Yuppiechef and the secret recipe to ecommerce success
by Herman Manson (@marklives) In the entrance hall to the offices of Yuppiechef, the online retailer of high-end kitchen goods, are emblazoned the names of its first two hundred customers. It took the company, founded by Andrew Smith and Shane Dryden in late 2006, a year to reach that number, but today the business ships between 100 and 500 deliveries a day worth on average R1000 per box.
The business is growing rapidly, up from 7 people in January 2011 to 29 today, as is its office space – it took a second unit in its office park in June last year and a third earlier 2012. It’s more than doubling in size year-on year and doesn’t expect this growth rate to decline anytime soon. It sells a range of 3500 products and 71 brands and has its own warehouse facility at the back of its offices in Cape Town.
Yuppiechef is known for its obsession with customer service, every customer gets a hand written card with every order they make, and if you had purchased at Yuppiechef before, the card writing duty will fall to the rep, where possible, that wrote that first card to you.
Goods are carefully wrapped and a customer service team is tasked with, in the words of marketing manager and business partner Paul Galatis, ensuring raving (with enthusiasm) customers after every phone or email interaction. The company once shipped a spatula worth R65 to a customer in Kuruman without shipping charges (Galatis sees shipping as a marketing cost). “We are still praying every day that she might come back and buy more goods from us,” laughs Galatis.
They have stock of a large proportion of their range on site to be sure somebody with a defective product can get it replaced quickly. Galatis wants you to feel like you can rock up and exchange it yourself. It’s the secret behind Yuppiechef’s retail experience, says Galatis, the knowledge that on the other end of the modem are real people who really care about this business, and your interaction with it.
It is June 5 and staffers are making a communal lunch (that happens once a month, as does a breakfast) in its open plan test kitchen/dining room/lounge, to celebrate company support for the Eat for Earth initiative. Soup then pudding in a room that is vibey, friendly and chatty. An online retailer that’s not a sweat shop or up its own corporate arse. Refreshing.
Galatis says, as a business, they are more than happy to stay focussed on their niche in the market rather than expand into other categories which would diminish their reputation as the gateway to expertly, thoroughly researched and sourced kitchen ware. To expand it is investigating supplying to neighbouring markets although no firm plans have been set in place.
Yuppiechef has faced limited competition in the local market, though Galatis doesn’t think new entrants would hurt business, saying “a rising tide raises all ships.” The entry of Rocket Internet into the local market is something they have taken note of, and Galatis says they are engaging with their suppliers on the brand value proposition of being associated with a top end retail experience, which competes on service and range rather than price.
Helping build the brands they sell is one of the aims of Yuppiechef, which creates its own content, including copy and often images, for each product it sells.
Most of the time Yuppiechef sells its goods at recommended retail prices. Galatis says it’s important to wean customers off the idea that because you are online your costs are dramatically lower – they hold their own stock, employ staff and rents physical space, all costly. “An ecommerce business may start-up in a garage but they can’t stay there forever,” Galatis notes.
Galatis says Yuppiechef believes that food is for sharing, and that the foodie revolution is inspiring people to socialise, so that kitchens are becoming social spaces where people are inspired to cook good food together.
The business started out when its two co-founders, Smith and Dryden, scratched an entrepreneurial itch, having built a website to sell bug zappers (a tennis racquet that zaps bugs) in South Africa, and having put in place the basic structure, hoped to roll it out into other niches.
After asking a foodie friend what she thought she couldn’t live without in her kitchen she picked a brand and soon the team became a supplier of Cuisipro in South Africa and launched with twelve products sometime in 2006. Galatis, then in London, joined Smith and Dryden and worked remotely on design and marketing. He joined them full time toward the end of 2009.
All three held day jobs initially to fund the project. The business had taken on some investment, details of which are not publicly available, as a safety buffer, not because it had to keep the business afloat, says Galatis. The company is quite close to profitability today.
Galatis talks of a 130 year long customer service Dark Age, dating it from the launch of the first ad agency and the birth of one way corporate communication up to the launch of Facebook. The marketplace has changed radically over the past eight years and today brand = culture, says Galatis.
It’s no longer the skin in which you dress the company – your culture is your brand in an age where information on your goings on is easily accessible. The culture of a business is what gets projected into the world as your brand.
At a guess that bodes pretty well for Yuppiechef.
News you’ll make time for. Sign up for our free newsletter!