If you think that e-commerce is crucial to the success of your SME or start-up, or that selling your products online is the way to go, then the success of Minitrade will prove you right and inspire you as well.
Founded in April 2012 by Isabelle Doucet and her spouse Malik Yacoubi, Minitrade won the Boomerang award for Emerging Business Model in 2013. In September 2015, the business was a finalist in two categories in Canada Post’s 2015 E-commerce Innovation Awards, including Most Innovative Retailer.
How can a business earn so much praise so soon after starting up? Martin Aubut, one of the business angels behind the young company predicts that “the business model used by Minitrade, which sells new and preloved name-brand clothing online, will revolutionize retailing.” His prediction is based on his own experience, which dates back to the early days of e‑commerce when he helped found Quebec’s first online dating site Réseau Contact.
Minitrade’s President also found a tremendous partner in Mitsou Gélinas (French only): “Having her as a partner has greatly helped us develop in the Quebec market, and ever since we added women’s clothing to our product line, we’ve grown 400%,” confided Ms. Doucet. “In the beginning, it was just me; now, I have 16 employees!”
The support of people like Martin Aubut and Mitsou Gélinas reinforces one of Isabelle Doucet’s strongest convictions: “The basic rule is to have good people around you; that’s what gave us a head start. Today, we have 35,000 clients across Canada. Because of our phenomenal growth, we’ve had to change our platform three times in only two and a half years. That’s why it’s important to have the support of people who are at the leading edge of technology.”
At first, Minitrade sold only children’s clothing. “We expanded our product line at the request of our clients. Now, women’s clothing accounts for 80% of our sales,” explained Ms. Doucet. Does this shift mean that the target market was not properly identified at the outset? According to Mr. Aubut, “this type of change in a fledgling business is referred to as a pivot. The real boss is the client, and entrepreneurs must listen to them. Minitrade initially planned to sell children’s clothing, but clients wanted to buy women’s clothing. The company’s structure is still the same, but its positioning has changed. It’s very important not to cling to your initial dream, but to dream of succeeding.” So there you have it: the key to success is to be open-minded.
“Google plays a key role,” stated Mr. Aubut. “It’s more than just the search engine that most consumers use to locate the items they want to buy; it’s also a set of tools that can give you a better understanding of your target clients if you want to grow your business. You’d do well to seek the expertise of someone who is knowledgeable about the concept of online referrals and skilled in using Google AdWords as well as Google Analytics, a free data analysis service that reports website traffic: the number of visitors to a site, the number of returning visitors and, most importantly, the number of buyers. Another indispensible tool is Google Trends, which will give you a better idea of trends and the potential scope of your market.
Listening to what clients are saying in social media and carefully reading their comments on product review sites is also necessary. “We always have to be tuned in to changes and trends and always be aware of what people are saying about our brands and products,” added Mr. Aubut.
That’s what Minitrade does. “We depend largely on word of mouth for promotion, so any negative comments on our Facebook page would be damaging,” noted Ms. Doucet. “Our inventory suppliers are also buyers, and we want them to be happy with our service.” In the beginning, the people who sent clothing to Minitrade received store credit to purchase other clothing. This policy was changed at their request, and now they can choose between a credit note and money. “Not everyone likes to buy online; some prefer to handle the merchandise before they buy, but they still want to sell us their clothing. We had to adapt,” concluded Ms. Doucet.
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