From the kitchen to the world with gifts from

6 min read
Thomas Costello

For many UK business owners, getting online starts with a Sabrina Bluck was working in stationery sales in the Midlands until she was made redundant in 2013, and soon after discovered that she was pregnant. When her son came along in 2014 she made a picture frame to give to a friend. Other friends asked for similar gifts of their own, and before long she started selling them via Facebook – with ten to 15 orders a month.

“With a new baby to take care of, Sabrina wanted a career that would give her time with the family as well as the chance to make a bit of money,” recalls husband Ian, who’s still in full-time employment in the banking industry. “So she just started making the picture frames and other gifts in our kitchen, and started selling them as CoCo Loves.”

CoCo is the name of the couple’s dog, a remarkably cute cavapoo with discerning taste

First steps

As orders increased, Sabrina and Ian decided it was time to create their own website. CoCo is the name of the couple’s dog, a remarkably cute cavapoo with discerning taste, and GoDaddy was the obvious choice for registering the domain name. With CoCo Loves registered, the couple built their first website themselves using templates.

Ian says: “We’d already shown that we could sell online via Facebook. Once we got the website up and running that led to more orders and the business really started to take off in 2015.”

That July Sabrina was presented with a Women in Business #WOW award from Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers. And Dragons’ Den star (and extremely rich and influential entrepreneur in his own right), Theo Paphitis, chose them as a winner of his Small Business Sunday #SBS awards.

Ironically, the web presence has led to a physical presence on the high street. “We were able to approach local shops, mostly small independent boutiques, and ask if they wanted to carry some of our products. It was our shop window, and we could show it to stockists on our tablets or even our phones, like an online catalogue.”

Nearly 50% of the business currently goes through Instagram. And half of that’s direct.”

Going social

The couple doesn’t employ a marketing agency, preferring to do all their promotion themselves. Mostly, that means social media, which all goes through the website. They have 11,000 followers on Twitter and 35,000 on Instagram. In fact, nearly 50% of the business currently goes through Instagram. “And about half of that’s direct,” says Ian. “People will ask us on Instagram for a price on something, they’ll make a bank transfer, and it’s done.

“When we first put ourselves on Instagram, we only had about 200 followers. Then we went to the Facebook For Business event in Birmingham, that was held by Enterprise Nation, the small business support group. We learned about using hashtags, following people who follow businesses who sell our type of goods, about varying our content and telling our brand story. We did all that and then it just took off through the roof.”

Growing gains

“In the future we’re looking to expand our offering. We’re now hosting products from other small manufacturers that we like, and selling them under the CoCo Loves banner.

“We’ve also started hosting parties, Ann Summers style. We don’t go out of our way to sell, we just create an atmosphere where people can buy if they want to. If we show a range of cards for example, and someone asks if we can personalise them, the answer’s yes. They’re also great for showing off our new lines of scented candles and diffusers.

“We’ve been partnering with other local businesses too, like Miss Macaroon for Valentine’s Day, and Hotel Latour, a boutique hotel in Birmingham, for Mother’s Day.”

“We’ve also started hosting parties, Ann Summers style.”

DIY funding

“All these ideas have started small, and we’ve just done them as they’ve suited us. We’ve never had any funding. We reinvest profits back into the business and spend it on things like our packaging, which is now all branded with our logo and gives people an extra reason to buy from us.

“We want to take our time with marketing and figure out what works best for us before we invest in anything. We’ve experimented with Google Ads, for instance, but just very small amounts at the moment. We’ll keep a close eye on it to see how it develops. We’ve also been doing email marketing – our mailing list is up to 5,000 now and we offer news, deals and discounts.

“If we made any mistakes early on it was in trusting people to do things that we didn’t really know how to do. Like website design and SEO. But as we’ve gone on, we’ve realised that we can do a lot of these things just as well as anyone, like keyword research. It’s better to do it yourself until you reach the point you need professionals. Then you do your research, speak to their customers if possible, and be careful who you work with.

“One of our best investments was getting a professional copywriter to write the content for the website. That’s made such a difference when it comes to getting our brand personality across, and it’s been really good for SEO too.”

“We’d like to grow a bit quicker than we are, but we need to get that work/life balance right, especially with two children under three.”

CoCo loves the future

“Sabrina has the flexibility to work whenever she wants, and I help out,” says Ian. “She still makes all the cards and frames herself in our kitchen, though we outsource some help during busy periods.

“We’d like to grow a bit quicker than we are, but we need to get that work/life balance right, especially with two children under three, and we never want to lose the personal touch. But at least we’ll have a basis that we can build on if we want to later on.”

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