This is part 3 of an article series which delves into how different online businesses are using customization and personalization technology to push boundaries within the eCommerce sector. All of the retailers we’ve interviewed below have embraced the power of customization to some extent. In doing so they have helped redefine conventional product strategy in the burgeoning, yet niche, personalization retail sector.
Christine from Bespoke 2
Christine has her own design studio and a background in marketing. So while her store, Bespoke 2 is currently a side hustle, she is very familiar with the process of making businesses tick.
She’s always had a keen interest in personalized gifts, especially Christian themed gifts which is where she’s found her niche in the market. Bespoke 2’s story started when she helped her local church create a modest marketplace. Soon she was getting requests for bespoke designs and the online store was born in 2014. Using the early power of Facebook, things took off and since then, abstract designs and even art deco iterations have been added to the mix.
Everything is customized by hand, so each sale keeps her busy, but the customers love it. She’s even got local artists contacting her wanting to collaborate on product ranges which has opened up a new range of opportunities.
To help educate potential customers how the process works, she uses Instagram stories and then a back and forth email design process. More recently she’s been perfecting the personalisation of products on the spot at local markets using on-site machinery. Post COVID she’s seen an improvement in sales which she puts down to the comfort and social connective ability her products provide the buyer.
“People are looking for human authenticity and a handwritten designs says that like no other” She says.
Try these acrylic blocks and make them your own with a personalised message. Starting from $50. https://www.bespoke2.com/collections/custom-acrylic-block
Nadine from Alexa Lane
Nadine has been working on Alexa Lane for over 10 years now. It all started when her oldest daughter was born and she didn’t want to go back to a full time job. She heard from a girlfriend who was successfully selling products on Etsy and thought about what she could do herself. She loved the idea of personalisation and started selling cuff-links before both the brand and product range grew from there. Now her product line is formidable, and she’s added new personalised techniques for many products such as embossing on leather, laser engraving and more.
All of the product modification is done locally in Australia for speed and accuracy. She’s always on the lookout for new products and keeps customer feedback and ideas flowing into her new product development.
“It’s amazing the nuggets of gold you can find by just looking at what customers type into the search bar of the website”, Nadine says.
Her entire product range is 100% personalised so one of the biggest challenges was the steep learning curve as was forced to learn the operation and calibration of each machine. Luckily her husband is a graphic designer and helps out on the technical design side, forming a solid husband and wife team in the process.
This personalized compendium is popular as a gift for $99.95 https://www.alexalane.com.au/collections/compendium
Andrea from Palm & Pine
Andrea has been operating a retail store, full-time in Newcastle for the last three and a half years. Originally from Florida, she used to work in marketing and events for an NFL team before making the move to Australia six years ago. “ I was organizing mostly charity auctions and fundraisers. It was all about making people happy”.
After trying her hand at the Australian events scene, she decided to take the leap and open her own event supply store. Palm and Pines is named after her dog, Palmer, and a former blog called The Pineapple Cake.
She didn’t intend for the store to become a balloon specialist, and the balloon product line was a last minute addition to the stocklist.
One day, a customer came along and asked, “can you make this”, showing her a picture of what she wanted. Andrea had no idea if it was possible, but then started researching and realized that she already had all the equipment to do it. A bit of trial and error and a few hours later, she’d made her first single batch personalied balloon and the customer was wrapped. Word quickly spread throughout town and her balloons were being shared all over Instagram in no time. “Instagram was so powerful. We had one particular picture go viral and the business quickly grew from there”. She says.
Word quickly spread and customers loved how they could personalize the product as well as be comfortable with the environmental impact of the materials given she was using the highest quality biodegradable baloons.
By letting customers say anything they wanted on the balloons, she quickly noticed how much deeper the customer relationship became. The business has grown in leaps and bounds since the inception, where she was mainly supplying product to business events.
She loves seeing the personalities of the locals expressed creatively. From a balloon for a 90yo called Sue, to balloons for Tom’s 7yo bday and more risqué ones for hen’s nights (the messages of which she can’t repeat). Laughing, Andrea says, “It’s just great seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces from something as simple as a balloon. You can have the best venue and decorations, but so often, it’s the personalized balloon that steals the show.”
Order your own personalized baloon sets here https://www.palmandpine.com.au/pages/personalised-balloons
Lucie from MacGeorge & Sons
Lucie has always had retail in her blood. With a furniture sales background in the UK, she married an Australia and emigrated shortly thereafter. A background in the design field and managing design teams helped when it came to launching MacGeorge & Sons.
A 6 month stay in Noosa, ended up lasting 4.5 years and it was here that her interest in ceramics, blossomed after a hinterland ceramic course spurred her creativity.
Starting with hand-crafted animal heads, adorned with tattoos, she then moved to Sydney and collaborated with a local art gallery.
After receiving multiple requests for personalized hand painted tattoo designs on her pieces, she decided to start an on-line store and ramp up production. The personalised designs ended up proving popular and this customization theme has carried through to her business’ success.
Get your own personalized hand-made ceramic vessel for $225 https://macgeorgeandsons.com.au/collections/personalised
Anita from Tootzy Flootz
Anita was in a corporate job before having her first child and wasn’t so keen on going back to the 9 to 5 slog. When her son’s first birthday was approaching, she couldn’t find any decent personalised outfits to buy for the party, so she ended up making the outfit for him instead. During the gathering she got so much positive feedback from friends and family that she thought there might be a business opportunity.
So, she created a page on Facebook and before she knew it, hundreds of other mothers were sharing her creations and the business just took off from there.
While the power of Facebook has since subdued, she’s built up enough word-of-mouth to keep the online store ticking along. This is now her full-time gig.
Customers are constantly coming to her with creative costume ideas, If it’s not on the store already, she comes back to them with at least two potential designs and the process goes from there.
While most of the designs are simple and just include the child’s name or age, other times she’s seen some very creative and hilarious ideas.
She finds, the costumes are popular when combined with a feature cake or gift. A smash cake, costume duo is popular, especially with the boys and the tutu birthday sets are popular with girls. Fathers day and mothers day combinations are also in high demand.
Bring out the little monster in your kid with this cookie monster 3-piece set, personalized with a name for $75 https://www.tootzyflootz.com.au/cake-smash-3-piece-set-cookie-monster-inspired/
Neen from Name Jewellery
Neen has only been running the Name Jewellery website for just over a year now which is a duo mother, daughter team.
When Neen was experiencing health issues, she started making awareness jewellery for various diseases. This part of the business was ticking along nicely so she decided to branch out and expand the product line.
Now they sell a mix of standard jewellery and a personalised line where customers can etch their names, dates and other important messages on the face of the piece. Personalized jewellery is by far the most popular and she’s constantly receiving requests from customers for new product ideas and tweaks to the customization process.
While it does take longer for these personalised pieces to arrive at the customer’s door, the personal value is so much higher.
This personalized, engraved family tree necklace starts from $149 https://name-jewellery.com.au/engraved-family-tree-necklace/
Maurice from CMC Gold
Maurice is the quintessential, affable businessman. His professional career has been broad, growing up working in multiple family businesses, before moving into cabinet making, nightclub promotion, nightclub ownership and now, more recently, an eCommerce entrepreneur.
His wife is a qualified teacher and was involved in the party supply industry before this interest pivoted into the baby gift market. This is where CMC Gold was born.
They started the brand modestly, focusing on handmade baby products before investing in a laser cutting machine which would allow for engraving. Now they have their own warehouse and state of the art customization machinery which allows them to give customers exactly what they want. By mixing a standardized product range with multiple, personalization options, customers can add names, change colours, add pictures, and more. Maurice has found that this focus on customization is also more defensible, in this competitive baby gift space.
Mothers day and Fathers day are two of the busiest periods of the year. As Maurice says, “Babies are always being born which is why the industry we’ve fallen into is strong if you have a good presence. We sell products based on love and emotion. When a baby is born, everyone wants to ply the baby with gifts”.
The journey hasn’t been easy, but they found the solution to the production of custom products, required new and upgraded equipment. They are always looking forward, into the future and improving every day.
Grab this medium sized plaque for $70 https://cmcgold.com.au/collections/name-plaques
Ariana, Anthea & Jessica from Beysis
Beysis was the brainchild of three savvy business partners who had just sold out of their last businesses. While looking for something new, they started a modest online store which sold a small range of high quality, personalized nail polish. They created the brand Say It With Polish and demand just exploded. They’ve since branched out, adding new product lines and renamed the brand to broaden the appeal.
The idea came to them when one of the founders was looking for personalized products to give to her bridesmaids at their wedding. They were looking for something beyond the boring cliche products. So they called around to major beauty companies in the country and found that no one could supply what they wanted without having to order qualities in the range of ten thousand.
They started discussing the idea with their girlfriends and pretty quickly, the business idea became much bigger.
There was a lot of technical barriers to overcome. Six months of research flowed into the creation of specialized machinery, design interface systems, ironing out production run complexity and much more. Printing and fulfilling everything from Surry Hills in Sydney offers flexibility and customers love the fact they can order personalized products in batches as low as a single unit. They take pride in their ability to be flexible and do quick turnarounds. This business model is a leading example of the power of mass customization.
Get your own personalized water bottle from $36.90 as well as much, much more via https://www.beysis.com/
Haweya Mud & Musk
When studying environmental science at university, Haweya considered the traditional job options in the corporate sphere, but decided to take a different tact, at least short-term. She was looking for ideas where her knowledge could could have a direct, social impact.
While thinking of ways she could do this, she was reminded about the plight of frankincense workers in her native land of Somalia. These workers were being exploited and general mismanagement of the trees was leading to over-harvesting. This resulted in a major sustainability problem.
So she went about directly sourcing produce from farmers in an effort to help support sustainability efforts and prevent worker exploitation. Luckily, these products were used in traditional Somalian face masks and she was already experimenting with masks at home for her own personal use. While she had never envisioned starting a cosmetics business, this was the perfect way to mix her interest in skin care with the importation of traditional Somali cosmetic ingredients.
While it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and she’s had her fair share of technical challenges to overcome, her online store has grown a cult-like status. She’s now become the face of entrepreneurial success in her home town of Perth and a role model to many in the community.
Build your own mask kit right now starting from $45 https://www.mudandmusk.com/
Jenny from X NIHILO
Jenny started X NIHILO 4 years ago after she quit her full-time job and assumed the role of full-time e-commerce entrepreneur.
Upon turning 30, she found she had found she’d lost the passion for fast fashion and was more conscious about the environmental effects of the industry.
While in the middle of taking a well-earned break, she found it hard to stop, and instead busied herself researching a niche area of the sector she could move into. She also wanted to combine her background in fashion retailing with her professional experience in production, design and development.
Finally, she settled on creating an honest range of high-quality leather bags which had a brand with a genuine voice. X NIHILO now has a foothold in the luxury bag niche after things just took off upon launch.
“I’m self taught in marketing and PR because when I started it was a one woman show. Ecommerce opened up a lot of new doors. You can try so many things in a short test cycle and validate it before committing lots of resources to the idea.” Jenny says.
Interesting is also her approach to the brand from both an external and internal perspective. “Having experienced first-hand some less than desirable retail workplaces, I saw lots of opportunity in creating an environment for myself and our team members where we could create a positive atmosphere that filters outward via the brand to customers.
This authenticity flows into others areas of the business such as promotions. Unlike other players in the retail community, she prides herself on never having contracted others for sponsored content nor the use of any bots or systems which artificially inflate social media stats (likes, follows, comments etc). “It’s a slower process, but I’m proud that our audience is genuine and I think that’s very clear to new customers very quickly, so it pays off in the end. If we send out product to influencers, there’s no forced obligation for them to post anything.” She says.
On the topic of personalization, she didn’t want this to be a core focus, but after seeing the power it had on some customers the team was convinced to keep it as an optional addition to the standard product range. But, she wanted to ensure personalization had purpose, and wasn’t just a gimmick which didn’t mean anything.
Apart from monogramming, she encourages customers to put a quote on her bags that’s inspiring to them or others. A calligraphy artist is contracted to hand personalize each order and 10% from the sale is donated to a charity which can be a substantial amount. She finds personalized bags doesn’t form a large proportion of sales, but the social media buzz these orders creates helps strengthen the brand and starts a genuine conversation with other customers.
Personalize this Bank Mini Bag from https://xnihilo.com.au/collections/all/products/bank-mini-bag-black-white
Michael from Henkerman
Michael comes from an entrepreneurial background. Originally creating one of Australia’s leading Internet businesses in the 90’s, he followed this success with a foray into the luxury bedding business. For years he was focused on the distribution of high quality mattresses, quilts and pillows manufactured by his family owned company in Europe. It is this German/Austrian family heritage in textile manufacturing that he brings to his current enterprise, Henkerman.
The seeds behind his new business venture were sown, when he noticed (as a suit aficionado) that he spent a good proportion of each day changing in and out of a suit. But, it was only when he spent $3000 on a new Dolce Gabbana suit and watched in horror as the cheap plastic hanger broke apart in his hands, that he knew something had to change. From this day forth, the Henkerman brand set about ensuring that quality apparel was complemented by equally high quality hangers. Hangers that looked great and prevented trousers from falling off. Hangers that could give a luxury feel to the inside of retail stores and personal closets.
“The cheap hangers that most retailers were using for their luxury apparel gave the wrong impression. Why don’t we have decent hangers at home? They’re essentially a piece of furniture…one that you see quite regularly. So I wanted to create a product of high quality, which had style and a luxurious feel.” He says.
Michael designs the Henkerman range from his Brisbane headquarters and continues to support local industry through the personalisation of the product range for select customers. He’s found these custom hangers also provide a useful branding opportunity. “Hangers are something that’s always in the closet. You see them everyday. This is essentially a branding opportunity for daily exposure, because your hanger is always being used.” says Michael.
He receives many requests for personalised hangers as personal gifts, for weddings and for corporate branding or promotional purposes. Henkerman hangers are proving popular for people’s homes, with apparel retailers, real estate agents, hotels, motels, B&Bs, yacht owners and many more in between.