Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
Charley Chau makes beautiful bedding for dogs. Our quirky little business started completely by accident. I was fed up with buying poor quality, ugly-looking dog beds so I sat in my sitting room one afternoon and designed and hand-stitched what has become our signature bed – the Charley Chau Snuggle Bed. A few photos on Facebook later and I was inundated with requests for the bed. That was the beginning of Charley Chau. No big strategy, no shiny business plan – just a beautiful and functional, well-designed product that other people also wanted for their dogs. Luckily we’re based in the North West of England which was at the heart of the textiles trade during the industrial revolution. That textiles heritage influences present day so we have the most amazing expertise in textiles and manufacturing at our doorstep. All of our fabric-based beds and blankets are made in England with love.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
From day one our customers have been the best advocates for Charley Chau – both canine and human! We’re very lucky to have customers who are really supportive of what we’re trying to do with Charley Chau, who talk about us all the time and recommend us to their friends, whether online or in person. Word is spreading and we now have customers in over thirty countries around the world. In the last couple of years, huge UK and overseas retail brands have approached us about stocking Charley Chau. We have said no to most of them as we didn’t think there was a great brand fit. We do, however, work with Ocado and Waitrose in the UK who take Charley Chau beds and blankets out to audiences on a scale we never dreamed possible. Now, unexpectedly, the wholesale side of our business is contributing significantly to our growth.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
We’re using various apps all the time. Some, like Just Uno, for short periods when we want to run a time-limited promotion, and others on an ongoing basis like MailChimp which has made it super easy for us to keep in touch with our customers. While not an app, so to speak, the Shopify Theme Store has been crucial in enabling us to present the world of Charley Chau to our customers in a way that really supports and enhances our brand. We recently hired an apprentice who wanted to work for us after seeing our website – he couldn’t believe that such a small business could create a website that is so beautiful! We also couldn’t live without Shopify POS. We take our products out to a small number of shows through the year and having POS on our iPads is a lifesaver. All of the sales and orders we take at the shows sync with our online store – we are able to process them right away, sending invoices and confirmations to customers instantly. It’s brilliant! We’ve always been determined to deliver the best quality products and best customer service possible, so we handle all of our fulfilment in house. Our beds and blankets go through really rigorous quality checks throughout the production process, and we literally check every single bed and blanket before it’s packed up and shipped to its new home. This approach has resulted in an extremely low return rate of less than 0.5%.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Some people start a business with a big business plan and aim to make zillions. We started by accident because we created something out of the love we have for our dogs. That love and passion is at the heart of Charley Chau – designing beds and blankets that keep dogs all over the world in the comfort they deserve. We call it spreading the CharleyLove and we believe it’s the main reason that we’ve managed to build such a loyal and supportive customer base. It’s all about the dogs!