The online roadmap to wish fulfillment

Technology may be the backbone of her business, but Birds­nest founder Jane Cay spends more of her time focusing on service and maintaining the culture that has put a Cooma store on the map.

Supplied Editorial Jane Cay

Birds­nest founder Jane Cay spends more of her time focusing on ­service and maintaining the ­culture that has taken a Cooma store to the world. Source: Supplied

Technology may be the backbone of her business, but Birds­nest founder Jane Cay spends more of her time focusing on service and maintaining the culture that has taken a Cooma store to the world.

Her confidence is clearly growing, because Cay has moved along the main street in the NSW town known as the gateway to the Snowy Mountains “to become more of a destination store”, which has allowed her to expand the operations with another five change rooms being added to the six in place already.

Businesses like Birdsnest.com and Red Balloon would simply not exist in anything like their present form were it not for technology and the internet. They both approach business by leveraging the benefits of technology to sell their distinctive ­cultures.

Red Balloon’s Kristie Buchanan says: “We are selling happiness so it’s a very rewarding culture to be in.”

The online store sells experiences from balloon rides to driving fast cars around racetracks and boasts a customer network of more than 500,000, with seven million visits to the site a year.

Her in-house IT team numbers 13 and she notes, “we are in context marketing and our business is selling happiness so the technology needs to support those goals”.

Birdsnest’s Cay says simply that “we are not afraid of technology so are ready adopters”.

Both businesses rely heavily on customer satisfaction, which holds another key, the latest Sensis Social Media report showing “social is still the main driver” — which means people will share ­experiences with friends.

The survey showed small business in general had some ground to make up, with 69 per cent of Australians online using social media but only 36 per cent of small business and 48 per cent of medium-sized businesses.

Mobile applications clearly hold the key.

The Birdsnest business started with the purchase of a High ­Country Fitters store in 2004 and sold 100 dresses in 2008 — it now sells double-digit thousands to women aged 30-plus. “(Communications Minister) Malcolm Turnbull came to the store during the last election and ordered a red dress, but I’m not sure whether he has picked it up yet.”

The business has an annual turnover of $20 million, more than 95 per cent of which is generated online outside the Cooma store. But each booth at the store has a computer that allows you to select changes and accessories.

The store offers a full range of fashion “from a range of designers, but has also moved into house brands sourced from India and China … We went to the Canton Fair and walked up and down talking to people and found our suppliers first hand,” Cay said.

Cay uses standard small-business software such as MYOB and Gmail, but also employs four software engineers in her staff of 100, and says she approaches technology “from the perspective of how we can use it to solve our ­customers’ problems”.

By having the in-house IT ­expertise it helps maintain the ­culture. “Shopping is a very emotional experience and we aim to help people to be confident in what they wear.”

Each parcel sent to a customer comes with a handwritten note, which may explain why 70 per cent of customers are return ­business.

Being one of the biggest employers in town also creates some responsibility, “because everyone is related to or knows someone’’.

But, as at Red Balloon, having fun is the glue and in Birdsnest’s case that means dancing.

The Future of Small-Medium Business Summit will be held on Friday, September 5, at Doltone House, Hyde Park, 181 Elizabeth Street, Sydney.

To purchase tickets, visit www.eventopia.co/futuresmb

This article originally appeared in The Australian.

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