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New markets and new communities

A specialist retailer servicing a niche market might not be viable if it could only access customers in a local neighbourhood during opening hours.
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BRUCE BILLSON: Today, we are joined by an entrepreneur who’s not only created a special business that walks all over the idea of a local business, but who delights customers well beyond what was once thought as a market for scarves. We all know of the local fashion store and customers needing to make choices from a limited stock range, but yours is a business that I don’t think could ever be described as local or limited. So, Sonya, how have you created a viable global enterprise from an idea or inspiration?
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SONYA MICHELE: Well, it’s been a journey, I suppose. First and foremost, it was very much about telling the story about Dog & Boy, and them telling those stories through design. And customers are moving beyond just wanting to buy a product. They are actually looking to buy into a brand and buy that particular story. So they are looking for those brands and those things that are niche, and that are simple, but a little bit different–that aren’t widely available and that you see everywhere. I think with e-commerce these days, things have become closer to people. So they are far more convenient regardless of where the merchant might be, or where the customer might be.
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So they can get that sought-after item, whether it be in the street nextdoor, or whether it be across the other side of the world. So e-commerce has provided that.
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BRUCE BILLSON: So this idea of local, you’ve really redefined that for your business. It’s not a proximity, physically. It’s a connectedness, a sense of community with your customers.
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SONYA MICHELE: Very much so. And social media and e-commerce has provided a wonderful platform for us to tell our story and to connect with our customers. And be they wholesale, or be they retail– direct to consumer– we’ve been able to do that through those particular channels.
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BRUCE BILLSON: And it’s culturally very mobile. Your audience is international.
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SONYA MICHELE: Yeah.
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BRUCE BILLSON: Your customers are in all corners of the world. An autumnal day in Melbourne brings out certain hues and moments quite different from other parts of the world, but your scarves are highly prized in those markets as well. How do you span that cultural diversity around your brand?
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SONYA MICHELE: Well, we’re not a trend-driven brand, so we’re not you know, not the sort of thing well, this is what’s happening in New York Fashion Week or Paris Fashion Week. We’re not driven by those trends. We are driven purely by a timeless type of design. Consumers are going beyond simply these trends that keep getting pushed out by the fashion houses and off the catwalks each season. And they want something that’s a bit different. They want to connect to a brand, and they want to be able to wear out with something now rather than wait for the whole season to come through. The stories as well with Dog & Boy– it doesn’t matter what country, city you’re in.
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They resonate regardless of that culture. So these simple moments that we tell through our design go to all corners of the world. They still relate to people. So that’s why, globally, it still is a brand that resonates with people.
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BRUCE BILLSON: A beautiful tactile product, but that touch and feel of it, a little bit difficult on an e-commerce platform that you’ve achieve–
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SONYA MICHELE: It is, yeah.
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BRUCE BILLSON: –through the storytelling and the vividness around the design motivations. Share with us how you’ve done that and how, then the customers give back from their own storytelling.
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SONYA MICHELE: People connect with the product through that story. So for them, it becomes an emotional purchase and a connection rather than simply just transactional. So it does, and they, in turn, share their stories and go, yes, I relate to that. That is something that, for me, I can feel that product. And when I wear that product, that’s how it makes me feel.
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BRUCE BILLSON: So where do you see Dog & Boy going into the future? Has the vision been reaffirmed or have you got some adjustments to your strategy and what you imagine the business would be from where it began?
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SONYA MICHELE: Well, for Dog & Boy, we are just going at a great rate of knots. Our export sale continue to grow. So they’re at about 10% and they are already trending upwards for this year as well. We expect that to double. That is supported by continual growth within the domestic market as well. And with our customers, it is just really, again, continuing to be authentic and genuine and still connecting to them via the storytelling.
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BRUCE BILLSON: Sonya, thank you for your time today.
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SONYA MICHELE: Thanks so much, Bruce.
A specialist retailer servicing a niche market might not be viable if it could only access customers in a local neighbourhood during opening hours.
There was a time when you mentioned a small business you instinctively thought it was a local business. That’s not the case these days due to digital technologies, as we’ve learnt from some of the case studies in week 1.
A new business, a growing business, is likely to be driven by a vision that goes well beyond what we once thought was a local market. Many small business owners know that to stay viable they need to access new markets and develop new communities.
One way of doing this is through storytelling, as Sonya shared in the video. Sonya has developed a product that doesn’t rely on local custom, and in this regard it doesn’t matter whether her customers are in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada or any other part of the world.
This wouldn’t be possible without digital engagement.

Your task

Thinking about your SME, what stories might you tell to engage existing and potential customers from around the globe? How important is digital engagement to your capacity to seek out new markets and form new communities?
In the comments, discuss how you’d engage with and support customers’ (new and existing) shared interests.
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SMEs and Digital Engagement

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