Q&A: How I went from accounting to online retailing

Do you dream of starting your own online business? Polly Green spent years advising other businesses on strategy before she swapped spreadsheets for warehouses and payment gateways. Today Green Ant Toys ships unique toys all over Australia – in this Q&A we find out what she has learnt in her first three years in e-commerce.

Polly Green is the co-founder and director of independent online toy business Green Ant Toys. Despite having never worked in online retailing, she was determined to put financial and accounting experience to good use in her own business. She explains how Green Ant Toys got off the ground, what she’s learnt about an e-commerce start-up and shares some tips for other aspirant online entrepreneurs.

1. Why did you start Green Ant Toys?

I had wanted to run my own business for some time. At first I was looking for a business to buy, as I was scared of a start-up. But I couldn’t find any businesses that were good enough to buy, so I decided to invest my money into a start-up instead. A start-up is risky, and it is a steep learning curve.

2. When did you start Green Ant Toys and what was your business background?

The business started in 2012. Previously, I was a business accountant – I had worked mainly as a management accountant, so I knew about business analysis. Understanding the numbers is very important. I had been advising other businesses for so long that I wanted to have a go at doing it myself.

3. Did you have previous experience in online or toy retailing?

No. When my husband and I started looking for a business to buy, we said it could have been anything – I had an open mind. Some of the businesses that we had looked at were toy distributors, which I found interesting. I saw I could create a business model around that and be an online retailer.

4. How did you find the experience of starting a new online business, having not worked in the industry before?

It has been fairly challenging, but I like challenges. I learn quickly. We had to work at the business model, buy all the products, buy a warehouse, fit it out and learn about importing. I had no experience with warehousing, but luckily my husband did. We have complementary skills.

5. How did you approach building your website?

I researched web developers by looking at websites and seeing what I liked in other online retailers. We went with the Web Showroom because they had a style that I liked. When I saw the final site, it was even better than I had envisioned.

6. Why did you choose SecurePay?

The Web Showroom discussed payment gateways with me, and they recommended SecurePay. I also researched other gateways and looked at the gateway offered by my bank. SecurePay’s fees were better, and the way it can be built seamlessly into a website was also a positive. We wanted everything to do with checkout and payment to be as easy as possible, as it is a really important part of the online sales process.

7. How do you handle marketing Green Ant Toys?

We did a lot of broad-based marketing when we launched, but now it is more about word of mouth, AdWords and social media. When we started up, we did a mail-out with Australia Post with a voucher. We have also advertised on websites such as Kidspot. We go to community events and sponsor school newsletters – it is good to have a local presence. In addition, we sell on eBay. It increases your audience, plus you only pay a store fee – and then you only pay if you make a sale. It doesn’t involve a lot of up-front costs, and you can get your name out there.

8. Who do you use for deliveries?

We use Australia Post eParcel – it is the only network that covers the whole of the Australian market. They also have a simple solution if someone is not home – the package gets taken to the post office. We do lots of business in country areas – internet shopping has opened things up for people in those areas, and they can now get whatever they want.

9. Why did you opt for flat-rate delivery?

We do flat-rate postage, as it makes it easier for the consumer – they know exactly how much postage is going to cost them, otherwise they have to wait until they get to the check-out to see what the postage is. I find postage widgets really annoying, so that wasn’t an option. We offer fixed postage per order rather than per product. Hopefully, people will understand they get a discount on postage for ordering more. Some of our products are so large that we can’t charge a flat rate on those, so we have a drop-down menu on those products.

10. Who are your competitors?

Our main competitors are small independent retailers and other online retailers. We try not to be in competition with the big retailers. We said that if we were going to do toys, we weren’t going to do what the big retailers do. A lot of them have the same stock and it can be very boring. They have a lower cost base and they import more than us, so it is difficult to compete with them. Generally, when we pick a product, we see if the department stores stock it – if they do, it’s a real negative for us.

11. What is your top tip for other people who are thinking of starting an online retail business?

My top tip is look for a niche – look at what other people are doing and then do something different. Make sure you have a market benefit. Our business model for Green Ant Toys was to look for a product that we could import and was not available or in every other store. We offer a different product line and very reasonable prices, because we are importing directly ourselves.

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