If you’re selling a well-crafted product, it makes sense to ensure your sales channels reflect the quality of that product.
For Sarah Wilkinson, founder of Melbourne-based fashion and jewellery label SanCerre, it took time until she got this right, but the lessons she learned equipped her well for the future.
The idea for SanCerre came about in 2006 when Wilkinson ventured overseas seeking inspiration, which she found in the French village of Sancerre, hence the name of her business.
Wilkinson met a woman who gave her a St Christopher medallion for good luck, which she later used to make a bracelet. This was how SanCerre was born.
“I couldn’t really find any jewellery that I liked at the time so set about making my own,” Wilkinson says.
“Everyone kept asking me where I got my bracelets from, so I started making them for just a few stores initially and it grew from there.”
However, Wilkinson failed to develop an appropriate sales plan, which almost damaged her brand beyond repair.
“I came from a science background. I didn’t have any business knowledge or design knowledge… I was practising as a naturopath up in Queensland,” she says.
“I decided to leave my job and do this [business] full-time. But I was so desperate for sales – I thought they were the only way to grow the business.”
“I was putting my stuff in the wrong shops and aligning myself with really bad accounts that were slow to pay.”
“I didn’t have a formal credit application process. I was dropping stuff off in good faith, hoping they would pay.”
According to Wilkinson, it took a while to rectify the problem – four years in fact.
“I thought the best place for our product was fashion stores – boutiques or men’s fashion stores. I tended to aim for places like that instead of gift stores,” she says.
“It’s a gift product, not really a high fashion product, so I was looking at the wrong market to start with. Also, [the initial stores I chose] were not the right brand fit for us.”
“Our products were placed alongside really cheap and nasty products, which dragged down the brand a bit.”
“We made that mistake with our first trade fair as well, selling alongside cheap imports. People couldn’t understand the pricing, compared to what they were seeing either side of us.”
Wilkinson says she finally decided to change tack when some of the stores she was using started to close down.
“Looking at why they were closing down, they were stocking the same thing as the person down the street. It was a good wake-up call,” she says.
Wilkinson decided to enlist the help of local agents to ensure her products would be in the best hands possible.
“Being a Victoria-based company, someone from rural Queensland would call us [about stock] and I’d say yes,” she says.
“Now we have local agents in place who identify the wrong areas, who doesn’t pay and who’s inclined to ‘steal’ stuff from other stores.”
“The agents we have now have really helped us in finding the right branding fit.”
On the back of SanCerre’s jewellery success, Wilkinson introduced a clothing range in 2011.
The business employs eight staff in Australia and about 10 staff in Indonesia, which is where the SanCerre clothing is made. The jewellery continues to be made in Melbourne.
With more than 250 stockists across Australia and New Zealand, SanCerre aims to increase revenue by at least 20% every year.
Wilkinson says it’s important to have a very clear idea about who you want to stock with.
“Economically, things are so tough now, so a lot of it comes down to how people pay, which is a sad truth. It’s not the way I’d love my business to run,” she says.
“Obviously, you also need to consider how they do their orders, and whether the product will get a good story and is merchandised well.”