Off to the races! Royal Ascot and the importance of a good website

7 min read
Victoria Hoyle

Royal events make good commercial opportunities. When Harry and Meghan tied the knot in St George’s Chapel in May, businesses across the United Kingdom moved fast to serve up creative ways to make the most of the happy couple’s big day.

Royal Ascot, the five-day racing event that gets underway this week just a few miles from Windsor Castle, is no different. Founded by Queen Anne in 1711, the royal racing spectacular is as well-known for its fashion, food and high society as its racehorses.

It’s no surprise then the best attended race meeting in the European calendar represents big business. From caterers to bookmakers to TV crews to hoteliers, the economic impact of Royal Ascot packs a punch. Much of this activity - from booking tickets to researching fashion ideas - starts online. And, if there is one thing businesses associated with the event agree on, it is the need for a strong website.

Headwear central

Let’s first consider the fashion: Royal Ascot wouldn’t be Royal Ascot without its hats. Spanning all colours and designs, the hat wearing of Royal Ascot provides an annual opportunity for British high society to reveal its flamboyant side.

And it appears to be for good reason. Millinery - the making of hats - has been on the rebound in the UK since 2011, when the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton coincided with the 300th anniversary of Royal Ascot.

One milliner buoyed by the resurgent interest in hats is Katie Vale, whose Essex-based shop is busy filling orders for Ascot. “It’s the biggest millinery event of the year, out of anywhere in the world. The impact on my business is incredibly substantial”, says Katie, who started out 13 years ago. “I think it has a big effect on all business linked to racing or fashion”.

Katie insists on the importance of a sharp, appealing website to drive her commercial success. “If I didn’t have my website, people wouldn’t find me. It’s important to have it up-to-date and looking professional”.

She uses her site to blog about recent and upcoming events, such as Aintree’s Grand National, admiring the headwear selections of the attendees. And she ensures her hat collections are prominently and professionally displayed throughout.

Katie Vale’s millinery creations are designed to impress.

Katie also maintains an active presence on Facebook and Twitter, and regularly goes out of her way online to make clear she puts her customers first.

From Cheshire with love

Another hatmaker keeping busy as Royal Ascot approaches is Katie Percival of Cheshire-based Kinderton Hats. Katie also agrees on the importance of maintaining a good website to support her business.

“Most customers have visited the website before making contact”, says Katie, who bought Kinderton as a going concern in 2013. “It gives them a chance to get an idea of what is available, and get a feel for the business.”

Fascinated with fascinators? Kinderton can help.

Katie is keen to make great-looking hats available to everyone, and she regularly uses her website and her social media accounts to remind visitors that hats can be hired as well as bought. “As millinery can be expensive to buy, hiring makes it affordable and convenient”, she explains. Katie also makes a point of sharing helpful resources - dress codes, event reminders, and so on  - with her hat-loving community.

Going local

Back in Berkshire, local companies market for Royal Ascot in different ways, but the importance of a solid website remains clear. Hotels in the Berkshire area compete hard for glowing guest reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor, while small businesses such as coffee shops and local restaurants in the Ascot area ensure they are putting their best foot forward to attract passerbys by optimising their websites for local search listings.

And then there’s Royal Ascot itself. The royal racecourse uses its website to run an impressive marketing operation, intent on keeping as much of the spending by Ascot’s well-dressed crowds as possible within its gloried gates. From fine dining and private boxes to tickets sales and information about the different enclosures, the Royal Ascot website is both visually stunning and rich with information.

Ascot is in the business of selling an experience, and its website whets the appetite for a day at the races in a way every supplier should take note of. Glass of Pimm’s anyone?

Jewel in the crown

Whether you’re local to the racecourse or plying your trade from further afield, your website is your jewel in the crown. Be strong on social, be visible in your local community, and run a tidy shop. But remember your website is as important these days as the traditional storefront and visitors will judge you on it.

Above all else, stay positive. Because the brilliant thing about digital marketing is that it provides the perfect platform for solopreneurs and small business owners to punch above their weight. And the stories of entrepreneurs doing just this are plentiful.

Take Sticky Heelz founder Laura Birrell and her non-slip solution for dress shoes. Laura may not have the marketing budget of Royal Ascot, but she gives the bigger players a run for their money with her smart use of online marketing. She does a great job stacking her website with cool photography, product videos, testimonials, blog posts, and slick branding throughout.

Laura started the business as a side hustle after returning from maternity leave. “I always had a problem with my shoes fitting correctly and it turns out that is because I have one foot slightly shorter than the other,” she explains. Sticky Heelz was born as Laura gave the boot to discomfort by creating a solution. Initially it was designed for personal benefit, but upon returning from maternity the business potential became quickly apparent.

Kicking off the business, Sticky Heelz conducted a survey. Putting herself in other people’s shoes, revealed the problem was widespread. Only 18% of respondents said their shoes fitted them without issue.

Working as a director at a construction research consultancy company, Laura soon realised it “was difficult to do my job at the level I did before due to long hours and travel”.

“So I started to look into the feasibility of my idea, including applying for a patent, designing for commercial appeal and manufacturing. Once I had a product I could take to market I gave up my job and started the business.”

“I was frustrated that nothing on the market worked for me and the shoe boxes were piling up so I decided to come up with a solution. That is when I came up with a two part flexible fastener that used a shoe pad and heel pad to physically secure the foot inside the shoe.”

Oh, and if you want to see Laura hanging out with A-list film stars, she has you covered.

What do Sarah Jessica Parker and Sticky Heelz’s have in common? Founder Laura Birrell!

The final stretch

Marketing through your website is a great approach for small businesses looking to get ahead. You don’t need to be Royal Ascot or even one of its prestigious suppliers for a chance to be heard above the noise. Invest in creating a website and the odds of building a digital presence that pays for itself are better than the chances of you walking away from Royal Ascot with more money in the bank than you arrived with.