Kathleen Redmond is the owner of Slugs & Snails, a Sligo-based business. We first came across the ridiculously cute Slugs & Snails tights when a recently arrived small member of the Bua team needed protection from the West of Ireland elements.
1. Kathleen, tell us a little about your business
We design and sell tights aimed mostly at boys aged 0-6 but we have been very well received in the “gender neutral” kids clothing sector and now find that our tights are selling to both boys and girls quite evenly. I think every order for us is a milestone, we set out in this project with no experience, funding or support it was really a case of blagging our way through and so for Slugs & Snails to be now know across the world as a successful and growing brand, it really is testament to what a bit of hard work can do.
2. What prompted you to set-up the business?
We had our first son in November, 2008 and really hadn’t been prepared for just how cold our old house would suddenly feel now we had a small person to consider. My mum bought some girls tights for me she insisted they would come in handy and she really wasn’t wrong, we used them as an extra layer to protect our little guys legs in the cold and very quickly we found out how practical they were and how cute they looked on him. I did some “Googling” and found so many Mumsnet type discussions of other mothers wanting boys tights but not having any luck finding any so, I decided I would make them and the rest, as they say, is history.
3. Do you have a background in product development / marketing or how did you acquire the skills to run your business?
Haha, absolutely not. I have a background in Psychology and Law so this really was a guessing game for me. It took three years from inception to launch and that basically was because there was no precedent to follow, Slugs was the first brand to do this all out boy’s tights business and the aim was also to move away from manufacturing in China so that really slowed up production times.
4. What channels do you use to manage and promote your business?
Twitter was probably the best hike up that we ever could have had. Although it took hours and hours of following trends and conversations it really got the brand out there very quickly and established a very loyal following who we still have today. Facebook followed soon after and with some great Mummy Bloggers behind us we got lots of traffic directed to us that way. One thing we don’t do is “paid likes” it’s pointless and misleading. We want our followers to be potential customers or even spokespersons, if we have paid followers we might as well not bother having a page at all.
We haven’t branched into email marketing yet but we are looking at Mailchimp as it comes highly recommended. Social media is still our primary marketing tool and it’s just so far reaching its hard to find anything to match up with what we can achieve through Facebook and Twitter. We have also found out the hard way that paid advertising really doesn’t do much for our traffic and so a blog post or review of our tights can generate 50% at least, more sales, contacts that being present in a glossy mag with 150,000 plus readers.
5. Which work most effectively for you and how do you measure this?
We have a great traffic register on our website which can show us where our visitors are coming from etc. and also our orders have a “where did you hear about us” section which we see filled in more often than not.
6. Do you have a social media strategy? What type of social media engagement works best for your target market?
I wish I had enough time to work a good strategy but Slugs just took off so fast that it was a wing it all the way sort of operation. Thankfully through Twitter I have developed a network of other mums in business and the support and advice etc. that we share that way is invaluable.
7. Do you identify key influencers and build relationships with them? If so how?
As mentioned above, I would say other similar brands, shops that stock our tights and mummy bloggers have been key influencers, they also know our market, they are our market and they know what other parents want. Being a parent myself I too know what’s hot and on trend for kids and so by following the industry I can keep up to date with what’s happening and build on that for my own company.
8. Given that you are located in the West of Ireland; how much of a barrier is that to reaching your target markets? Do you also need to attend trade fairs / other events to network with your target audience as well as online promotion?
It is a massive, massive barrier!! I hate to say it but it really is. Firstly the children’s clothing market is no way near what you would see in a city, there are few, if any, boutiques around the area, there isn’t the growth in the market here in the west that you might find in Dublin or London, people we come across would rarely spend much on their kids clothes, they simply don’t see beyond the Penney’s rails it’s a false economy for most of the parents we deal with here we would see 99% of our Irish orders from the more affluent areas of Dublin, with a few in Cork and Wexford.
Even in terms of the actual day-to-day running of the company we are greatly held back in the west. Urgent shipping is impossible as we are classed as “a plus 2 zone”, this was a massive problem recently when the Sunday Times in London requested some tights for a shoot. The request came on a Wednesday afternoon but we couldn’t find a single shipping company to get the tights to London on the Friday as requested. The market for children’s wear in the rest of Europe is much more open minded than in Ireland, all you have to do is look at our stockist list, we have only one physical shop on the entire island of Ireland that holds our tights in their store, yet we have over 50 retailers across the world selling our tights.
Our business bank manager practically laughed us out the door when we first approached him and we haven’t set foot in his office since, trying to talk about boy’s tights to a country bank manager in his 50’s is pointless and so we are very much on our own in many respects here in the west. Sadly we also had so many people when we launched who asked us to ditch the .ie on our email and website! We refused of course as we are an Irish company and feel it’s important to be proud about that but it does sometimes act as a barrier, I am never quite sure why.
9. From an eCommerce perspective, how did you approach choosing your online store and how difficult / expensive / complicated was it to set up and manage on an ongoing basis? What are its biggest challenges?
I was lucky that I was determined to learn how this all worked and even more lucky that I had friends who I studied with at University who were now very successful in the IT industry and who were able to get me up and running using WordPress. It was difficult at first but as a free service it was amazing what you could achieve, however very quickly in we were warned our site was a bit homemade looking and although we still use WordPress we have managed to sleek up the site and for very little financial investment and I mean very, very little.
10. How much do you use Google Analytics to monitor behavior of customers to your website / online store? Do you use goals to monitor conversions?
Google is way beyond me at the moment. I had set it up initially but then fees were added and we have to add links to the codes on the website and I tried and failed miserably at this.
11. What takes most of your time? Operating or promoting the business?
Initially it was promoting, the first year in trade was full on working until 3am just mentioning us wherever I could and jumping on leads etc. Now with Slugs being out there and selling itself I now find that managing stock and orders and new designs, trade shows, keeping up contact with our stockist etc. is really time consuming.
12. What resources do you use to promote your business? Do you have a PR agency given the high-profile coverage (Slugs & Snails have won numerous consumer awards and has been listed in the Guardian)
We have been so successful using social media that I am afraid to stop using it or to pass it to PR companies. Our customers love the personal touch, they like to know they are talking to another mummy who understands why they want something particular. As long as we respect our customers and never think we are too big to have the personal touch I think we should be ok.
13. Are there any other small businesses that you think are doing a really great job using online channels?
A lot of our stockists are doing great work such as KyNa Boutique in the UK, they come across as a massive operation and really utilise social media and like me it’s another mummy only she has 3 boys in tow including one who is under one!
14. What are your plans / dreams for the future?
I would love to see us as a long standing brand in the market one which provides excellent quality gender neutral clothes which can be passed down to siblings and cousins and not totally cripple your bank balance at the same time. I love colours and I love that kids do to so I think it’s so important to let boys and girls have exposure to great colours in their wardrobe that make them smile and feel like a child without putting them in a pink or blue box! It would be amazing to see an end to the boys and girls department and just have a kids department for clothes shopping!
A huge thanks to Kathleen for taking the time to share this insight with us. How cute are these tights. If you’re looking for a baby gift, you know where to go.