Fashion icon, entrepreneur, influencer – these are all words that come to mind when thinking of Showpo’s founder and CEO, Jane Lu. However, despite her business acumen and booming fashion empire, she’s also surprisingly modest and relatable.
In eight short years, Lu has gone from corporate dropout to a recognisable face in the online retail scene. A regular at networking events, winner of more than a dozen awards, and a role model for aspiring female entrepreneurs, it’s hard to have a conversation about Australia’s e-commerce industry without referencing Lu.
But, how did she take her fashion brand from a grungy suburban garage to the multi-million dollar business it is today?
Employee turned entrepreneur: the Jane Lu story
It’s a much-told story; a young corporate worker with potential becomes dissatisfied with her career and embarks on an adventure of her own. But, unlike so many failed businesses before her, Lu was able to identify a gap in the retail market and make it her own. In this exclusive Q&A, she tells us how she took a simple concept and turned it into a profitable business.
Lu talks to Power Retail about the evolution of her brand, Showpo.
When you first started your business, what did you imagine the brand would look like in 2018?
“I had no idea! And honestly, I’m glad I didn’t. I think had I had the vision of where I wanted it to be now; I would’ve been so much more deflated by each setback,” she says. “Had I been dreaming about being Australia’s Online Retailer of the Year, and in the beautiful office I have now, when I was in my parents’ garage still figuring out why I can’t get a product to upload on the website I built myself, and wondering how to make sales grow, I may have given up because it just seemed too big of a feat.”
When you announced your new 4,700sqm warehouse, you said that if you knew how big the company would get, you might not have started it. What made you feel this way?
“It’s that whole, don’t bite off more than you can chew mentality. It’s important to have goals, but for me, it’s always been small incremental goals that have pushed me to where I am today.
Showpo’s new 4,500sqm warehouse.
“I think envisioning Showpo as it is now, would have felt unattainable to this broke girl and I may have opted out before we had the chance to show what we’re made of.”
When you made the decision to close your physical shopfronts, how did you plan to tackle the e-commerce industry?
“We launched first with the online store and then slowly grew to three shopfronts within two years. The light bulb moment to close the stores down was when we compared the effort it would be to double online sales, compared to that of doubling our bricks-and-mortar sales, we knew we needed to go all in with online.”
Can you tell us a little about your e-commerce strategy?
“Our e-commerce strategy has been something we’ve been constantly testing and iterating from the start,” Lu explains.
“Ultimately it’s about building a strong brand, having great products and providing the best user experience possible to our customers. What’s important for us at this stage of the business is finding the right people to bring these strategies to fruition.”
Given the growing popularity of omnichannel shopping, will Showpo ever look at re-establishing its physical presence?
“I can’t see a permanent shopfront anywhere in the near horizon, but can definitely see the benefits of a pop-up strategy that would totally be marketing play, rather than a sales channel.”
How does your new warehouse and fulfilment centre fit into your overarching strategy?
Showpo’s new warehouse can store $1 million worth of stock.
“Our new warehouse
gives us more control of our supply chain, which allows us to provide better customer service. In the past, using a third party logistics company was fantastic in that it allowed us to scale for growth, but we’re now at a size where it’s imperative to our operations have full control of fulfilment and logistics in Australia.”
You’ve scaled your business quite quickly, what do you think has been the biggest contributor to your brand’s success and your ability to grow its size in such a short amount of time?
“I think it’s mostly through finding the right people that I can trust with the business. The right people for Showpo are those that are right brain and left brain thinkers, those that are creative and innovative but also data-driven. So we think outside the box but can back our decisions with numbers.”
What role does your workplace culture play in the success of your business?
“Our company culture is why I love coming to work every day. I think people join companies for their great brand (so having a great culture has been great for recruitment) and people stay for good managers (which means we can retain the brilliant people we’ve hired).”
Since it’s your eighth birthday, can you identify one big success/step forward for your business that you’ve achieved each year since the company’s inception?
“Year 1 – Floundering and not giving up
Year 2 – Realising the power of Facebook and social media
Year 3 – Our 2IC/GM joined as my partner in crime to help me grow the business
Year 4 – Our 3IC/Head of Product joining, which led to great product expansion, diversification and designing our own unique products
Year 5 – Hiring more great c-suites and experts to join our team
Year 6 – International expansion
Year 7 – Growing our focus on building our brand identity
Year 8 – Bringing our logistics and fulfilment in house.”
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would change or do differently?
“I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m a pretty stubborn person, so if I didn’t make a mistake earlier on, then I would end up making it later on, with more at stake,” she says.
“Probably the most mistakes I’ve made have been in the realm of HR, but I’ve had to learn this for myself. For example, not letting people go quick enough, hiring the wrong person out of desperation, not understanding the importance that I/Showpo plays in my staff’s career progression, giving out too senior of a title before a person is ready… honestly, I could write a book about this because there’s so many things I’ve done wrong and learnt about HR over the past eight years.
What advice do you have for any other retailers looking to scale their small businesses online?
“Find great people you can trust, so you can work more on the business, rather than in the business, so you can focus on growing your business.
“Networking and speaking to other like-minded people in the industry (business owners and service providers) has really helped me immensely. You get to a point where you can’t just Google or find answers in a book, so you need to speak to people who have been there and done that, or can help find that person for you.”
Showpo’s Plans for the Future
According to Lu, Showpo is constantly evolving to meet the needs of consumers and also to keep up with Australia’s fast-paced e-commerce scene.
Moving forward, she says product diversification, international expansion and improved user experiences are all on the table.
“The online retail space is a really exciting one to be in. There’s a lot of competition, which means you need to constantly innovate and take risks, which is what we love.”
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