Having begun life 30 years ago as a market stall, Online4Baby is now a flourishing ecommerce platform achieving over £47 million turnover. We catch up with managing director, Christy Foster, to find out how the company has continued its growth throughout the pandemic, making the most of Facebook Live and inspiring the next generation of the nursery industry.
“I have sold a lot of things in my life, but I have always loved selling baby the most,” Christy Foster, md of Online4Baby, begins. “Online4baby is a unique business, and anything that we decide to sell quickly becomes a top product and a bestseller. We have lots of ideas that are quite unconventional where we do lots of bundles and added value rather than reducing products individually.”
Online4Baby began its life 30 years ago as a family run market stall. Since then it has gone from strength to strength and today achieves over £47 million turnover. The business was helped along the way by using the eBay platform, as Christy explains: “15 years ago, we were one of eBay’s biggest customers with nearly 600,000 feedbacks. We left eBay around seven or eight years ago, as we understood the opportunity to own and flourish on our own platform and we are pleased to say we are now completely self-sufficient and only available through Online4baby.com.”
When the pandemic hit, the company was also well placed to take advantage of the rapid switch to online sales… although business still wasn’t without its challenges.
“Naturally, when the pandemic happened nobody knew what to expect and everybody panicked,” says Christy. “As it settled down two or three weeks in, we quickly realised that with shops closed business moved online; it was an amazing time for online selling and sales grew by over 100%.
“When lockdown happened, as a business we had to adapt quickly to make sure we could satisfy customer demand and continue our exceptional customer care levels. Luckily, we already had an ecommerce store, so could make the change quickly and easily, but that doesn’t mean it has been without its challenges. Without customers being able to touch and try products in person, we had to look for new ways to give them the best possible experience, and one of those was through our dedicated Facebook Lives.”
Christy continues: “We transformed our store into a studio and held daily live streams showcasing product, so customers could see how items such as travel systems worked. They were also able to interact with our amazing sales team, who could offer personalised advice and recommend the most suitable products for individual customer needs.”
A new website will shortly be launching, and Christy believes it will be a “fantastic opportunity” for Online4Baby to step up to a new level and continue its exponential growth journey.
She offers: “We are looking to sign up some new brands, namely Silver Cross, Maxi Cosi and Babystyle, and we have also recently launched our own brand, Puggle which offers both affordability and quality to our customers. It’s exciting times ahead for O4B.”
Other social media platforms like TikTok are also helping Online4Baby grow its business, says Christy. “SEO and social media is the most important thing for us. It is the backbone of our business, and obviously, you need to have the right talent inside the company to engage and interact. I believe that Online4baby is one of the leaders in this area, and we have the figures to back this up that say we are number one in these categories.”
It’s not just the company which is getting noticed either, with Christy having been nominated for EY Entrepreneur of the Year. “EY is one of the biggest companies in the professional services sector, and this award is not only recognised across Europe, but also globally,” she enthuses. “It has been amazing to be nominated and I think that it’s recognition to all the hard work that the shareholders have done over the past 30 years to get us to where we are as a business today.”
Christy also has some strong ambitions for where she would ultimately like to be positioned in the nursery industry. “I am looking forward to mentoring other businesses that aren’t in the nursery industry. The problem I believe is that the baby industry is behind the times and I think that’s why a lot of companies are struggling at the moment. I believe that you need to look at companies outside of our industry and use inspiration from them to engage with customers and the wider audience.
“I’d like to be seen as a leader in the nursery industry. I think that [baby is] an amazing industry for opportunity and to use my selling skills to highlight and set trends in the market. I believe that I have a really good eye for this industry, and this coupled with the work that all the family members put into this company I think this is the key to our success.”
Eyes on growth
Further growth for the business will be coming from categories and brands that Online4Baby is yet to offer its customers, says Christy, as well as a focus on developing the Puggle brand in order to offer customers the best product mix possible.
“I think the growth will come with this expansion,” Christy offers. “Also, we are always looking at new ways to interact and engage with our customers and becoming information specialists will also add to this.”
There are also plans for a new website, too, as Christy explains: “We have a legacy website and we have constraints around the current trading platform. The new website will bring far great levels of insight, trading and reporting and will offer us the opportunity to dig into the data and improve our customer journey and service.”