Living on a small island in the Hebrides might seem like a significant barrier to setting up a small business. But thanks to the power of online retail, Karen Riddick was able to start up Second Nature – selling Fairtrade home furnishings – and leave her job of 16 years after immediate success.
“Eight years ago, I was working at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and ran a Fairtrade B&B,” says Karen. “I bought all my furnishings from a wholesaler and found I had some left over; so I started to put them up for sale online, working on my own website and then launching on Amazon in 2011. That’s when sales started to really grow.”
Karen now lives in rural Dumfries and runs the business from her home. The launch of Second Nature was inspired by her passion for Fairtrade products; half the products she sells are sourced this way and she plans to eventually switch all her sourcing to Fairtrade.
Like other forward-thinking business owners, Karen started using Amazon Marketplace to extend her online sales reach.
Amazon Marketplace enables independent businesses to sell products through the Amazon website to millions of potential customers around the world.
Karen now exports homeware products around Europe and generates an annual turnover of £350,000 – with Amazon Marketplace accounting for 50 per cent of her sales.
Karen initially fulfilled orders and handled customer service herself, but as demand for her products grew she started using Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) to help manage this growth. With FBA, Amazon stores, picks, packs and delivers items on behalf of tens of thousands of UK small businesses, as well as handling customer service in local languages when exporting abroad.
This enables Karen to concentrate on what she does best – finding and developing new products and marketing them to potential customers. Over half of all units stocked in Amazon’s UK fulfilment centres are FBA products from Marketplace sellers such as Second Nature.
Shifting to FBA also allowed Karen’s husband to stay in his career in the fire service – instead of having to leave his job to help with packaging orders – and Karen didn’t need to employ extra staff or rent storage space at an additional cost to her business.
“We are a small family business and outsourcing the storing, picking, packing and customer service to Amazon has freed up our time to seek new supplies and improve our product range,” she says.
“We now sell eight times more than we used to after moving to FBA. Part of this is because of increased product range, but also because it makes our products eligible for Prime. Going with FBA has definitely been the main driver of our growth. We’re now part of Amazon’s European Fulfilment Network and, just last month, a third of our Amazon sales were made to customers across Europe.”
Karen hopes other Scottish SMEs, particularly in rural parts of the country, will consider using e-commerce to grow their organisations.
“The power of the internet means that if you run an online e-commerce business it doesn't really matter where you live. It’s levelled the playing field for smaller businesses like mine.
"When I first started this business, I lived on Islay, a remote island off the west coast of Scotland. It was a revelation to know that you don't have to move location to have an online business. The opportunities provided by the likes of Amazon Marketplace can help to address some of the problems facing rural economies.”