In August 2021 our business, Vilo Eyewear (and third baby) cracked four years! Here are six lessons we've learnt along the bumpy road and want to share with our customers and other small business owners.
1. Develop a product you're proud of.
Vilo began with a problem. There were no eco-conscious, i.e. wooden sunglasses, available in Australasia that were truly sustainable but affordable. While pretty early on we set on styles we loved and would wear, finding a team to help produce them would be more of a challenge. We went through three suppliers before finding our amazing team. The first few suppliers produced sunnies that were clunky and heavy, the next were too thin and brittle, the next had issues with craftsmen work conditions and well being. The sunglasses we produce today are lightweight and slick, but laminated with multiple layers of thin strong wood so they are super durable. Our timber is also Forest Stewardship Council approved, ensuring sustainable forestry practices and work conditions. You can't sell a product you aren't in love with, a product you're not proud of. It will keep you awake at night worrying you're ripping off your customers and the planet. If you don't believe in your product, no- one else will.
2. Increase your Social Media presence.
For a kiwi and a British born kiwi, putting yourself 'out there' in front of the world was cringe cripplingly awkward. We initially shied away from social media. Showcasing instead photos of our beautiful sunglasses with vague inspirational quotes. We didn't want our brand to appear small or people to know we have buck teeth. We soon learned that customers and retailers are buying from small businesses because they want to support local business and know the pair behind it. Putting ourselves out there has been a way to get to know our fabulous customers and what they need from our brand. Customers are more likely to support you if they know you and what your business stands for.
This also ties in with being authentic. We've created a brand true to who we are, adventure loving wood nerds. You can't sell a brand or product you don't understand or believe in. Customers will quickly see right through that.
3. Create a gold customer experience.
Vilo customers are the whole reason for our business. We've made it our mission to provide a valuable customer experience the whole way through. Our packaging is home compostable (this is important to us and the majority who support us) and we make an awkward personal video for every customer, personally thanking them for their purchase. Accidents happen so if our sunnies don't survive a mountain bike crash or an exuberant toddler, we offer 40% off a replacement pair. How can you provide not just a good, but an amazing customer experience? Small businesses can lead the way in customer services because the average person has been treated so badly by the big corporates, they're genuinely surprised when you answer an email quickly or receive a personalised video. It tickles us pink when customers repeat order and better yet refer a friend! That's the highest compliment.
4. Consult Experts
We tried our own accounting the first year of Vilo and it was muddled at best...a complete disaster at worst! We found a wonderful account who also had an e-commerce background to help us with business growth and streamlining our systems. The hard part is finding experts you can trust and we still get stung sometimes but when you find them, they're worth their weight in gold.
5. Hang with other small business owners
This sort of moves on from consulting experts. Hanging out with other small business owners provides great encouragement as well as creative ideas. You can be in a business funk but talking to other creatives and business owners can provide those light bulb moments or make you realise you've actually come quite far, sharing lessons you've learnt the hard way. Check out our closest business buddies at
6. Try new things
Some new ventures flopped. Check out an ad campaign we toyed with
and others went gang busters like joining the kiwi community 'Chooice' or the Christmas Market at Coatesville.
Small businesses have the luxury of trial and error. Flops aren't that consequential and successes produce big outcomes. That after all...is half the fun right?