From the source: Lucy Glade-Wright, Hunting for George
In 2010, sisters Lucy Glade-Wright and Jo Harris launched online homewares store Hunting for George. Aimed at a design-savvy audience. Community minded, Hunting for George engage through strong communication, collaboration and outstanding service. This engagement has seen their business achieve a loyal following, a passionate customer base and industry acclaim.
BIO: Lucy Glade-Wright
Lucy studied communication design and after graduating with honours, worked as a graphic designer at some of the most elite design agencies in Australia and the UK. Working for a range of brands including Virgin Media, Lonely Planet and the BBC, Glade-Wright honed her skills in brand identity, art direction and design.
IRW: What goals has Hunting for George kicked recently?
LG: Last year was pretty massive for us. The amount of support and industry recognition we received was a highlight and it was validation for all the work we’ve put into the business over the last eight years. We won the best small independent retailer category at the ORIAS, a small business finalist at the Telstra Business Awards and we were named in Internet Retailing’s Top 50 of E-commerce It’s something we’re incredibly proud of and it was a humbling experience. As a business owner, you don’t often stop and reflect on your achievements.
One of the biggest highlights and undertakings was our experience store at Highpoint Shopping Centre in Melbourne. It was a huge experience and a massive learning curve for us. We wanted to create an online experience in-store and we wanted to acquire both data and new customers – that was our goal of the whole project. It turned out to be successful with great feedback, we had customers coming in and comparing us to other retailers and saying wonderful things about the experience. They often talked about our staff and how incredible they were – I was proud we were able to bring the brand to life in the flesh. At the same time, it was a huge project and a massive undertaking, especially for a team of our size. I’m really glad we did it, but it took a bit of recovery time to get over it.
IRW: Is it important for you that Hunting for George has a physical presence?
LG: We’ve always had an offline experience. We’ve had pop-ups and warehouse sales and we do have a Richmond showroom, but Highpoint was the first time we wanted to start a store from scratch in terms of recreating the experience we had online and translating it into a physical space.
It was the first time we’d taken it seriously enough to seek out a location. Whilst we’ve always had the offline component, it was the first time we took the project seriously. It was the first time we clearly identified our goals of what we were trying to do, which was to get data and new customers.
We wanted to compare physical to online and the only way we could do that was with data, like foot traffic. We wanted to track demographics, conversion rates, collect reviews in-store like we do online, so we ticked a lot of those boxes to validate the experience. We’re currently working through a case study to finalise how successful the project was for us.
It was interesting because when Jo and I first had the idea to start Hunting for George, we wanted a bricks-and-mortar store and we got excited about what it would look like and what it would be, and it ended up being that we just didn’t have the resources to go that way, which is why we went online. Hunting for George has been built by creating a brand and experience that’s digital that reflects the in-store experience. Like when you walk into a store, you’re greeted by staff, you hear music, you see your products and you can touch and feel – we used [those elements] to replicate it on digital.
We focused so hard on that that we made our digital experience much better than what you’d get in-store. The challenge was to turn that around. We created video, sound, content, education and touchpoints with our customer service at any turn in our online store, so we needed to figure out a way to make that happen in-store.
From a design point of view, the Highpoint store had to be as inspiring as our online space and from an education and brand point of view, it needed to communicate the same messages that we do online. It relied a lot on our staff in-store. You can control so many things when you work in a digital space, but it’s harder to control [customer service] in-store, so we relied on our staff and trained them a lot. We focused on teaching them how to communicate with customers, when’s the right time to approach them and how to do it the right way.
Our service was actually the biggest piece of feedback we had from customers, it came down to the service they received in-store, which is the same as online. When you have staff in-store, they’re the ones who will make the experience worthwhile and make that customer talk to their friends about your brand. You can achieve that in so many ways via digital, but in-store, it comes down to that personal touchpoint.
IRW: So do you think it’s something you’ll do again?
LG: It definitely is something we’d do again, but now we know all the challenges involved. What I would say is I think the future of retail is in both media. I don’t think online and in-store are exclusive and they shouldn’t be treated as two different beasts. I think if you’re going to enter physical, it has to be seamless and match seamlessly with digital. Unless you can do it really well, I almost wouldn’t bother doing it – it needs to be seamless for your customer, or it won’t be beneficial to them or you.
[Opening another store] would be a huge undertaking and I acknowledge we’d need a lot of resources in order to achieve that. We pulled it off for three months at Highpoint, but it’s another thing to pull it off permanently. We have a lot of data and knowledge and know what it takes to do it. We’re a small business and we’d never done it before, so we needed to enter it, document it, find data and get knowledge so we can make more educated decisions in the future.
IRW: What has Hunting for George got planned for the year ahead?
LG: This year, our focus is on UX design. We want to make sure we do whatever we can to maximise the customer experience. I am really proud of the Hunting for George design aesthetic, because my background is in communication design, so design has always been number one priority for me. I’ve always controlled it in-house, and I love maintaining it, but I acknowledge the limitations in our knowledge. This year, we’ll be working with UX specialists to improve the business.
Content has always been a top priority for us and we’ve been doing great content since day dot, but I want to ramp it up and tell more stories in more mediums. We’re focusing a lot on video, but we want to do better storytelling and more of it.
In any content we do, we have three pillars we stick to – educate, inspire and engage. With video, we focus on educational how-tos. We’ve done some pretty lo-fi things in our studio which have gone viral, like how to fold a fitted sheet, but we do other ones where we break down an inspirational image and show people how to create that look.
I love video, I love the way you can communicate something different to creating just an image and I think for us, we can bring storytelling to life a bit more through it. You can have a lot more fun, it’s the same with social – it’s not traditional anymore, like spend any money on two campaigns a year. It needs to be constant and you need to put effort into every single piece of content you create
Content is important for me because it’s part of who I am. I’ve been creating stories for other brands for years and I love copywriting and I understand design isn’t just about pretty pictures – when there’s a great idea attached, it has substance.
The most amazing thing to me is when you can design something that has an incredible story attached to it – you can change the way people think and feel and it’s such a powerful tool. That’s something that has inspired for many years, well before I started Hunting for George and it’s at the core of everything we do, because it’s my passion. With any business, you have to rely on your strengths and ours is that knowledge of branding, storytelling and connecting with your audience.
IRW: It sounds like content marketing is a big focus of the business. Can you tell me about what’s involved in that for the business?
LG: For us, it was first about identifying the brand’s voice, so when we talk to customers, we’re not talking to down to them or selling to them. We understand them, we relate to them, we know their tone of voice, so when we communicate, it cuts through. That’s not something every brand understands if they don’t have a focus on brand voice.
I think the biggest thing for people to understand is that when it comes to storytelling, it’s not just about launching a big campaign, it’s how you answer the phone, how you reply to emails and respond to live chat. It’s about all the small things that are consistent and if you don’t have that within the core for your business, it’s really hard for that to seep into every aspect of who you are. But if it’s authentic and real, that’s what customers really resonate with – they know you’re no bullshitting them. It comes down to trust and it’s something as simple as being clear about who you are and how you want to talk to people. Likeminded people will follow you and that’s how you get loyal and passionate customers, which we have.
IRW: How would you describe the Hunting for George brand and tone of voice?
LG: It is definitely inclusive, friendly and inspiring. Within homewares, you have two strengths – you have the incredibly exclusive, you-can’t-afford-this shop, then you have the other end of the spectrum, where there’s no personality and it’s cheap and nasty.
There’s no reason why you can’t have beautiful design but it’s not sold to you in a really arrogant, obnoxious, exclusive way. We want to be inclusive and encourage everybody to take pride in their homes. It’s important for us to speak to men and women and not talk down to them, but talk to them and be real.
When we create imagery, we’re trying to create it with real people and real homes, there’s nothing worse than seeing picture-perfect homes that no-one actually lives in. It’s a part of people being able to see themselves in what you create. We’re not going to be everybody’s cup of tea and there will always people who either want a bargain or be exclusive, but there’s an area that sits in between those two and a lot of people want the best of both worlds.
IRW: How would you describe the current homewares and furniture retail landscape?
LG: It’s super competitive. Again, our main point of difference is the brand and storytelling. We create a lot of our own products and have that in-house brand, but essentially, it’s communicating and storytelling and doing it in a unique and passionate way.
When you’re leading the industry in terms of design and trends, you’ll always have other retailers looking at you for inspiration and you’ll have to deal with copycats and plenty of retailers that have no idea about design or what it is to be cool and they’ll continue to replicate. It’s frustrating, but there’s not a lot you can do, unless you have a 50-deep strong legal team behind you.
All we can do is focus on innovating and continuing to unique and better stories.
IRW: Do you have a lot of copycats following what you guys do?
LG: We have copycats are in a number of ways – not just our products get copied, sometimes it’s our promotions or promotional design. It gets to that point where you have some people who are taking piss. It’s not just someone being inspired by our imagery or products, we have people lifting a lot of things. We need to be on top of it and it’s our responsibility to understand what’s going on in the industry and all we can do is monitor it and keep moving faster.
IRW: What are your thoughts on the local ecommerce landscape?
LG: I think there’s a massive divide of opinions. On one side, there’s been a lot of fearmongering around Amazon and the impact it will have here. Then again, there’s such a great amount of energy with the sheer amount of small businesses that are joining ecommerce, making an impression and doing it well.
When we started, we were brushed off so many times and not taken seriously, purely because we were online. I love the fact the whole industry is scrambling to catch up to online retail. Ecommerce is growing and I think any business that can thrive in that changing environment and fast pace are the ones who will continue to dig dep.
IRW: Do you see Hunting for George one day going overseas or are you looking at external investment?
LG: In the last couple of years, it’s something we’ve focused on building up our internal processes, to make sure we have the rock-solid platform necessary for our business to scale, because ultimately, we have a fantastic brand When people look at it, they know how strong it is, so I want to make sure we have systems and processes and management in place to match our brand and makes us ready to scale. We’re in a position at the moment looking to build our board of directors, it’s an exciting and nerve-wracking time right now, We want the business to grow and we’re keen to partner with the right people to make that happen.