A teddy-bear supplier to Killing Eve and Hollyoaks has managed to not only survive Covid-19 but also expand internationally during the pandemic.
Introduction to business
Started in 2001 in Colwyn Bay, Be My Bear specialises in teddy bear making kits, accessories, unique gifts and plush party products. The wholesale arm of the business, Be My Bear Wholesale, supplies kits, teddy bear clothing and accessories to a range of sectors, including retail, entertainment and corporate.
- £36,000 Conwy Council grant
- £6,000 Welsh Government ERF fund
- Brexit, Covid-19 and export advice
- Safeguarded 4 jobs
Business Wales Relationship Manager Svetlana Ross has been working with Be My Bear’s Director Pippa Thomas throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, helping the business secure a total of £42k investment through local authority and Welsh Government grants.
As a result, Be My Bear has not only been able to survive after the impacts of Brexit and Covid-19, but also expand nationally and internationally by building two new websites and securing a new distributor in Cyprus. Pippa will now engage with a Business Wales International Trade adviser to develop the export side of the business further.
We caught up with Pippa to find out more about what they did to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic:
What challenges did Covid-19 pose on the business?
We have spent almost a year redesigning our two websites www.bemybear.com and www.bemybearwholesale.com at a cost of £25,000, 100% funded by the business. The idea behind the website development was to tackle the impact of Brexit using the newest technology and functionality targeting a new retail and wholesale export market as well as continuing to consolidate and expand the UK market. We now have the added impact of the pandemic to contend with which has so far this year resulted in a loss of £300,000 worth of sales. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, the sites have taken longer to design and develop than we anticipated. Thankfully, we were finally able to launch them last month!
Now we need to develop a broad SEO campaign, capturing and using data based on analysing customer behaviour across both sites using keywords, rankings, conversion rates and optimisation to boost orders and revenue. We have to promote content published on the websites through social media, email marketing, SEO and even PPC campaigns. Digital marketing poses special challenges as competitive digital channels are proliferating rapidly, and digital marketers have to keep up with how these channels work, how consumers use them and how to use these channels to market products or services effectively.
In addition, it is becoming more difficult to capture consumers’ attention, because they are increasingly inundated with competing ads. This is a highly specialised field and we need to outsource this work to digital marketing experts who analyse the huge amount of data they capture and then exploit it in new marketing efforts. It takes between 3-6 months just to begin to get recognition and boost sales. This will form an on-going expense to retain ranking on the search engines and continue to grow the business.
How has our adviser helped you?
Svetlana helped me access a £6,000 Welsh Government Sector-Specific Grant, relating to the leisure supply chain. It was not a grant I thought I was eligible for as I assumed it was directly intended for companies supplying food etc. to the hospitality industry. However, we supply a large number of leisure clients including the Butlins resorts and the Greene King pub chain, so Svetlana suggested I submitted an application, which was successful!
This will fund almost three months’ of SEO costs, which is a significant help. Svetlana has been a wonderful support over the past extremely challenging couple of years with an extensive knowledge and always-practical assistance. And if she can’t help, she will find someone who can!
Future plans and ambitions
Ultimately, I expect sales to grow exponentially both in the UK and in Europe. If we can raise our marketplace profile, we will increase sales on both retail and wholesale sites. The pandemic has seen a massive increase in people shopping online and we expect to be able to target these consumers very effectively with enhanced digital marketing.
There are also huge opportunities in the wholesale market – we have supplied bears for a number of TV shows including X Factor, Hollyoaks, The Apprentice and most recently, the third series of Killing Eve and Baptiste 11, which is yet to screen. Improved marketing could boost our profile across the film industry, among others. The optimisation and digital promotion of the two new websites using the latest technology and functionality will allow me to target a new retail and wholesale export market as well as continuing to consolidate and expand the UK market. Sales growth will help offset some of the reduced margins caused by Brexit fears and the pandemic, which alone has cost me £300,000 of sales since March last year.
Automation of some of the new website elements will free up admin staff allowing them to focus on other aspects of business growth such as hot and cold direct sales calls. The SEO will help attract new customers while reducing advertising and IT costs helping us to remain competitive. As a result I hope not only to guarantee the 3 full-time and 2 part-time staff I employ, but with the projected sales boost with online retail now performing extremely well, I would anticipate increasing the hours for part-time staff and the possibility of creating a new position in the picking and packing department.
If you want to read more success stories of how Business Wales has helped other people like you to start or grow their businesses, visit https://businesswales.gov.wales/case-studies or follow @_businesswales / @_busnescymru on Twitter.