Small Business Saturday Blog

From babygrows to beer kits

Friday, November 05 at 05:00

Bev and Andy Toogood tell us how the Brexit referendum result caused them to pivot their business and how selling on Amazon has allowed them to find new customers and keep going throughout the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bev and Andy have been selling on Amazon for 14 years. Their original business, Little Sunflowers, was an award-winning independent children's clothing and gift shop, which rated the UK's top childrenswear and gift shop according to Trustpilot and won the prestigious Online Retail Awards – twice!
Bev told us: “We started selling on Amazon about a year after we opened our childrenswear shop, so around 2005. We started selling on Amazon initially to simply reach a wider audience as we were only small: at this stage, online shopping hadn't really taken off. When Amazon started their fulfilment service (Amazon FBA) in 2008, they offered us some amazing deals to get started, so we had a lot of stock in their warehouses from quite early on. This meant that not only were we reaching a wider audience, we were now able to use Amazon to pick, pack and send our orders, which meant we effectively had another shop without needing to recruit more staff or take on other premises.”
Little Sunflowers had a large European customer base, and in 2016, after the Brexit referendum result, Bev and Andy took the difficult decision to close down the business, as they foresaw that there would be too many issues for them to continue to sell in Europe.
They decided to start selling homebrew kits and ingredients locally: they have an interest in home brewing themselves, and are based in Horam in East Sussex, the original home of the Merrydown Cider Factory, where a lot of local residents used to work at the factory and brew at home. As the home brew business took off, they closed down their children’s clothing business, although there was a brief cross over period: Bev told us “For a while we were selling beer kits and babygrows, which was interesting!”
Bev and Andy now run Almost Off Grid, an independent business that sells home brewing supplies plus gifts, kitchenware and equipment and ingredients for cheese making, sourdough, kombucha, kefir and more. They told us: “We set up our homebrew business on Amazon, both FBA and marketplace, from day 1 and continue to sell both ways, which enables us to sell more with just the two of us. Nowadays the Amazon FBA set-up is much bigger, and we hold a great deal of stock there. We also sell on Amazon as a marketplace seller which has always worked well for us. It works equally well for our current business as it did for our old one.”
Bev explained how they run their business with Amazon. “As an Amazon seller, you can sell on Amazon in two ways and we do both: we fulfil our stock to Amazon, plus we sell ourselves on Amazon as a marketplace seller.”
She explains: “When you fulfil through Amazon (known as Amazon FBA), you send your stock to the Amazon Warehouse and they pick, pack and ship to the customer on your behalf. For example, this is one of our Amazon FBA listings: you’ll see that the wording says dispatches by Amazon, sold by Almost Off Grid, which means the seller is sending their stock to Amazon, who are sending it on their behalf. As a small business with only two of us, fulfilling to Amazon allows us almost to clone ourselves. We can send hundreds of packets of, say, yeast to Amazon to sell on our behalf in one box, rather than posting out to multiple customers.”
Bev continues: “We also send direct to customers as a marketplace seller. This means that you sell your product on Amazon, but you ship it from your own premises rather than Amazon fulfilling it for you. For example, this is one of our marketplace listings: here, the wording says dispatches by Almost Off Grid, sold by Almost Off Grid, which means it is a marketplace seller.”
Would they recommend selling on Amazon to other small businesses? Bev told us: “Absolutely! We have worked with other small shops helping them to get started on Amazon, because we're passionate about the benefits. Amazon gets a very bad press in the media on the basis that they are killing small businesses. But were it not for Amazon, many small businesses we know would not still be here – particularly over the past 18 months when shops couldn't open. We have learned an awful lot about ecommerce from Amazon without having to make the investment ourselves, and we are able to use their infrastructure to our advantage. Our latest venture is self publishing homebrewing books and journals through Amazon too on a print-on-demand basis, which fits perfectly with what we do.”
Bev adds: “My advice to small businesses is: open an Amazon selling account and get going. No matter how good you are with Google Adwords, no matter how much you spend on advertising, no matter how many local customers you have, you can grow your sales far more easily through Amazon. The FBA business is, in effect, another revenue stream which means you don't need as many sales in your main business to keep cash flowing. The benefits far, far outweigh the problems we've had over the 14 years we have worked with them. I would go so far as to say that our little shop owes Amazon a great deal. Embrace the opportunity!”
Visit Almost Off Grid at their shop at Lyndhurst House, High Street, Horam TN21 0EZ (an address that has been continuously occupied by businesses since it was built at the turn of last century) or online here, or visit their Amazon shop here.

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