If you’re a fan of Andy Warhol, you’ll definitely remember his infamous time capsules.
In 1984, the timeless artist put aside nearly 300,000 of his possessions to be sealed in cardboard boxes with the directive that they only are opened at predetermined intervals.
Even now, several years after his death, the opening of each box attracts widespread interest. One individual paid tens of thousands of dollars simply for the privilege to open the last one.
Anouk Van Der El, a Dutch national living in Singapore and self-confessed Andy Warhol fan, has built Make History precisely on this concept of preserving timeless memories and everyday moments that we hold dear.
“As a child, I was always fascinated by inventors,” explains Anouk. “And I thought the time capsule concept by Andy Warhol was really cool [...] I started thinking and together with some fellow Dutch designers, we created a concept [similar to] the time capsule.”
While her first product was a time capsule, fashioned on the Andy Warhol classic, Anouk adds that it was this initial impetus which gave her a ‘bit of an addiction’. Since then, all the products Make History lists on its site are “designed to help you celebrate the best moments in life, in any form or shape.”
Moving to Singapore
In 2013, Anouk moved to Singapore with her family after her husband was posted to the lion state. At the time, she was running a marketing and design consultancy focused mostly on European clients but thought that the move gave her time to rethink and reexamine what she wanted to do.
“I love beautiful things, I've always been a fan of design and the design world,” explains Anouk. “The concept of [Make History] when I started was always oh I have this great idea, lets see if we can make a beautiful design for it.”
Other than the time capsule, Make History now stocks several products ranging from art bags to bracelets and graphic postcards to tube socks. All the designs have a unique avant garde style to them -- the Andy Warhol influence is hard to shake off.
So how have people in Asia reacted to these unique, niche products?
Anouk explains that the majority of her business still comes via resellers in the U.S. and Europe. This means third-party merchants buy her stock and place it in offline, retail stores. The only Asian market which has been receptive to her products is Japan.
“Japanese people have a bit more eye for aesthetic and they love the products and the story behind it,” she explains. “There’s a culture of saving all these little knick knacks, especially when kids are born so perhaps that’s why.”
Singapore, however, hasn’t been as quick to warm up. Anouk believes it’s because there’s more of a tilt towards high-end, upscale brands which makes it difficult for up-and-coming companies like her to make a dent. Nonetheless, things are changing and she’s confident of capturing a greater slice of the local market in the near future.
Scaling via Shopify
Building out your ecommerce capacity is never easy, but Anouk says Shopify has given her a substantive leg up.
Her initial motivation to shift to this platform was because of support with blogging -- Anouk explains how she had all these ideas and blogs ready to build traction and traffic around her products.
But after playing around with the platform, she realized how the flexibility and customizability were also major factors that made her stick to it.
“I must say, the team in Singapore is super supportive - they do all these workshops and everyone’s very enthusiastic,” she adds.
Her most popular product remains the time capsule - folks buy it for when a child is born or to give as a gift at a friend’s marriage.
Another nifty idea she’s introduced is the ‘hush box’. Basically it’s to avoid digital addiction - you shove your phone into the box and it stays there while you have dinner with your kids or have a few effective work hours.
Anouk declines to give a figure for how much revenue she pulls in each month, but does add that it’s been increasing all the time. The first couple of years for her were all about investments into the company, but they’ve been starting to pay off now.
So What’s Next?
Make History isn’t just restricting itself to online channels for growth. Anouk explains that offline is a big component for her, too, even though ecommerce channels give her much higher margins.
She admits that it’ll be a combination of both online and offline that will win the retail battle.
“We want to invest a lot of time and effort in Google Analytics and blog writing to push traffic to our Shopify shop,” explains Anouk. “It’s hard to target a number, but I believe twenty to twenty five percent is a fair estimate of how much we want to grow in 2019.”
In terms of marketing campaigns, the plans are to do more of what’s working. Instagram is a vital referral and acquisition channel for her business, something which she explains is validated by Shopify analytics.
Design remains a key marketing tactic for her, too. Product photography and styling is the “best marketing there is”. She explains that it’s important to let the products shine, build them in a manner that “appeals to the human eye.”
Anouk’s always tried to brand and position Make History different to other gift companies out there. That’s evident from the design ethos as well as her tactic of using different press kits to attract audience attention and virality.
“Whenever we have a new product we select top ten to fifteen press that we want to be featured in and then we do a little funny press kit with our product in it,” she laughs. “For our budget it’s proven to be the best campaign - we don’t use influencers as they cost a lot of money but sometimes our products have reached them organically and they have posted about it.”
—Written By Osman Husain