Young online entrepreneur Dean Ramler has flagged an ambitious global growth target after being recognised at the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards, taking out the technology category for the southern region.
Ramler, aged 30, founded online furniture store Milan Direct in 2007 with longtime friend and tech gun Ruslan Kogan. The business sells European designs, made in China, via the web.
Milan Direct is now Australia’s largest online-only retailer, with revenue of $12 million. It has already expanded to the United Kingdom, with plans to launch in Europe this year, followed by the United States and Asia.
In addition to heading up Milan Direct, Ramler is also a mentor for StartupSmart.
Last night, Ramler was one of several entrepreneurs recognised at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards. He was recognised for his achievements in technology.
“When they called me up on stage, they spoke about our innovative business model. We’re the first [Australian] company to sell furniture purely online,” Ramler told StartupSmart.
“Also my passion for the business… My vision and our vision for Milan Direct moving forward. We see it as a global leader in the online furniture market.”
According to Ramler, Milan Direct has put in place a growth strategy that will be carried out as a “two-pronged attack” – the global expansion of the business alongside its Australian expansion.
“We pride ourselves on making decisions based on fact. We use a lot of free tools that Google provides to help our decision-making, such as Google Analytics,” he says.
“We use that to see where in the world is demand for our product so we know exactly which are the next 10 countries we will expand to.”
“We’re about to launch a new website, which will have functionality to easily add countries in the backend, which will help us going into new markets.”
Ramler says while Milan Direct is experiencing “massive” growth in Australia, doubling its business in the last 12 months, the UK is also becoming an increasingly lucrative market.
“The UK market is really struggling but Milan Direct is still succeeding because when times are tough, people are going to become conservative, which means they shop around more,” he says.
“Milan Direct wins because our products are of value, so it thrives in tough market conditions.”
Ramler points out the average purchase on Milan Direct is $700, so the business takes extra steps to ensure consumers feel comfortable throughout the entire buying process.
“We do that by providing really great photos from all angles, product descriptions, and videos of our best-selling products,” he says.
“We have customer reviews and testimonials on the product page, and back that up with a seven-day money back guarantee and a warranty.”
“Live chat is also a great feature. We find that live chat [helps to] assure our customers there is no risk in purchasing from us.”
Ramler says given the nature of online retail, passion is paramount.
“Don’t go into business to make money. Go into business to add value and solve a problem for customers. If you don’t have that passion, customers can see through that I believe.”