Profile: Joe Button

When Modi Song and Melissa Lee were working in corporate finance, one of the tricks of the trade was to pick up all your tailor-made shirts on a trip to Hong Kong or Singapore. Recognizing that not everyone has that opportunity, the pair decided to set up Joe Button, an online store where you can customise your own shirt online and then have it shipped to your door.

What was the biggest challenge you had when starting out?

We spent a lot of time and resources looking for [a supplier] that not only had the reputation in shirt-making, but also one who had the capacity and expertise to help us source premium fabrics from Europe and was willing to partner with us for the long-term. As our supplier also helped us drop-ship our products directly to the customer, we spent a great deal of time testing our logistics and making sure that the process was managed as efficiently as possible with the resources at hand.

How important is your website to the business?

As the website is essentially our storefront, it was extremely important for us to build a site with usability features that set it apart from existing stores. We focused very heavily on user interface and customer experience because we want customers to not only transact on our site but also to have a bit of fun designing their shirts.

Our blog also gets a lot of traffic because it addresses a lot of style-related issues that our customers have. For example, a lot of men don’t know which tie goes with which shirt or which collar style is best for their face shape. We even post creative ideas for your old shirts, like making cushion covers.

How successful has the live chat box on your website been?

A lot of new online shoppers, especially in Australia, are still used to having someone help them when they’re shopping, and the live chat allows us to have the web 2.0 version of a sales assistant. We also get some customers who just want a couple of questions answered before they start browsing and, with the live chat box, we’re able to answer those questions right away and keep these customers on the site.

How did you grow the traffic to your website?

We actually wanted to start with a soft launch but one of the things we did was enlist a group of corporate ambassadors through the contacts we’d made during our years in finance. We established an incentive program where our ambassadors were asked to spread the word to their colleagues and were rewarded for each sale they introduced. This worked because it gave an incentive for our ambassadors to tell their friends about Joe Button, but more importantly, it was hitting our core demographic of office workers.

If you were starting up from scratch all over again, what mistakes would you avoid making?

As two young women, we were a bit hesitant to ask for help. We thought we could do everything ourselves and didn’t think anyone would want to talk to us without a product and just a fleeting idea. We’ve come to realize that the entrepreneurial community, even just in Sydney, is a very close-knit group and there are some very experienced and influential people who are willing to help. Everyone’s an expert at something, and when you’re just starting out you need as much advice and knowledge as you can get so that you can learn from other people’s mistakes.

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