They figured right. From a staff of five, five years ago, Hoselink has grown its headcount to 45 at last count, with more than 1 million Aussie backyards fitted with one of its ingenious anti-burst hose fixtures.
Like most business success stories, Hoselink’s is as much about overcoming challenges and adversity as it is about good management and good fortune. Given neither Tim nor Ben had done anything like this before, getting from the concept phase to actual manufacturing, sales and distribution was a daunting prospect. In addition, they didn’t like what they were
hearing from the various retailers and distributors, all of which were after a hefty click of the ticket to carry the product.
So, it was decided that Hoselink would sell direct to the customer.
At this point, another Aussie success story enters the picture: Brisbane-based e-commerce business, Neto. From similarly humble beginnings, the company has established itself as the only Australian-made e-commerce platform with a fully-integrated sales, supply, and secure payments gateway, that also connects with the country’s major shipping companies.
“Neto has been fantastic for the business,” says Tim’s son, Ben Kierath, who is also Hoselink’s general manager.
Of the many features available on the platform, one that has been especially effective for the company is Neto’s ability to seamlessly integrate the physical and online words. For instance, when the company is exhibiting at trade shows, customer orders can be captured via the integrated point of sale (POS) and processed straight through the company’s e-commerce back-end, which handles all of the stock and shipping matters quietly in the background without the company having to do anything.
“It provides for a great deal of flexibility in terms of what you do at the back-end,” Ben notes. In particular, he cites the capability to still accept and process orders when there is no internet connection. In the early days of the business, trade show and event staff would be forced to scribble down names and orders on little pieces of paper to then enter manually once back at the hotel. Worse still, loss of connection would also often result in serious disruption and loss of sales. Now, orders simply sync back to Hoselink’s database once connection resumes.
Also important for Hoselink is how Neto automates many of the mundane admin tasks; such as labelling, picking and packing. This removes time-consuming manual administration, reducing human error, and ultimately leaving staff free to focus on what they do best. There are multiple payment options too, including Paypal, eWay, Stripe and Braintree, as well as pay-later options including AfterPay and ZipPay.
Hoselink also needs a platform that can scale with the business. When they started out in 2012, no one could have predicted they’d end up with a customer-database of 500,000 accounts, and growing. So how to keep them all happy?
Making deliveries on time and offering flexible payment options are no longer points of differentiation for e-commerce companies. They’re baseline consumer expectations. Hoselink knew it had to do better, determined to be more than just an online sales portal. It understood the importance of building enduring relationships with its customers – no matter how many – to inspire loyalty and increase sales.
“Neto’s customer-centric features really delivered a lot of value for us,” Ben says. Thanks to the platform’s ‘recommendation’ feature, Hoselink is able to alert customers to other items they may be interested in based on their buying histories and personal information. These detailed customer records have become a critical asset for the company as it tries to create more meaningful engagement with its customers and ultimately create better experiences for them.
Ben sees data analytics playing an important role in the future success of Hoselink as it tries to manage growing customer numbers, expanding inventories and new products. “We really want to get better at analysing data and Neto’s inbuilt customer-reporting function means we can quickly and easily extract powerful insights that simply would not have been possible a few years back.”
Neto also lets users easily create and manage loyalty programs, while offering a range of different backgrounds and design templates to help brands deliver more personalised customer experiences. Another important feature is being able to collect information on different products – say, from an online sales catalogue – and to then customise different presentations and reports for sales or other activities.
Ben says Hoselink is also starting to play with Neto’s powerful inventory-management features, creating a better integration between the warehouse and sales systems. This reduces the risk of oversupply and the financial management implications that follow. For example, companies that lack a clear view of their sales and other business operations are often forced to maintain stock at certain levels just in case it’s needed. This, of course, means funds are tied up that might otherwise be put to better use.
Through its partnership with Neto, Hoselink has come to appreciate one of the most important characteristics of an e-commerce platform – the ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds.
No matter how many hits your website receives, no matter how many units you manage to sell online, ultimately there is a real customer looking for a real solution to a real problem. Solving that issue for them, every time, requires understanding who they are, not just as customers, but also as people.