Our tech start-up of the week is the new online pet store Petfactory.ie. Live since August of last year, the store sells everything from pet food to dog kennels and aquariums, with 90pc of its products sourced in Ireland. The website has recently launched into the UK market.
Management consultant Mark Beggs says he decided to set up the site in early 2012 after he carried out some market research and spoke to some suppliers in the industry, as well as owners of pet stores.
"The one thing I found was the lack of an online retailer in the pets area," he explains. "I decided there was a niche for me to launch a pet store that was exclusively online."
Beggs says Petfactory.ie is the only Irish online pet store that also targets the UK marketplace (www.petfactory.co.uk) after launching there in December.
The site now sells more than 5,000 products – ranging from cat and dog food to materials to build a bird nest and heated blankets for pets.
"We also have videos on the site to show you how to train your pets and the plan is to ask dog and cat owners to put up their own videos very soon," explains Beggs.
He has sought to locally source all of the products that feature on Petfactory.ie, with 90pc of the items originating from Ireland.
To develop the website, Beggs used a template site from the e-commerce software provider Volusion, but he says the real work involved putting up all of the stock on the website.
"We had a number of people working for a few months adding all of our stock because we could not launch until we had at least 2,000 items on the site," he explains.
It took seven months to develop the site before the launch last August, but even then Beggs says more tweaking had to be carried out on areas such as improving the quality of images and fostering a logistics supply chain.
So far, he says the response to Petfactory.ie has been very positive, with the site getting about 85pc repeat business. He says items are usually delivered to people within three to four working days from the time the order is placed online.
At the outset, Beggs did a lot of deliveries himself so as to do some face-to-face marketing and to establish what people did and, more importantly, didn’t like about the website.
He says Petfactory’s delivery service is free at the moment.
The company employs two people, but Beggs says the goal is to expand to have a headcount of 10 employees over the next 18 months.
Having launched the site in the UK at the end of 2012, he says that business is growing there each month.
And the plan for Petfactory? As soon as the site gets to certain volumes in Ireland and the UK, Beggs is looking to expand into other European markets.
"We have the logistics in place now so adding an extra country when it comes to delivery of the products is straightforward enough. The challenge is really the marketing and awareness programme that we would need and how would we fund it," he explains.
Finally, his parting advice for others who are thinking of setting up an online business is to avoid spending a fortune on a website at the start.
"It’s easy to spend thousands on all the bells and whistles for a site and then realise a few months into it that what you think the customer needs or wants is not what you offer on the site."
Beggs encourages people to keep web development costs low and to instead spend money on marketing and getting to know potential customers.
"It’s a slow build up and than it’s down to keeping in touch with the customers who have bought from you or visited your site," he adds.