It's been a while since we've posted on here. There's been a lot happening at Junior Edition HQ this year, both personal and to do with the business, and at times (well, it felt like pretty much all the time) we have struggled with keeping up with all the online orders, as well as running the retail store and keeping on top of all the customer emails that come through on a daily basis. Blog posts have been the last thing on our minds.
A lot of our customers are surprised when they visit our store and meet us! We really are a small family business. I started Junior Edition four years ago, still working a full time job at the same time to pay our bills and fund nursery fees for a small toddler, and packing the small amount of orders that came through after work or at weekends from our spare bedroom. Fast forward two years later and the online business had grown so much we could no longer hold all the stock at our house, so I decided to take the plunge, gave up the day job and opened our store in Brighton, which had surprisingly good stock room space for a little shop in Brighton, and meant that we could run the online business from the shop. How hard could it be?
our lovely shop in the North Laine, Brighton
The online business continued to grow as we stocked more and more lovely brands, but we were completely self-funded and had no financial backing or back-up, apart from our own modest savings and money borrowed from my mum after dad passed away. We couldn't afford to take on loads of staff and so Mr. Junior Edition - aka Nathan - helped out at the shop at weekends, my mum helped pick orders during the week, and we recruited a very small team of just three people (all fellow parents) that were passionate about our brands and helped run the shop around school hours and school holidays.
inside the Junior Edition store, Autumn 2017
it's a family run business
Of course, nothing ever goes to plan, and a new baby happened at the same time as we opened the shop! I continued to run the shop right up until Sylvie was born, but it became clear that there would be very little I could do in a busy shop with a new baby. So Nathan came to work in the shop full time, and I worked from home running the website. It worked during quieter periods, but we really struggled during big brand launches and promotional periods to keep up with the volume of orders and it saddens me to admit but our customer service really took a hit during this time. You can't pack orders when you are busy replying to a barrage of emails, and you can't reply to emails when you are packing a ton of orders! We just didn't have enough people, our team could only do so many hours as they all had families to look after too and if I am honest, we couldn't cope and we have probably lost a lot of customer confidence in us and our store as a result.
online orders ready for collection from our store
The store was doing well, but if we wanted Junior Edition to succeed and continue as a viable online business we had to improve our customer service and dispatch times. After looking at loads of different options, and taking advice from our brands we decided to move the online business and stock to an independent distribution centre. They would be able to fulfil all our orders, and no matter how busy we got at launch all the orders would still go out same day. We found a really good one, based at Gatwick, with lots of experience and a stellar brand list, distributing for great brands already such as Tootsa, Scamp and Dude and Jimmy Choo. Everything needs barcoding, they said. No problem, we said. Except it was. So many of our brands are, like us, small family businesses working on a shoestring. So half our brands weren't barcoded. Some didn't quite get barcodes and used duplicate barcodes on different products each season. Some didn't barcode at all as it was too expensive to buy unique barcodes each season. And every single barcode had to be added to our website, even previous season stock, as we just hadn't bothered before. Why would we? We knew every single item we stocked so well, we didn't need a unique number to tell us that!
there have been boxes all over the shop for the majority of this year!
So we worked really hard preparing for what we thought was going to be a massive improvement to our business. Every single item got barcoded, stock checked and packed ready to go to the distribution centre, at the same time we were still packing orders and running the shop the best we could with a very small team and a baby. But we worked every hour we could, believing that this was the right thing we were doing for our customers. Someone else would pick our orders, freeing us up for helping our customers, both in the shop and online.
The move had to happen in two phases in order for us to be able to cope with it - and the amount of product that needed barcoding - firstly fashion, the core of our business, and then toys and homewares would move over a couple of weeks later as we would be able to quickly barcode those once we were no longer picking orders.
stock going into the distribution centre
So we moved ready for all the busy AW19 launches. Except things went really wrong and we weren't ready. The distribution centre worked on barcodes, and that was it. They didn't know the stock inside out, so if they couldn't find the product with the same barcode as on the order, the order didn't go out, or even worse, the wrong product went out. Promotional tote bags that came in packs of 10 with a barcode on the outside, were sent out in packs of 10 to the customer, meaning some customers received 10 free tote bags instead of 1, and others were left without and understandably disappointed. Some stock 'disappeared' and couldn't be found as it had duplicated barcodes on it and had been merged into another style. We spent so much time sorting out barcoding issues and trying to find 'missing' stock that we didn't have the time to barcode homewares and toys, so any orders containing those were delayed too. Both myself and Nathan regularly travelled to Gatwick to find stock so that orders could go out, and it was a full time job just apologising to our customers because orders were late. New season stock had to have barcodes and also these barcodes added to the website before the stock could even be checked in to the warehouse, in the case of small handmade products like the beautiful Soor Ploom collection this just was not possible, stock isn't barcoded. When orders didn't have any barcode issues orders were going out really quickly and the same day, which was great. But a small proportion of orders were causing us major headaches and it became evident very quickly that third party distribution was not for us. As my mum would say, if you want something doing well, do it yourself...
our brand new warehouse space for Junior Edition
So about 2 months in we started to look for a new warehouse, one that we could run ourselves. We had learnt from the distribution centre how to efficiently store the product for super fast picking and packing, and we certainly have learnt an awful lot about barcoding! Now, property in Brighton and 'down South' in general (and as a Northerner born and bred I really notice this) is not cheap. A small warehouse space in Brighton is at least double the price it is further North. But against all odds we found a brand new warehouse in the lovely harbour town of Newhaven, less than half an hour away from the shop. And by brand new we mean brand new! The unit, when we went to view it, hadn't even been divided up so was the size of an aircraft hanger rather than the compact and bijou 1722 square foot that we could just about afford. All the essentials for an online business - fibre optic broadband, electricity, even water - hadn't been connected yet. But it was in an enterprise zone, there were lots of similar small businesses and start-ups interested in moving into the area too, and we could see the potential and also the huge benefits in starting with a complete shell that we could completely transform and make our own.
inside the warehouse
So we put in an offer, and got the keys 6 weeks later at the end of October 2019. This was only possible after a modest inheritance and under very sad circumstances. I must tell you that all the above had been going on whilst Nathan had been dealing with the very sad loss of his beloved mum Carole following a long and distressing battle with terminal cancer. As a family business we don't have the backing of investors, and we certainly don't come from a privileged and wealthy background. But we do come from strong, hardworking families and I hope that we can honour parents that we both have lost recently, by building Junior Edition to become a successful, well-respected and ethical family business that we, our family and our daughters can be proud of. We don't want to be a large company beginning with A - insert your own interpretation of who we mean here, more than one springs to mind - but we do want to be proud of what we have achieved and for all the hard work that we have poured into Junior Edition to be worth it one day.
helping to build shelving units
we pay all our staff a living wage and do not believe in child labour ;)
shelving finally built
So the last two weeks has been a whirlwind of positive activity. We've installed energy efficient lighting, heating and insulation, a modest office space for the website and shelved out the entire warehouse so everything can be picked quickly and efficiently. All the stock has been moved from the distribution centre and the shop, reorganised, reboxed and even alphabetised for optimum picking. This was a mammoth task in itself, but it's great to finally get all our lovely product in its new home ready to go out to customers. More importantly, we feel in control again. And we feel as though we can at last achieve what we set out to do when we launched Junior Edition - provide the best selection of children's clothing with the best customer service on the market.
moving stock, again...
Going forward our new warehouse will be able to cope with new launches and promotions much better than our small team in the store! Now Sylvie is 18 months old I can be back in the shop full time, with a small team already in place to support with customer service and without the worry of packing orders! I'll leave all that in the capable hands of Nathan, who is in charge of the warehouse now. We are also recruiting a full time ecommerce coordinator, who will help with all things order related alongside Nathan. Our aim at the warehouse is to get 100% stock accuracy - this will be achieved through regular stock takes when we aren't packing orders or unpacking new deliveries, and to get orders out the same day up to 1pm regardless of how many we receive. We can then focus on customer service, making sure we are quick to respond to customer emails. Running our own warehouse also means that we can also help our customers with measurements, print placement or whatever else you care to ask! We'll also be looking at quicker shipping options to Europe and worldwide for our international customers, and next day express delivery will return for our UK customers.
stock finally in place at our warehouse
We'll also be looking at greener options for Junior Edition, and trying to make our business minimise its impact on the environment wherever we can. We use a fantastic local company called Paper Round who recycle all our waste and convert the small amount that can't be recycled into electricity. We will use green energy suppliers for our business premises in both Brighton and Newhaven. Single use plastics are banished from the warehouse and shop! We will also make the switch from our current recyclable mailing bags to fully compostable paper mailing bags for all orders in the new year.
I would like to thank all our lovely customers who stuck with us and supported us and continue to shop with us, your support to our little business means a lot and encouraged us to keep going when times were tough. I would also like to sincerely apologise to those customers who had a less than stellar experience with us when we were struggling and I hope perhaps you will consider shopping with us again in the future. We are ready for all your new orders, and I hope you will be pleased with our improvements!