I’m very excited about this month’s success story, partly because it’s about colourful, arty cushions but mainly because Lulasclan provides top quality, locally designed and produced South African goods. This is Bonolo Chepape’s brainchild. She’s a designer by trade and creativity runs in her blood. I sat down with Bonolo to chat about her online venture to date.
JH: What prompted you to start selling online using Shopify?
BC: I have a passion for graphics and interior décor design and wanted a platform where I could translate my art into objects of beauty that would sustain my passion but also be a means to generate an income and source of living. An online eCommerce space seemed fitting after a year of research and trying to get myself familiar with this retail space. It offered the perfect opportunity to sell my products, it costs a lot less than physical retail space which can be costly as a young startup business and also, because I move around a lot it offered the perfect flexibility of doing business everywhere and anywhere, even over a cup of coffee if needs be. After months of research, reading customer reviews of eCommerce platforms and actually stalking some brands by looking at the developer company name or ‘powered by’ section in the footer, I literally went through all the platforms and website developer sites that I saw, and if they were free I tried them! After going through all the cloud-based platforms I discovered that Shopify was at the top of the ranks for eCommerce platforms so I decided to speak to a friend who also has a boutique online store using Shopify and her opinion affirmed my suspicions. I wanted a platform that was easy enough for any person without any technical web developer knowledge to use. It needed to be fast, convenient, reliable, safe, and above all it absolutely had to fit my small budget as a startup business. Shopify provided all of that and most especially the easy integration with the PayFast and PayPal gateways makes everything so much simpler.
JH: How long has your Shopify store been live now?
BC: I’ve had my online store since June 2016 but I officially launched it in November last year. I gave myself a couple of months to make sure the website was perfect and was customer friendly before I ‘opened the doors’.
JH: How did you find the setup process?
BC: The setup process was relatively easy. The free trial helped me get familiar with the platform and discover its capabilities. It was a complete learning process, it still is if I’m being totally honest, but it is not a platform that requires much. Because I am a graphic designer by profession it kind of took months for me to actually nail the design, but if you have all your elements ready you can set it up in a couple of hours. I had a couple of restrictions based on my selected Shopify plan though where some of the things I want to integrate into my website are chargeable options, but I’m looking at that as a building block and something I can work towards.
Overall the experience of building my site was great, however one thing that isn’t too great is that I don’t think Shopify has a lot of free themes. The paid themes can be quite expensive in comparison to other eCommerce platforms too. I absolutely love the ease of uploading products, everything is easy to find, I get sales and traffic reports, I know how many customers visited my site and where they came from as well as which products are selling the most which helps with marketing and understanding my products and their target markets.
JH: Do you use uAfrica’s shipping and/or multichannel and if so, what do you use it for?
BC: I have it installed but I’m yet to delve into it. It’s another learning curve for me which I should probably call in to get some assistance and clarification on. You’ll be hearing from me again soon!
JH: What do you find is the most convenient aspect of using uAfrica?
BC: The support is a business dream! You are there to help when I do not understand or have missed one or two things. I had a period of 2-3 months where I was not getting traffic to my site. One of the support agents contacted me and offered a few pointers to think about how I could market my product to create that web traffic to my online store. When you’re starting out, it’s easy to have your website set up but it’s getting and directing the people to your site that is the most challenging.
JH: Can you let us in on what’s on the cards for Lulasclan for the next 12 months?
BC: My business strategy for the next 12 months consists mainly of marketing my products as well as increasing my online store traffic and sales using Shopify and social media to generate an easy shopping experience. Also, customer feedback and product innovation and design. I’m working towards being in a position that allows me to upgrade my plan to get more out of Shopify’s features as well as using uAfrica’s Multichannel. A lot of my customers would like to see the progress of their order in the various stages of delivery and I’ve learned that uAfrica bridges that gap at discounted rates. Basically growth is key in the next 12 months!
JH: Out of 10, how would you rate your experience using uAfrica.com and why?
BC: I would rate uAfrica a 9/10 because even though I haven’t used uAfrica’s Multichannel yet, I’ve just realised, a moment ago, that it is an easier way to ship at affordable rates (it’s all a learning space isn’t it)!
So there you have it. Bonolo is on a steep learning curve, but thanks to uAfrica and Shopify, the process involved in starting an online business has been made much more bearable and easy to chew.
Check out Lulasclan and you’ll understand why we’re going gaga for all things Naledi and Mary Jane.