How to pivot your business with Katherine Salt from Plumlingerie.com
Hi Catherine. I can't believe we actually got on and it's so amazing because you're going through so many changes right now. So let's start with you Catherine Salt. Your store is called Plums Lingerie, right? But you have a unique situation. So tell us where you are, what you're doing and what you're selling. Obviously it's lingerie, but just talk more about it.
Katherine Salt (00:34):
Okay. So we started Plum Lingerie 14 years ago. It's a little boutique in a little Island called Jersey, which is not New Jersey. It's old Jersey and it's just off the coast of the North of France. So tiny place, nine miles by five. And we probably started online. Gosh, eight years ago. We were quite early. We were early enough that our suppliers didn't want us to be online.
Veronica Jeans (01:15):
Oh, wow. Yes.
Katherine Salt (01:19):
We sort of just quietly did it and ignore them.
Veronica Jeans (01:24):
You can't sell our stuff online because he's going to buy it, right? We have our exclusive,
Katherine Salt (01:29):
How can you - people can't fit it. You didn't get any images. You didn't get any support whatsoever. It was very different. Now it is an absolute breeze in comparison.
Veronica Jeans (01:43):
I remember when I was talking to people about selling overseas to Africa were they actually bought stuff here in America, then shipped it to Africa and then, sold it online and then people would actually COD it. Just pick it up and pay for it. So that she would just go into the big stores, buy stuff, that's on sale and then send it off to Africa. And that was the online shopping, but it's changed so much. Right. So you've been selling lingerie your mom started it.
Katherine Salt (02:21):
No, we started it together. I had a proper job. So it's only the last four years I've been in the shop full time, but we did the website. There was no Shopify when we started. So it was a sort of off the shelf send cart product.
Veronica Jeans (03:01):
I think most of the people that are now on Shopify (my clients) are all from 3DCart and that's how we started, you know? And it was so hard to do anything, to get a merchant online. You had to connect to the merchant and the payment gateway. Now people just go on and connect and that's it. Right. So it's no challenge whatsoever.
Veronica Jeans (03:29):
So what have you learned? I know it's really hard to have a retail store, especially on such a small Island. Here in Houston, we've got 7 million people, so there's no problem selling anything, but it's still different to have a retail store compared to an online store.
Katherine Salt (03:51):
It's very different. In fact, we sell different things in the shop than we do online. So, we are now closing the shop after 14 years because we can do so much more online. You know, Jersey has got a hundred thousand people in it. There's only so much I can sell to those people. Whereas online, I've got customers in USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan the world is my oyster.
Veronica Jeans (04:22):
Exactly. And how many times do you buy a bra? And then they didn't complain about the prices. I love your website because your store, because it's so interactive, you've got everything that you need on the page. It looks extremely professional, but you buy your stuff directly from the manufacturer or do you buy them from distributors?
Katherine Salt (04:47):
Our main brands, we buy directly from the distributors and we're really lucky. They are so amazingly efficient. We run the website almost like just in time. So I'll order something on the Monday. It will be here by the end of the week to ship out.
Veronica Jeans (05:04):
Okay. So here's the difference to everybody else, - you do not drop ship?
Katherine Salt (05:10):
No, They won't drop ship.
Veronica Jeans (05:13):
You are in the unique situation - I could not believe when you told me - it come in on the boat and you get out the same day.
Katherine Salt (05:27):
Yeah. I run down to the Harbor in my little car. It's very glamorous. It's a very sophisticated, well-run operation. In my little car, pick up the box. If it's a fair size order, they would all have someone in to help pack and wrap. And it goes out same day. We used to get two dispatches off the Island to post the day. So there used to be one around lunchtime and the other one around 4:30, 5:30. Because of COVID the second one's gone. So I have to get that box and turn it around within a couple of hours.
Veronica Jeans (06:10):
That to me is just incredible. It is so different here, you at your leisure. You can get it out whenever you want to. So it takes time for your distributors to actually send it to you as well. That is about a day or two. So are your customers used to it or do you have a problem with that.
Katherine Salt (06:34):
Lucky in Jersey we are used to waiting for everything.
Veronica Jeans (06:39):
But what are you going to do with international customers?
Katherine Salt (06:42):
The international, we tell them on every single page. I write - it takes between five and seven working days to dispatch this to you.
Veronica Jeans (06:53):
How are you going to compete online if you have such a long shipping
Katherine Salt (06:59):
You'll find most of my competitors do the same things I do.
Veronica Jeans (07:05):
That's brilliant. Okay.
Katherine Salt (07:07):
So most of my competitors are in exactly the same boat with little boutiques. I've got an online business. So the next stage actually is making it more of a relationship and more of a resource. So people know that when they're speaking to someone here, it's somebody who knows what they're talking about.
Veronica Jeans (07:34):
Are you competing with here in America? Here is Soma and Victoria's Secret.
Katherine Salt (07:49):
No, we are top-end okay. You are looking at the lowest priced bra we do is 70 pounds. Which is $90
Veronica Jeans (08:08):
Yeah. For a really, really good bra. That's what you pay.
Katherine Salt (08:11):
Yeah. The great thing about that is you have to sell fewer. We don't get the returns because people know the products really well. We have a very low return rate.
Veronica Jeans (08:25):
So selling something cheaply, you think, it will go out faster, but selling something more quality - did you find that it is more of a challenge to sell online?
Katherine Salt (08:37):
No, because the thing is these brands, people are very brand loyal. So they are looking for that bra. They're not browsing, Oh, I fancy a purple bra, where can I find a purple bra? They're going, I wear a Primadonna Deauville bra in this size and I need a black one, a beige one and a white one. And they come in, they buy three, job done, and it doesn't come back because that's what they have been buying for 15 years.
Veronica Jeans (09:07):
Exactly. And I find that with Susan's - The Itsy Bitsy boutique as well - it's the same thing. I mean, these are high end $35 for a two year old t-shirt right. It's like - whaat you are going to pay that?. But those people are looking for it and that's what they buy. So you're in the same position. So shipping is a challenge Would you ever get back into this industry if you ever had to start again?
Katherine Salt (09:40):
I love online. I like e-commerce. Bras are not easy. Because you have so many different barriers. My best selling bra has over 600 variants. Which means the majority of platforms cannot handle it. The fun and games I've had trying to get a till system in the shop that will work with a website .....
Veronica Jeans (10:11):
So the till system is a, point of sale system. So you're using point of sale as well as your store. So does it sync between your point of sale and your online store right now? I mean until Saturday
Katherine Salt (10:28):
Currently when it fancies it it has been. It was the best option we could get. And I went through every option and all I had to say is how many variants can it take? And most of them stopped at like 500 or 400. And I'm like, well, that won't work.
Veronica Jeans (10:47):
Exactly. So, I know in Shopify you have to use an app if you go more than 100 variants. Variants, for the people that don't know what that means, are options that you drop down. So you have, your sizes, you have your colors and every single combination is a line item is one of your variants. I have clients as well with options. I just use an option app. But the problem is with an app is you can't update it. You have to go in there and just do it by hand, which is just like, that's not going to happen. Right. So you've got to think outside the box of how to actually combine the options. But I know with something like you have, you can't do that.
Katherine Salt (11:49):
The thing is - people is not going to buy this bra then that bra. They want that bra and they want three colors. So actually listing each color as a separate product is going to reduce my conversion rate.
Veronica Jeans (12:02):
Yes, exactly. She should not actually have each size in a different product page. You should have them combined because you do not want your customers to hop from one page to another. Oh, now I have to go and look for this size or I have to go look for this color. This should be all in one page. It's like a landing page, right? This is it - you want this type of bra or one of this type of product. This is your landing page. Now you can check off whichever one you want and buy everything you need. Did you enjoy having a retail store and an online store or what were the challenges with the retail store? Because I know everybody and their mama want a boutique. It all sounds so fabulous. But the challenges are - you are sitting there waiting for people to walk in.
Katherine Salt (13:03):
It's six days a week. Because of the sort of very intimate relationship I have with my customers - that sounds really dodgy but I do see a lot people's boobs - when they come in, they want to see me. They don't want to see somebody who works for me. So I'm very tied to the place, which means holidays were an interesting concept that doesn't really happen. No long weekends because I have to work. Saturdays don't happen. And as soon as you have somebody else in, you know, it's really hard to monitor what they're doing without being an overbearing, awful boss, but people make mistakes.
Which is hard because if they make mistakes, you're losing money and you don't know if they're treating your customers properly because they don't act the same with you in the environment as when you're away.
Katherine Salt (14:15):
One thing is fantastic about having a retail store - it's given me the experience to know how every single one of my bras fits people. So when people come in or they phone up or they have got questions, I can say, look, I have to ask some questions about your boobs - "So, are you heavy in the bust love, push out at the top? Oh no that's not going to work"? And that for me is essential in, one, having happy customers and, two, keeping my return rate really low. Every time someone sends me something back I lose money.
Veronica Jeans (14:57):
Exactly. So when they return the products, do you pay the return shipping or not.
Katherine Salt (15:04):
No. Frankly, I don't want to encourage returns. I tell them just normal post. A bra is not a heavy thing to post. They can post it for 2 pounds.
Veronica Jeans (15:17):
Exactly. And it's in a little envelope and that's it. And you can squish it in there.
Katherine Salt (15:23):
Because the thing they do things like send it next day delivery to you, which is like seven pounds.
Veronica Jeans (15:32):
I don't want it the next day.
Katherine Salt (15:41):
They can't expect me to pay that. We only do free postage for over a hundred pounds as well.
Veronica Jeans (15:46):
If you're selling a bra at 70 pounds, that is also not, a lot of products. So do you find that if you have that shipping free at a hundred pounds, that they will buy that extra article?
Katherine Salt (16:02):
I don't think it makes a huge amount of difference because people who are buying my bras - it is a bit expensive - but they want the bra. They want the bra, and you know what - if they want two bras, they'll buy two bras The thing is by holding onto something where you can charge shipping, it gives you the marketing opportunity of giving it away now. . That's when I notice ll my sort of cost conscious customers will buy ones. So I do appreciate the new guaranteed. I'll get a pile or one bras. Oh, I think so. Yeah.
Veronica Jeans (16:57):
So what has been your best experience online getting your information out? Is it ads or organic .....
Katherine Salt (17:09):
Well, when we first started it, because I didn't know any better, I liked Google Ads. I liked the four pounds and it still was really expensive. It now it costs me 25 pounds if I want to use Google Ads. I don't.
Veronica Jeans (17:25):
Yeah. Google ads is just stupid expensive.
Katherine Salt (17:29):
It's gone crazy. I find that Facebook advertising is working quite well for me because again, I can target by brand. So I get a much better conversion rate and conversion cost on that. But it is just a case of just consistently showing up, you know. I did a lot of Pinterest at one point and it drove huge amounts of traffic. Never sold a damn thing. Because it is very US-centric and not necessarily UK.
Veronica Jeans (18:14):
So, do you have a lot of customers in the USA?
Katherine Salt (18:18):
It's mainly the UK. I would say 90% in the UK and the rest are scattered around. I'm sort of on first name basis with my international customers let's put it that way.
Veronica Jeans (18:34):
That's amazing. So what do you do to keep your customers.
Katherine Salt (18:38):
We are very much: "If there's a problem to send it back". I have got customers that are like: "Oh, a wire snapped. I've only had it six months". Send it back. We'll get you a new one. And so that cost me a fraction of how much it costs me to get a new customer who will spend 500 pounds with me. It's annoying because I know that actually they've had it six months or God knows how they've worn that or washed it or taken care of it. But all have to think about is what is the cost place of that bra. Is it worth that to keep a customer? And the answer is always yes.
Veronica Jeans (19:26):
Yes, exactly. Because they always come back.
Katherine Salt (19:29):
And I will just be grumpy quietly in the corner about it.
Veronica Jeans (19:34):
Do you find that people actually abuse that system or not really?
Katherine Salt (19:43):
No. This is the joy of selling really high quality stuff. I know if that bra's wire has snapped or a catch is gone or something, there actually is probably a problem with that bra. You know, people don't really want to go to the hassle of getting in touch with you taking it to the post office because I always make them send it back. One of the biggest issues is people cutting tags off and then sending stuff back.
Veronica Jeans (20:22):
Because you know, they've worn it then, right?
No, not necessarily.
Oh really? The actual tag with the sizes on?
Katherine Salt (20:30):
No the maker's tags.
Veronica Jeans (20:39):
They pay the shipping. I know that's pretty normal. I tell my clients - you make them pay the shipping because then they won't send it back. But here's the thing, and you're doing exactly what you're supposed to do, is if the one who sent it back, you look at what it's costing you and let them send it back because they will talk to their friends about it, that you actually took something back and you might gain a few other customers. Right.
Katherine Salt (21:16):
Yeah. The trouble is you have to be consistently good. To keep a customer. You only have to be bad once to loose one.
Veronica Jeans (21:28):
Yes. And they will talk about it. Believe me. So do you have your telephone number on the website?
Katherine Salt (21:39):
Yes. We do get phone calls. In COVID we got long rambling chats.
Veronica Jeans (21:45):
I'm a bit bored, I'm at home, can we have a chat?
Katherine Salt (21:50):
People would phone up and will have a couple of questions about the bra and by the end of it, we talked about the dogs and the kids,
Veronica Jeans (21:55):
But that's all customer service. I think it's so central to have the telephone number on the website and your contact. I mean, obviously now that you are not going to have a boutique, you will only be online, ..... Oh no you can still have your address on there.
Katherine Salt (22:21):
Yes, we are staying in the building.
Veronica Jeans (22:24):
Exactly. But it's so central to just show them that you are available to talk to otherwise it just looks like everybody else out there. Right.
Katherine Salt (22:33):
Well, it's not only that. I think it gives people a bit of confidence that you're a real business.
Veronica Jeans (22:37):
Katherine Salt (22:39):
There was a lot of fear that you are not really a real business and you know, it's a phishing scam or this, that and the other. And I've got a lot of people who say, are you selling seconds? I'm like: "No, this company doesn't do second".
Veronica Jeans (23:00):
Yes - all brand new out of the box.
Katherine Salt (23:06):
So I say to them: "Brand new, straight out of the box". I haven't even unfolded it from the box. I've just wrapped it in a nice bit of tissue.
Veronica Jeans (23:15):
The question is what would you do differently if you ever had to start again?
Katherine Salt (23:25):
I would sell something that came in small, medium and large.
Veronica Jeans (23:31):
Exactly and it's so hard to sell clothes. I don't know my size. Different manufacturers, fashion designers or whatever, have different sizes, not everything fits the same way. And that's a huge thing. Right. So anyway, I'm so glad you came on today, all the way from Jersey, UK, not New Jersey. And and I'm very excited that you just going to be online. I know my customers that have just gone online have actually been more successful online than retail and online.
Katherine Salt (24:17):
That's the plan. I figured if I spent as much time working on content, all the things that I've not been in properly, SEO this and the other, as I am talking to women about their menopause in the changing room, I would do quite well.
Veronica Jeans (24:34):
So this is absolutely brilliant that you came in today. So you're going to stay after, we're going to have a question and answer series straight after this, right here in the Facebook group. And then you can ask any questions to Catherine she'll answer. And also we have her contact stuff on the landing page and also up in the descriptions and we'll put it in the comments. So you know where to find her, if you need bras. And believe me, I've looked at them as well. Thank you so much for popping in. I love having you on and let's go to questions and answers.
Katherine Salt (Ecommerce Store owner)
Plums Lingerie was founded in 2006 by mother and daughter, Tricia Rees and Katherine Salt. The small boutique in St Helier, Jersey opened its doors with half empty drawers and a huge amount of optimism. Her background in Marketing and Advertising has helped her create a successful online store!