handheld scanners to locate stock, pick orders, and book in deliveries. We can also complete stock checks using the scanners with an accuracy of 99 per cent.

(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

We’re inspired by creating something tangible, like a new website launch or a really good store refit. We love seeing the finished product, as well as going through the creative process to make it happen.

We demand the best from ourselves and everything we do, so at every stage of the process we ask a lot of questions and stop ourselves from rushing in. We know if we take the extra time to really think a problem through, we’ll produce the best work possible, and that’s what drives us on.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

At the moment, we have a small and fluid team that rotate roles depending on our operational needs. Because of this, our employees need to be driven, open-minded, and multi-skilled, so finding the right people can sometimes be an obstacle.

We’re currently choosing our clothing and footwear ranges for next winter, and predicting what will sell is always a struggle. Cash flow is also an issue — we’ll get our winter delivery in June and need to pay for it in July, so keeping ahead of orders always provides us with headaches.

(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?

Our content team consists of photographers, stylists, graphic designers, and writers, and we choreograph things to make sure that we have a constant feed of images and content to keep our customers engaged with our brand.

We focus our digital approach around getting great content in front of as many people as possible. A blog post covering the right subject at the right time can get picked up by influencers, putting us in front of a massive audience. We always take a data-driven approach to the content we produce, as it pays to do your research on what topics are trending.

The best marketing investment we’ve ever made is our blog, which has been the most cost-effective way to drive quality traffic to our site. Posts we published several years ago are still getting traffic, meaning a few hours of work has produced years of value for us.
Social media is an ever-evolving game, and we take a fluid and data-driven approach to our marketing efforts on those platforms. One thing we’ve found works for us time and time again is Facebook advertising, although each business will find the channels that work best for them.

(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

We don’t have an in-house SEO or PPC team, but our work with outside contractors allows us to look bigger than we are.

Purchases made on our website, Amazon page, and eBay store are all processed by our automated central system, which also predicts seasonal spikes and tells us when we need to re-order stock. This technology simplifies everything and gives us an incredible amount of information, which we can then use to provide our customers with the best service possible.

Advances in tech also allow us to plan all of our social media content for the week in a single day, so when we have holidays, we can have a seamless flow of content as opposed to the lull we’d always have in the past.

(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

We allow staff who prove their trustworthiness and compatibility with remote working to work where they choose. We take a flexible approach with our employees, allowing them to change shifts during school holidays when there can be childcare issues, as well as allowing staff to come in at weekends or evenings if they find this suits them better.

Ultimately, with technological advances allowing us to schedule our social media posts and blog content in advance, we’re happy to be a bit more accommodating to our staff’s needs. The result of this approach has been a staff retention rate that we’re proud of.

(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

We’ve found that any tool that can’t be explained in 30 words tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. If it requires a 60-minute demo or has any kind of learning curve, it simply isn’t practical for a business as busy as ours.

The best tools are something really simple like Hootsuite — all of your social media platforms brought together in the one place, where they can be managed from multiple computers by multiple users. It’s so simple to use you can have new staff up and running on it in ten minutes.

(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

We’re unable to get access to a lot of great tech that would really help us grow our business because it’s often incredibly expensive, as well as requiring total integration with our website or Epos and a high level of skill to operate. We stick to the “plug in and play” kind of tools that are cheap enough to take a gamble on and don’t require a whole overhaul of the way we do things. The tools we stick with are the ones that produce tangible and trackable results.

We simply don’t have the resources to match some of the bigger players in our field, but tools like O-Desk allow us to source the skills we need for one-off projects and bring in extra manpower when it’s needed.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

Our aim is reach a level where one of our competitors sees what we’re doing and decides to buy in to us. This will give us access to better finance and technology, better trading terms, and access to more brands, which will all enable the growth that we need.
If we were to grow our business organically our growth rate would be much slower. The online marketplace is crowded, and with more competitors joining our space every week, we’re all fighting over the same piece of the market.

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