We talked to Jim Wilson about how Born Gifted is a one-stop, online baby gift shop offering a treasure trove of presents and toys for young children and their parents and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jim Wilson: Thank you for asking. We are all coping well. I did succumb to Covid in May and was out of action for two weeks (feeling very unwell), but apart from that, it hasn’t impacted too severely on family life. My children enjoyed their stint of home-schooling (as did I, strangely), but I think generally we have all had enough now and look forward to things going back to normal sometime next year.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Born Gifted?
Jim Wilson: I gave up my day job working in scientific research back in 2002 and decided to do something completely different. I had a yearning to be my boss, and E-commerce was still in its infancy, so it seemed like a good idea to get involved, and so Born Gifted was ‘born.’
How does Born Gifted innovate?
Jim Wilson: I suppose you could argue that Born Gifted introduced the Etsy and NOTH business model of retailing long before those websites existed. We have always concentrated on selling bespoke, personalized gifts from independent designers in the UK. We work with many engravers, jewelers, ceramicists, embroiderers, printers, and toymakers throughout the UK, ranging from one-person, table-top enterprises to large organizations with factories at their disposal.
This approach has always given us an ‘edge’ over more traditional online retailers such as Amazon. We are always on the lookout for new and innovative products that we think will interest our customers. We work closely with our suppliers to continually develop exclusive new designs.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jim Wilson: The answer is ups and downs! Initially, business slowed drastically, notably between April and August, because occasions such as Christenings, Communions, and Weddings were canceled. As we supply gifts for those occasions, our sales subsequently took a nose-dive. On the plus side, October to December this year has recorded sales months for us, which has more than made up for a quieter period. I suppose, like a lot of online businesses, Lockdown helped us in the run-up to Christmas.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jim Wilson: Earlier on in the Pandemic, when I realized that our business would be negatively impacted, I did consider taking advantage of the furlough scheme. However, this would have meant temporarily closing the website down, which I was uncomfortable doing (our repeat customers rely on us, and I don’t like letting people down), so I decided that Born Gifted would grit their teeth and carry on regardless!
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Jim Wilson: I believe any form of exercise is the best cure; I have a dog and an extended, brisk walk goes a long way to helping relieve stress and the occasional glass of wine, of course!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jim Wilson: Since the growth of online retail and the availability of ‘off-the-shelf’ e-commerce websites, our competitors are too numerous to list nowadays. When we first started-up, Amazon was our main competitor, believe it or not. However, we consider ourselves well established now (18 years is an age in e-commerce!) We continue to adapt and improve our website front end and back end systems, with another face-list planned for next year. We rely a lot on repeat business (which we get a lot of). Surprisingly, many of our customers are very loyal even when faced with the temptation of the eCommerce behemoths who dominate online retail.
Many customers still prefer the ‘old-school’ customer service you get from a smaller business – we make it easy for customers to email us and send them a friendly reply within the hour. The most important thing is to keep the website fresh with new and exciting products and always be on the lookout for new designers to work with.
Your final thoughts?
Jim Wilson:2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, but more so, I think, for the high-street, which is a real shame for all those facing unemployment following the collapse of some of the UK’s biggest stores. It will be interesting to see how the high street adapts to this changing world or will ever fully recover.
Many of my recent customers were online-shopping ‘virgins’ before the Pandemic; but are now ‘converts’ – a fact which might make it even harder for ‘bricks and mortar’ shops to re-establish themselves in a post-Covid world.
Born Gifted looks forward positively to 2021 in terms of our business, but more importantly, for the world in general.