For Childrensalon, being early to the party has been good for business.
The upscale U.K. retailer, which has operated a boutique in historic Royal Tunbridge Wells, England, since 1952, launched its e-commerce site in 1999, long before the online boom took off. Today, Childrensalon reigns as the largest e-tailer of kids’ designer clothing and footwear, with sales of nearly $46 million in 2014. That number is forecast to grow to $66 million this year, according to CEO Michele Harriman-Smith.
“Our e-commerce sales continue to surge and now account for the majority of our business. We went online so early and became very good at it by the time any competitors were anywhere near us,” she said. “Britain is a small island, and we’re actually quite isolated, so back then, it was a thrill to talk with customers from all over the world.”
Featuring some 270 of the market’s most prestigious brands, Childrensalon’s website draws more than 1 million unique visitors each month from at least 130 countries. The U.S. represents a large and growing customer base, with Americans particularly interested in the site’s classic British heritage looks.
“Since the birth of Prince George [and now sister Charlotte], we’ve had a lot of interest in our more traditional merchandise. It’s something that’s part of our DNA. We started selling our own collection of classic hand-smocked dresses and suits in the 1950s, before there was even such a thing as children’s brands,” explained Harriman-Smith, whose mother, Sybil Harriman, founded the company.
Childrensalon’s expansive footwear assortment includes casual and dressy styles from about 133 brands, among them Dolce & Gabbana, Ugg Australia, Fendi, Tod’s, Tip Toey Joey, Early Days, Sophia Webster and Alviero Martini.
Since customers often shop for head-to-toe outfits, Childrensalon buys heavily from brands that offer both shoes and ready-to-wear, such as Burberry, Il Gufo and I Pinco Pallino. “Our customers want a total look. They love to buy everything from the same brand: the top, the skirt, the shoes,” Harriman-Smith said.
The e-tailer also cultivates smaller brands and up-and-coming labels. “Our customers look to us to show them what’s new and interesting,” noted the CEO.
Early Days is one line that has gotten a big boost from Children-salon’s global reach. “Their tremendous online presence has played a big part in our success, giving us exposure all over the world,” said Paul Bolton, managing director of the family-owned firm, based in Leicester, England. “It’s been a privilege to work with a company that has such an incredibly dedicated staff and unrivaled customer service.”
While Childrensalon is known for luxury, the website offers price points that appeal to a broad audience. Shoes start at around $18 for canvas baby sneakers and top out at more than $600 for Dolce & Gabbana jeweled satin brocade party slippers. “If it’s beautiful, we have to have it,” Harriman-Smith said of the site’s more exclusive offerings. “But there is certainly a point where we know that if we buy it, it will be for fewer customers.”
Beautiful product is certainly a priority for Childrensalon, but Harriman-Smith emphasized that what happens behind the scenes has been just as important. “Technology is paramount,” she said. “We’ve learned over the years that you need to invest a significant amount of money on the tech side to be successful. We have a large team of developers working constantly on improving the look and functionality of our site.”
Service also is critical, she added. Indeed, Childrensalon has earned a number of industry accolades for customer experience.
“They always keep the needs and desires of their customer foremost. That’s what has helped them ride the wave of online success,” said Rachael Lainé, the European distributor for Salt-Water Sandals. “[They’ve] built on the great reputation of their shop in Royal Tunbridge Wells, and they were not afraid to diversify when online offered them an opportunity.”
In recent months, the retailer has been investing more in marketing, hoping to reach an even wider audience. In March, it debuted a blog called Tiny Times, showcasing the lifestyle behind the fashionable products it sells.
“The blog’s been very successful in drawing traffic to our site. We feature everything from gift guides to designer interviews to celebrity coverage,” said Harriman-Smith, noting that she’s not at all surprised by the level of interest in children’s fashion today. “The mothers who come to our Tunbridge Wells shop always say, ‘I used to go to all the designer stores for myself, but now I just go to the kids’ stores.’ Parents today are very passionate about dressing their children beautifully. They’re happy spending all their money on their children instead of themselves.”