It all began with two British entrepreneurs sitting around a kitchen table in 2006 with one simple ideal: to hunt out the most original items from the best creative small businesses, and bring them together in one place, making it easy for people to browse and buy.
Fast-forward ten years later and that ideal has become the key to Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish’s success as they’ve grown e-commerce site Notonthehighstreet.com from a business making a turnover of £134,000 in its first year, to an award-winning website turning over £155 million in 2015.
To date the e-tailer hosts more than 5,000 of the UK’s most innovative small enterprises and has become renowned for championing the trend of personalisation and capitalising on gifting opportunities. Not On The High Street offers customers more than 170,000 original lifestyle products, many of which are bespoke and made to order.
Among its diverse product offering, which includes food, art, home accessories and more, Not On The High Street hosts 1,000 jewellery partners stocking a wide variety of pieces.
Curious to find out more about the jewellery side of the business, which accounts for 38% of Not On The High Street’s total transaction value, Professional Jeweller assistant editor Stacey Hailes caught up with the company’s creative product director, Sally Bendelow.
For Not On The High Street, jewellery is a vital part of its business and a sector it’s looking to expand in this year. “It’s one of our largest categories,” explains Bendelow. “It covers gifting and self-purchase, and jewellery can cover everything the customer might want to buy and for whom they might want to buy it for.”
When considering whether to stock a jewellery brand, Not On The High Street looks for something new, different and of great value. Whether it’s a twist on something trending, or a classic design using innovative materials, the team at Not On The High Street will consider a business as long as it has a unique product for the site to market.
“It doesn’t matter what the subject is, it is about having something that people are going to say ‘well I’ve never seen that before’,” explains Bendelow. Price-point wise, the site accommodates for both accessible and high-end products, covering silver pieces from £25, to engagement rings that exceed £1000. “As long as the quality shines through, then we can cross all price points. It’s got to be good value and look very savvy though, as our customers can tell when it’s not.”
As the site has paved the way with gifting, it comes as no surprise that its best selling jewellery products offer consumers a form of personalisation. Not On The High Street recognises that consumers are looking for pieces that can relate to themselves or that represent the relationship between them and the receiver, in both subtle and quirky ways. “It’s interesting how personalisation has moved on, Bendelow comments. “As personalisation becomes more sophisticated we’ve realised there are different levels and not everybody wants their name written on everything. For instance, we’ve got a really exciting product that has a code through the different beads. Each bead is a different letter and one of the stories is that somebody has actually written ‘marry me’. I don’t know whether she sent one back and said ‘yes’, but it was really nice.”
Alongside gifting, self-purchase is also significant for Not On The High Street. Recently the company has looked at taking on more fashion products in a bid to make sure customers can find something for every occasion. Necklaces, bracelets and engagement rings sell particularly well for Not On The High Street, alongside innovative new products. “50% of our sales come from new products every year, so the customers are giving us permission to develop, create and find new products,” informs Bendelow.
As part of its ideal to gather together the best creative businesses in one place, Not On The High Street actively seeks fresh products from new and perhaps unknown names. This is another reason why jewellery is particularly important to the company.
“Jewellery has a fantastic link with emerging talent. Graduate talents, and also businesses that have been starting out and need to grow,” explains Bendelow. “There is fantastic creativity coming through with jewellery and the UK has a very good history with that.”
Not On The High Street prides itself on supporting growing, small businesses, offering a route to market for designer-makers who would otherwise struggle for custom or lose out in the battle with high street giants. Whether a mature student, a graduate, or an emerging designer, Not On The High Street targets those not in the mainstream race.
Recently, a dedicated jewellery team from Not On The High Street has started going out to universities and talking to students about partnering with them. “We say ‘this is what you need to do’ and ‘this is what you need to think about’ because we think sometimes students believe it is almost unachievable, like you need a huge amount of funding to get started, but actually it is not as complicated as you might think,” explains Bendelow. “We talk to students about having a good story; what is it that you are doing? Why is it that you want to sell that product? It’s not just about the ‘what’, it’s the ‘why’. Why would our customers come to you to buy that product through us?” Not On The High Street hopes to seek out more graduate talent this year and in turn grow the number of jewellery partners on the site.
If a designer decides they want to get their stock on Not On The High Street, there are different ways to apply. People can apply online and send through ideas and images, or attend a Not On The High Street ‘Pitch Up’, where small businesses can pitch with their product and show it to the jewellery team. In addition, Not On The High Street will also attend trade shows and design fairs to seek new talent.
Bendelow comments: “We turn away a lot, because we are curated and we make sure that they’re right in terms of quality, uniqueness and from a style point of view, addressing our target customer whom we have very clear information and data on.
“We are definitely championing the next generation of small creative businesses and also, people who have come straight out of college or university, who are starting to embark on making their own product, at the very early stages of their journey.” While businesses may join Not On The High Street from small beginnings, Bendelow notes that they can certainly grow with a presence on the online retailer. For example, silver jewellery brand Posh Totty has turned over £1 million through the site. It’s also important to note that a brand doesn’t have to only have a presence on Not On The High Street, but the product must be exclusive for the e-tailer.
Not On The High Street does not just want to be a platform for small businesses though; instead, the company wants to form partnerships. As such, Not On The High Street offers designers tips, workshops and talks. For example, Not On The High Street will run ‘Make Do and Meet’ events where partners can get access to expert talks from business or inspirational speakers, and offer advice on photography and search engine optimisation.
“We give lots of tips and do photographic workshops and things like that for partners once they’ve joined, to show how they can improve photography. It’s about making sure our partners have the right story. Once a partner has joined we provide a lot of support.”
Bendelow continues: “We send out trend information, we have meetings where they can come and listen to talks and meet the team. We also do photographic workshops because imagery is very important. It’s not the most important thing but it is absolutely vital in terms of the way people shop nowadays; many of them are actually only using a mobile phone to look at the quality, so that product has got to really stand out.”
Although the website actively seeks to stand out and be different, Not On The High Street does not turn a blind eye to what the mainstream market is doing. The company keeps an eye on what’s trending among all the product categories it offers, but ultimately, it’s looking for who’s new and how people are reinventing themselves.
Bendelow says: “The DNA of this business is so geared towards authentically supporting small businesses and we have to stick with what we are brilliant at. There is a place for everybody as long as you stick to what your customers are expecting from you and you are delivering that brand promise.”