Silk Pillowcases: Creating An eCommerce Website on a Shoe String

Here it is, a progress update on my “eCommerce Website on a Shoe String” project. Just to recap, the motivation for this project came from observing many students at the university who were trying to set up retail businesses, with a substantial amount of their initial capitol been put into the creation on a eCommerce website – we are talking hundreds of pounds here, often thousands. We would be approached often at the Innovation Centre by clothing businesses, who claimed “we have a great product and a fantastic business model but we just need £1,000+ to build our website to market our product from – will you fund it?”. The answer was inevitably no.

Why? At the genesis of every business capital is tight; therefore an entrepreneurs ability to utilise this capital to its maximum effect on the business’s development is a sign of whether that business is going to be successful. The balance sheet of these students would often see hundreds of pounds spent on product development, tens of pounds on market research yet they wanted to spend thousands of pounds on a website! In some cases that is over 50% of a students entire investment into their business would be on their website, for the majority of retail businesses created at university this is an unnecessary and costly mistake. No imagine if 45% of that budget could be reallocated to (i) further product development (ii) additional market research – with the website/online sales platform accounting only for 5-10% of the businesses start up costs. Therefore, my challenge here is to create a eCommerce website on a shoe string budget – that is to make a fully functioning eCommerce website for just £75!

My last post on the project (20th April – Progress Update: CampusBoard) had seen me select name and product for my fictional eCommerce business – Mulberry Silk Pillowcase – then purchase the domain name (www.mulberrysilkpillocase.com) from a domain registers for £11.99. Then I moved to buy hosting for £2.49 per month – giving the start up costs so far as £14.48. The final step in my last update was to install WordPress, which is free, using their “Famous 5 Minute Install” – setting up a basic home page, with a little bit of content on it about my business.

Today we are going to look at how I developed this basic and standard WordPress theme into a fully functioning eCommerce website. The next step was to spend a little bit more of my £75.00 budget on purchasing a predesigned, WooCommerce compatible, WordPress theme. As mentioned before in this blog there are many free themes on WordPress that can be utilised to create your store, however, I think the price is reflected in the quality of the website designs and often customers can identify these websites as a WordPress template rather than your own store. This is a shame as for £30 – £50 you can get some outstanding templates that will look completely professional and standalone from the WordPress backend. After spending a good deal of time searching through different WordPress themes, all of which can be done by searching on Google, I decided that the Munditia Premium Coding Theme would most aptly reflect the general feel of the business. The cost price of this WooCommerce integrated theme was $60.00 or £36.89 – giving the total price spent on creating my eCommerce website as £51.37.

The process itself of purchasing a new theme and then uploading it to WordPress is quite simple. Firstly, pay for and download the theme of your choice onto your laptop then upload that to the WordPress Themes in your admin panel. You will then be able to select that theme as your theme of choice for your website. However, that really is the start of the process. Next, you will need to integrate all the compatible Plugins that the purchased theme specifies as necessary – primarily these Plugins will include WooCommerce, YITH WooCommerce Wishlist, WordPress SEO, Google XML Sitemaps, Contact Form 7, Broken Link Checker as well as others – that will facilitate the functionality of your website.

It is crucial to approach the downloaded theme as a paint-by-numbers canvas for you to build your website upon, so while the major structures of the website (number of partitions, element and widget location, website dynamics etc.) have been fixed for you there is still a great deal that you can edit to your own specifications. You don’t need to have a strong grasp of HTML to be able to achieve this, nor do you need to pay someone else to do it for you – read up, watch Youtube videos and ask for peoples advice in the multiple WordPress forums on the internet. To achieve the feel of the website that I wanted for my fictional product I started altering a number of the aspects of the original website – including changing theme colours from red to pink, altering the widget location and specification, removing aspects of the website I didn’t like (for example a pop up help box).

Of course all the changes thematically that you make on the website are intrinsically tied in to the customer journey that you wish to build for customers. Therefore, ascetic improvements must be in keeping with structural requirements that you have set out. For me, keeping a website simple is the key to success. The header menu denotes this sentiment, simply stating: Home, Shop, Benefits and About Us/Contact – with my customer journey always focused on ensuring that customers engage with shop, while being reassured by (i) the businesses credentials (About Us/Contact) and (ii) the benefit of the product (Home/Benefits).

The content, or copy as it is know, of your website is also an important factor in ensuring that your website and brand aline. You should both mirror your product and play to your target customer. I thought very carefully about the copy I wished to use on the website, knowing from my research that Silk Pillowcases tend to be bought by women as a luxury beauty product rather than an aid to more restful sleep. I hope that by reflecting and understanding the buyers motivation, communicated back to the customer through the content used on the website, will help improve potential sales. Moreover, to help gain these sales in the first place I would strongly suggest that every eCommerce website should run a blog as (i) it keeps your website looking fresh, updating regular clients to new developments (ii) helps increase traffic through the effect of the long search tail (Google it!) and (iii) makes you look like an authority in the field that you are selling within. Fulfilling this on the Silk Pillowcase website is the Silk Pillowcase Blog, in which I have already written three 300 – 800 word, original, quality posts (Types of Silk, Yuki Tsumugi Silk & Mulberry Silk) – that are the optimum types of post that you should be looking to upload.

Now that I have a fully functioning theme, with some good relevant content the next step will be to get the website there on a visual level – ensuring the all the images, page layouts and the dynamics of the website point towards my transaction goal. I would also need to begin to track the engagement new clients have on the website to understand how to continue to develop the website to best suit my target audience. I will explain how to do all of this in my next “eCommerce website on shoestring” post. Here at MGR Music Tuition this week has gone really well, launching Drum Lessons Bristol, Piano Lessons St Albans and Singing Lessons Aberdeen websites. It has been great to continue to expand the business both into new areas, such as St Albans, as well as tripling up in Bristol and Aberdeen with a third instrument on offer.

Posted under Clothing Companies, eCommerce Website On A Shoe String, New Project, SEiR

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 13, 2014

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Progress Update: Zooqie

For the twelfth instalment of our University of Exeter student business updates I met up with Tom Shopland, a final year student who runs an online store for hand-picked independent clothing brands named Zooqie. The initial idea came to Tom in the summer of first year when he wanted to setup, as many uni students do, a clothing brand – however, he quickly noticed that there was a gap in the market to create the a platform for very best of independent clothing brands. Essentially a space between the brands own websites and the massive clothing marketplace platforms like Asos, Not on the High Street and The Lost Lanes, where individual hand-picked brands could interact with new customers who were drawn to the marketplace.

Zooqie - a marketplace platform for the best that independent clothing brands have to offer!

Zooqie – a marketplace platform for the best that independent clothing brands have to offer!

Zooqie first launched in September 2013, selling over £2,500 worth of apparel within its first month as well as gaining a huge social following. However, disaster quickly struck as another company filed a complaint that Zooqie had infringed on their trademark within the same category. Tom points out that is is absolutely critical for students to check whether another business has trademarked their business name of choice before launching their company – a one minute search on the government’s Intellectual Property Office website will give the answer, as well as the ability to apply for your own trademark for around £175 pounds. Nonetheless, Tom, after a great expense of time and money, managed to come to suitable settlement with that company enabling him to continue using Zooqie brand which will see the website relaunch on the 5 July 2014!

Discover Independent Clothing

Discover Independent Clothing

With the help of an Innovation Centre grant the Zooqie website will undergo a complete revamp before re-launch and we can’t wait to see how everything develops once it is back online! With the likes of Young Ones Apparel and Tight Treads already onboard as brands we have a strong Exeter presences but there is always room for more amazing clothing brands so apply here if you believe your clothing company can add something to the marketplace. Zooqie are also keen to move into providing a platform for art, extreme sports products as well as many other exciting products over the next few months, with Tom hitting festivals across the UK this summer to promote his marketplace.

Tom was also keen to highlight the how useful it was taking them ‘Could You Be an Entrepreneur?‘ module within the business school, ran by course leader Professor Gordon Murray. Noting that it “really opened people’s eyes” about the possibly of starting a business Tom thoroughly enjoyed the core part of the module where students are encouraged to develop their own business ideas – something that helped him to further develop the idea of Zooqie as an online marketplace. He also noted the support given by the Innovation Centre in terms of IP advice while trying to resolve the trademark dispute – we are certainly here to help address student’s business problems of all types so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at the Innovation Centre. To get in touch simply email .

Here at MGR Music Tuition it has been another packed week, continuing to grow the teaching team with new websites launching including, including Piano Lessons Bradford (doubling up on the Singing Lessons Bradford website also launched earlier in 2013) as we try to supply the national demand for music lessons! I am also looking forward to getting some time over the next week to develop my fictional Mulberry Silk Pillowcase “eCommerce website on a shoe string” WordPress website (current cost having been £14.48) with the aim to create a fully functioning eCommerce website for under £75 as an example to Exeter Uni Students that launching a clothing business doesn’t need to cost you the earth website wise!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Intellectual Property Office, Progress Update, Zooqie

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 17, 2014

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Progress Update: Just Winston

For the tenth article in our progress updates I sat down with Chris Rea, co-founder of a custom onesie clothing company called Young Ones, to talk about his growing involvement with another University of Exeter clothing brand now known as Just Winston. Dubbed “the ultimate dinner shirt” Just Winston combines extremely high quality shirts with exciting fabric designs, enabling the wearer to be both perfectly formal as well as having that distinct edge as the party livens up!

Founded by Nathan Ball and Ollie Sills as Winston Shirtchill, Chris and Young Ones co-founder Tom Carson decided to approach the pair in early 2014 as they were interested in helping drive the business forward. The four quickly came to an agreement that saw Chris and Tom come into the business as co-directors. The brand quickly developed, seeing the change in name, improvement of product quality and crowd sourced business funding from Kickstarter. Originally targeting £2,500 Just Winston rapidly exceeded expectations gaining 146 backers and over £5,764 to date. For those who know the passion of these four founders in delivering quality clothing products to market, as well as the potential for this project in particular this success is well founded. Indeed, Just Winston’s dinner shirts represented the University of Exeter at SETsquared’s Uni PopShop held in Spitalfields Market in summer 2013 as our product of choice – something I was luck enough to participate in as a team member.

From the interaction, interest and overall passion the general public had for this brand during the event within London is clear that on a conceptual level the business is completely there – now with the added help of Chris and Tom to develop the brand, business and operational models I really think we will see Just Winston develop into one of the more successful clothing brands to come out of the University of Exeter. The four are set to relaunch Just Winston in September 2014, something that we are all looking forward to! I will keep you updated with their progress!

Just Winston - the ultimate dinner shirt

Just Winston – the ultimate dinner shirt!

Here at MGR Music it has been another positive week, having taken on another new guitar teacher based here in Exeter for the Guitar Lessons Exeter website, as well as a second singing teacher on the Singing Lessons Brighton – both really exciting news!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Just Winston, Kickstarter, Progress Update, Young Ones

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 3, 2014

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Progress Update: Mammal Swag

For the ninth in our progress update stories I met up with Jon Mills, the founder of Mammal Swag a clothing business that features Jon’s cartoon animals that have alter ego characters! Be it the Art Deco Gecko, the Hipster Dog or the Shellsuit Stag the designs are nothing short of eye catching. I first wrote about Mammal Swag in February 2013, this was a point in the business where Jon had been successful at selling his products in The Forum as well as online yet he was spending hours undertaking labour tasks (such as attaching labels to each t-shirt) rather than outsourcing this task to free himself up to drive the business forward. This proved to be a bit of crossroad for Jon, either take a step back to manage aspects of the business rather than single handedly performing each task within the business operation or accept that the strain on Jon’s time was the limiting factor that would prevent the business from further growth.

Mammal Swag

Mammal Swag – rebranding included introducing higher-quailty labels that also allowed Jon to step back from attaching labels to each item of clothing and spend more time growing the business!

Excitingly for us in summer 2013 Mammal Swag underwent a rebranding as Jon looked to establish a bit more quality in the brand; upgrading the t-shirts, introducing high-quality labels and most significantly seeing Jon step back from the production process to oversee the entire operation (he also employed his mum as part of the product dispatch team which is always a good idea!). This helped him to sell over 150 items of clothing in the run up to Christmas 2013, including sending products as far a field as Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Yet it was within selling face-to-face on market stalls that gained Jon the most satisfaction. This is where Mammal Swag due to their unforgettable designs really stood out from the crowd. Thriving at the “soft-sale” (where you allow customers to come to you, rather than badgering them to buy your goods) the instantly recognisable clothing company was able to distinguish itself from the extremely competitive t-shirt market.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Mammal Swag – The Zoo displaying some of the animal characters Jon has created!

With the turn of the New Year and the increase in work load for Jon as a final year student had to put Mammal Swag on the back burner. However, with summer fast approaching and the end of exams almost in sight it will be interesting to see where Jon takes Mammal Swag over the summer 2014 and beyond. We will have to see!

In terms of the actually business of designing t-shirts I thought I would talk to Jon to provide some tips to students who are interested in following in his footsteps. Having worked as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence, listening to students pitch their various business ideas, I know that besides apps, online businesses and all things related to going on a night out, clothing business ideas are by far the most popular concept pitched to us here at the Innovation Centre. Yet, few are as successful as Mammal Swag, Young Ones or Tight Threads – why is this?

Well looking at the three clothing businesses, Young Ones and Tight Threads caught onto treads early (onesies and photographic print t-shirts respectively) producing superior products at a lower cost to the consumer, while Mammal Swag capitalised on Jon’s ability to design unique graphics to add to the clothes he was trying to sell. With so many clothing companies out there you really have to create something that customers will want to pay for. However, as Jon notes clothing companies are one of the best businesses to start at university (indeed, even I tried to start a clothing business when I first started at the University of Exeter!); with low start up costs, low overheads and your target market on your doorstep you can see why it appeals to so many entrepreneurial minded students. Utilising the power of the internet, something that perhaps our generation is more accustomed too, can also help to drive an early stage clothing business forward – Jon broke down his sale figures for me as 85% of sales taking place online to 15% offline. He sold through the likes of Asos Marketplace where 15% of his online sales took place and through his own Mammal Swag website (65% of online sales) that he got up and running for £10.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Clothing businesses can have low start up costs, low overheads and with your target market on your doorstep you can sell straight to them, like Jon is here selling Mammal Swag products in the forum!

Yet, Jon will be the first to hold his hands up to making some business mistakes while growing his clothing company. Firstly a common problem for clothing businesses is trying to diversify the product range too early; for example, Jon created jumpers and iPhone cases that haven’t sold well as they have moved too far away from the core unique selling point of his business – creating fun, cool t-shirts. Secondly, custom orders can also prove a headache if they are for only tiny orders of 3 or less – in the case of the Mammal Swag jumpers to cover one items in all sizes, designs and colours Jon would have to have stocked 112 jumpers which would mean him putting significant capital into holding stock, never a good idea. Finally production lag times are always a source of major concern for clothing businesses, ensuring that these are as smooth and reliable as possible are crucial to running a successful clothing operation.

Nonetheless, the experience that Jon has had running a clothing business while at university is simply priceless, imagine being able to walk into a job interview and being able to talk about firsthand experience negotiating with suppliers, improving customer satisfaction and creating business solutions – failing that you could always continue to run the business that you founded during university and grow it into a nationwide clothing brand like Rampant Sporting ran by former University of Exeter student Richard Hurtley (and make lots of money along the way!).

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I spent some time in London, working alongside Gael (the Guitar Lessons London lead teacher) to continue to develop our product presentation to London based music stores with the aim of getting 3 to 5 music storers to advertise on the Guitar Lessons London website. We are still waiting on a reply from the first store that we have approached but fingers crossed we will hear from them shortly! We also hired new teachers for the Guitar Lessons Blackpool and Guitar Lessons Newcastle websites, while releasing news sites in Worcester and Bradford – good progress as ever in terms of the national expansion. I was also asked by some Exeter students earlier in the week about the process of creating websites – there is quite a good article on the Career Enterprise Zone website that deals with that (also check out my blog post last week about setting up a fictional clothing business on a shoe string budget) as well as other FAQs students have (including company formation etc.) that I thought might be useful!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Mammal Swag, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 27, 2014

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Progress Update: Young Ones

For the sixth of our progress updates I caught up with Chris Rea, co-founder of Young Ones a youth focused clothing company that Chris launched while studying at the University of Exeter. I last wrote about Young Ones in February 2013 and the business has really moved forward in leaps and bounds since then.

Young Ones was launched by Chris when he was a first year student in 2011, at the height of the onesie craze. He spotted some premium, but highly expensive onesies and thought he could produce a product of similar quality but at a lower price. Chris linked up with a factory in to begin making prototypes. His first onesie was produced in summer 2011, when Tom Carson, Chris’s business partner became involved. They started running Young Ones as an ecommerce site out of Chris’ bedroom. Having sold their stock of 200 onesies in under two months the pair knew that they were onto something. The popularity of the brand continued to grow throughout Chris’ second and third years at Exeter, with university students nationwide becoming “YoungOnes” and “keeping cozy during the cold winter months” in their personalised onesies. Chris and Tom even received an order from America’s iconic university Harvard to supply students with onesies there!

Young Ones - street wear clothing

Young Ones – from onesies to a university brand!

In September 2013 perhaps came Young Ones’ biggest achievement so far, managing to secure a £75,000 investment from Dragons Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne within the Den. Chris noted that it was a massive “confidence boost” for the pair and “confirmed that we were on the right track with the business”, encouraging them to undertake a nationwide university tour in autumn 2013. Young Ones were also diversify their products, offering bright boat shoes, wooden sunglasses as well as their ever famous custom onesies that started appearing ever more frequently across the University campus by early 2014.

Young Ones - street wear clothing

Young Ones – 2013 saw the product range expand into boat shoes, wooden sunglasses & other street wear clothing items!

On a business front Chris cited the significance of changing supplier to reduce lead times, building up a core group of brand managers across the nation’s universities and continued focus on building the brand as the three most significant developments within Young Ones over the last twelve months. The later of three has seen Young Ones take on new graphic and fashion designers helping the company prepare for the release of their new summer range for 2014 which will be out shortly. Indeed, Chris and Tom are still looking to build their team and are especially interested in creating an internship programme, if you are interested in talking to them about this simply email . In terms of moving forward the pair cite their next major challenge will be getting Young Ones into retail stores, solidifying the company as the up and coming brand of choice for thousands of universities students throughout the UK. I am sure there is plenty more to come from Young Ones and I will keep you updated with their progress over the next few years!

In terms of my week here at MGR Music we had great success on the hiring front, taking on new teachers in Belfast, Plymouth and Coventry and well as launching the Piano Lessons Southampton and Singing Lessons Coventry websites! With over 75 teachers onboard now things are really starting to grow with speed, averaging over 30 new student enquiries each day to pass onto these teachers located throughout the UK. We are also coming up the one year birthday of the Guitar Lessons London website launch so there will be a small celebration for that next week!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Progress Update, Young Ones

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 5, 2014

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Progress Update: Tight Threads

For the second progress update on a University of Exeter student business I met up with Nathan Dundovic, founder of Tight Threads – a photographic clothing company. Nathan, now a third year student, came up with the idea in 2011 when he saw an opportunity to improve the quality of photograph prints on clothing, a style that had become popular and widely sold in shops like Topman, Republic and other high-street stores from 2010 onwards. He focused on creating high quality photographic prints, releasing his first range in 2012, which consisted of 15 t-shirts, 15 sweatshirts and several snapbacks.

Tight Threads

Tight Threads – cool t-shirts, sweatshirts and snapbacks!

Selling under his business name Tight Threads Nathan’s first range sold really well, shifting 75% of his stock and even getting a wholesale order from a shop owner located in Kent to supply this store with his snapbacks. Yet, it was the sales that he made through clothing marketplace websites like Asos Markekplace, TheLostLanes.com and the University of Exeter Guild Shop that drove his business forward. Nathan was keen to point out that these websites are great outlets for any students who are interested in selling their clothing products, with the physical location of the Guild Shop giving great exposure to the brand to the thousands of students on campus.

Nathan also really made the most of the Career Zone’s eXepert scheme, were entrepreneurial students are linked up with University of Exeter alumni that have experience in their field. In Nathan’s case he was fortunate enough to be introduced to a successful clothing businessman who had graduated from Exeter years before, this contact provided Nathan with invaluable industry advice and mentorship – something that he would strongly suggest that other Exeter students should make the most of if you run a business! With this in mind Nathan is now looking to continue to build Tight Threads by introducing a new range of cool t shirts and cool sweatshirts for the summer! You can keep an eye on Nathan’s progress by checking out the Tight Threads website or to find out more what it is like running a clothing company while you are at university get in touch with him via his nathandundovic.com website!

eXepert scheme

Career Zone eXepert scheme provided key support for Nathan

It has been an exciting week here at MGR Music Tuition as well, hiring teachers for the Guitar Lessons Bristol, Singing Lessons Swindon and Piano Lessons Oxford websites. We also had the exciting announcement that the Guitar Lessons London website is now starting to provide online guitar lessons – with our lead guitar teacher in London creating tuition videos to help guitar students across the world to learn guitar for free! I have also been working with local Exeter company 1010 Media to create an automated invoicing system for the business that will hopefully help consolidate a core operation of the company (invoicing all 75 teachers with their lessons taught for the month) which is currently all done via email. After several meetings this week we are at the stage to give the project the go-ahead which is simply great news!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Guitar Lessons London, Progress Update, Tight Threads

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 8, 2014

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