While the coronavirus pandemic has caused many companies to tighten their belts, Carrie Elizabeth Jewellery has grown its team from four to nine over the past year and more than doubled its sales. Founder and CEO Carrie Dennahy details the steps she has taken to put the business on a growth trajectory in the face of unprecedented economic circumstances.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Being an ecommerce business, we knew that we had to act quickly in the early days of the first lockdown to deliver on the opportunity online businesses had. As people had to stay at home, we were in the prime position to still help customers enjoy a shopping experience and so we saw sales rise and we worked hard to deliver on this.
Generating content and building our community across social media is also a big part of our brand and as a founder, I am live a lot on Instagram styling product, chatting with our audience and generally reiterating the community spirit the brand has formed online. We saw engagement rise a lot and people were turning to social media more for inspiration and so we saw this reflected in sales too.
What was the first business decision you made when you realised the magnitude of the pandemic last year?
When the world went into lockdown, the first thing I did was email my suppliers to reassure them that we would fully accept and pay for every single order that we had placed with them, no matter when they were able to deliver it to us. They are my partners and deserve support and flexibility to make this happen.
This gave us an internal goal to ensure these products were needed and we had to drive the sales plus we stayed tight to the values of our business and this mutual support has shown as the business came out of 2020 with strong growth.
What has the biggest challenge been – and how have you overcome it?
The operations changes were daunting at first. Our supply chain in India was affected and so we were unable to get more stock for a period of time. However, we reacted to this by working creatively with the stock we had and then planning effectively for the busy Christmas period once our supply base was back up and running.
Delivery times were also affected. We communicated these clearly to our customers and made sure we were transparent about how we were managing our fulfilment and what they could expect when ordering. I felt so lucky to have a small agile team that could act quickly.
Although we did see strong demand, we didn’t know how sales would continue throughout the year and one of my biggest concerns throughout the pandemic has been supporting suppliers. A goal of mine was to do what we could to drive demand, to maintain the business and also business for our partners.
When did you start seeing demand increase – and how much have sales grown?
The business has grown over 100% YOY and in 2020 over 150% at peak. We saw sales rise quite quickly in March after the first lockdown was announced. We have built a multi-million-pound turnover business direct-to-consumer so have been in a good position to continue selling during this difficult year. Strong relationships with our suppliers and supporting each other has been crucial to doing business throughout this crazy time.
What keeps you motivated during difficult times?
I came from a buying background, working across leading high street retailers for over a decade. Launching my own brand was a huge leap of faith, but with everything that has happened throughout the pandemic, I feel so fortunate that I established my business and have some control over the decisions I can make.
Therefore, I am motivated by the fact that this is my own business, I have an incredible team who motivate me in their own ways every day, but also continuing to build a great workplace and career for them is also a huge motivator.
I love that my team all work remotely and flexibly (even before the pandemic) as I believe that building a culture that works for your employee’s lives is crucial. When we do come together for regular team meet-ups, that’s when I feel most proud and also motivated. Seeing an amazing team of women working on something we’ve all built together. Plus seeing that we all share the passion and vision for the brand is an incredible feeling and I pinch myself that this is a reality I have built; not just for myself but for my team.
What advice would you give to other businesses about surviving the pandemic?
Connect with your customers. We have found social media to be the best place for this. Having lots of content that is authentic to the brand and useful for the customer, means we are front of mind.
Also, the customer develops more trust in purchase decisions. We learnt so much from our customers through engaging with them in this way and this impacts product decisions, campaign plans and generally understanding demand, therefore forecasting much more effectively.