Josh Gare is the founder of Snaps, an eCommerce retailer of high-quality, yet affordable, sunglasses in the UK. We were excited when Josh reached out to us about Snaps, and jumped at the chance to hear more of his story.
You see Josh isn’t your typical entrepreneur (if there’s such a thing). He’s currently finishing his final exams for his economics degree at the University of Bristol. He’s also had a number of successes building iOS apps, something he’s been doing since he was 16 years old.
Read on to hear more about how Snaps has used clever partnerships to overcome early marketing challenges, the process they went through to find suppliers, and their plans for the future.
Kirby: How did you come up with the idea for Snaps?
Josh: I initially came up with the idea [when] I was looking to buy a pair of sunglasses for last summer. Looking around, there were obviously the designer sunglasses you could pick from, which were really good in their own right. But you’re looking at a hundred pounds, one hundred and fifty pounds, just to enter into that sort of market. That’s pretty steep, especially for a student who’s not got a lot of money to their name.
Then the other option was going for the high street fashion brands, which were good, they’re stylish, but they’re very flimsy and not all of them have UV protection, so it’s kind of a compromise.
Especially in the UK, there doesn’t really seem to be much of a middle ground. You can’t seem to get a pair of sunglasses you know are going to be reliable, robust, and stylish, unless you pay for the full price of sunglasses. So the idea kind of blossomed from there.
[We] investigated materials, price points and everything to try to see if we could come up with a pair of sunglasses that were still stylish and reliable, but affordable at the same time.
Kirby: How did you find a manufacturer/supplier?
Josh: We looked at three different options initially. The traditional suppliers of sunglasses are the Italian factories. The problem with that is that there’s a bit of a—almost monopoly so to speak—by the company that owns Ray-Ban and Oakley. That makes manufacturing in Italy very expensive, especially for a small company. [Their products are] really good quality though, everything that we wanted, but the price was just too high for us. We couldn’t justify going into that because it would just eliminate the ultimate goal.
We also looked at manufacturers in the UK, but there aren’t actually that many [suppliers], and again it was quite expensive.
So we were kind of forced to looking into Chinese manufacturers, which we were a little bit wary of initially. Just because we’ve heard of some horror stories of quality issues and communication problems.
But we looked on Alibaba quite extensively, which is actually a really good tool for us. We got into contact with quite a few suppliers. And we found some that were really quite good to work with, could provide us a product that we were going to be happy with, and keep the costs relatively low, compared to what the Italian and UK manufacturers.
Kirby: How did you find your first customers?
Josh: The first customers were actually very difficult for us to get hold of. Because there’s a serious problem with people wanting to try our sunglasses on, especially in the fashion industry. There are a lot of people who are not too keen to part with their money when it’s an unknown brand, and they can’t physically try on the product and see how it fits.
We used Facebook a lot to advertise, we got some really targeted advertising campaigns on the sort of people we knew would would want to potentially buy our products. We really pushed that initially and we did pretty well out of it, and we were really pleased with the results.
Since then, we’ve kind of pulled back a bit on the Facebook advertising, because word of mouth has just become our real selling point. People get the sunglasses and then their friends see them and get to feel them. They can try their friends’ sunglasses on. They’re like: “Oh where did you get your sunglasses from?” And it kind of just stemmed from there, which is really nice.
Kirby: Have you done any referral credits or anything [similar], for existing customers?
Josh: Last Easter (so very recently) we sponsored our university’s ski trip, which is one of the biggest ski trips in the UK. We had a promotion on with them that people going on the trip could get a discount with the sunglasses. And then after people who purchased the sunglasses received a little voucher code within the sunglasses, where they could get a further 30% off the sunglasses if they wanted to make a second purchase. Which again, has had quite a good reaction.
However, we’re kind of unsure of the balance of people purchasing second pairs or people handing the code on to their friends. We’re still kind of experimenting with that, it’s definitely an interesting avenue we’re definitely going to investigate some more.
Kirby: And I think you said in some of the information you sent through that you were looking at wholesale, is that right?
Josh: Yes, again, this is what we have planned for the future. [We’re] going to investigate more this summer and not necessarily execute until next summer. Just because a lot of the summer fashion comes out in spring. So we’ve kind of missed the boat [for this year].
However, we may have an opportunity to roll it out in October if we focus more on ski trips, which we’ve sponsored [previously].
But again, we’re going to have to just assess how things go over the summer and see if we can break into something like that.
Kirby: It looks like partnerships have been pretty important, like the one with The Big Sail and the one with the University of Bristol Snowsports Club. Are you looking at other partnerships to explore?
Josh: Yeah, we definitely are. The ski trip we did in Easter was a real kind of trial for us, so we could assess the numbers of what we were actually selling and what that corresponded to in terms of how many people were going on the trip. Now that we’ve got those figures, we’re going to try to roll it out to more university ski trips.
So another very big one is Varsity Trip, which is Oxford and Cambridge. They go together. And we’ve got a few contacts actually who are involved with running the trip for them. So hopefully we can kind of tack off that and see if they can get on board. The reaction was really good from the Bristol Ski Trip.
There’s also Durham, which has another big one. I think there’s more, I think Edinburgh has another one. But again, we can kind of assess it over summer, because these trips don’t really get organised until October. We’re going to start sending emails out over the summer and see what reaction we get.
Kirby: Did you fund all of the initial start up costs yourself, or did you receive some investment?
Josh: I was actually fortunate enough to learn how to program iOS applications. I started doing that when I was about 16, I had some pretty decent success, which actually gave me the funding to get this project going.
At the moment Snaps is sustaining itself, which is always good and quite a difficult achievement in itself.
It’s all kind of stemmed off what I learned in the past and the funding came from that, to be honest.
Kirby: What has been the biggest challenge so far, with Snaps?
Josh: Initially it was definitely getting ourselves noticed. As I said before, the whole problem of people wanting to try something like sunglasses on is something we’re always aware of and trying to overcome. Hence, the reason we want to get it into shops as soon as we can and just try to get as many pairs out there as possible, so that people can try their friends’ on, see what they’re all about.
Because the whole idea is the quality behind them. It’s very difficult to convey that without actually touching them. When you pick them up, you’ll actually feel the weight behind them, how robust they are, you’ll be able to see how the hinges are connected in, and the fact that you can probably do a lot of damage to them before you’ll actually damage them.
Kirby: How many people are on your team?
Josh: I initially started the project, but I was aware of spreading myself too thinly. I’ve got my own strengths, I’m happy with them, but there are definitely aspects of the business that other people are much better at doing than me. I was very keen to surround myself with as many talented people as possible.
At the moment, I’m running the technical side, so I deal with WooCommerce and all the programming that’s involved in keeping it running.
Then we have two other students who are involved with the project. We have one for marketing, and another for design. The marketing is more focused on how to generate sales, but the design is sort of how the marketing is displayed.
We also have an excellent logistics manager, who can turn around a package in no time at all. Without that we’d fail, to be honest. I’m very, very pleased with that.
So there are four of us in total that keep the vision running on a day to day basis.
Kirby: Why did you choose WooCommerce?
Josh: We’d looked at a few different things. This was my kind of area, in terms of what I was in control of. I’d been very comfortable with WordPress before. So initially I just kind of looked to see if there was any sort of plugin for WordPress, and obviously WooCommerce came up. I gave it a go, and was so shocked to see how easy it was to actually use.
When we actually did set up the website, we were up and running probably within a day. Which is just like a huge kind of turnaround. There were no hiccups at all, which was just so nice to see. It made my job incredibly easy.
It was really good as well, just the way it manages the stock, keeps all of the orders organised, and we can just have the invoices printed out within seconds, which makes the process just so efficient and easy for us. And easy for the customers, which is more important. And without it, I don’t think the business would sort of run in the same way that it does today.
Kirby: What’s your favourite thing about WooCommerce?
Josh: It’s definitely that it’s easy to use. It’s so powerful, but yet at the same time it’s easy to use. You can edit it at the code level if you so choose to. Although the plugins [and extensions] that have been built on top of WooCommerce have just made that kind of irrelevant for us. Because it’s all kind of been done for us, in that sense. You can literally just layer over what you need. So yeah, it’s just easy to use basically.
Kirby: What has eCommerce allowed you to do that you couldn’t have otherwise done?
Josh: I think our major thing has to be that we’ve been able to compete with top brands. If we didn’t have eCommerce, we wouldn’t be able to enter the market on such a global scale. We’re getting orders from all over the place, which obviously, if we were just doing wholesale, would have been incredibly difficult to do. Even getting into wholesale without an online presence would have been very difficult. Just because we would have no kind of statistics backing us up, [we’d be a] completely unknown brand. Without that, we wouldn’t have a chance.
Yeah, so that’s basically it. Being able to compete on the world stage.
Kirby: So you ship internationally?
Josh: Yes we do.
Kirby: Do you have any advice for other budding entrepreneurs?
Josh: We had a very close friend who taught us that every single piece of contact that you have with your customer—be it your website, your emails, social media, business cards, just any sort of contact, any sort of face to the business—it’s very important to keep those outlets in a way that you would expect them to be as a customer yourself.
By doing that, I think you definitely get a sense of creating a brand, and getting some loyalty behind it. We’ve kept this in mind at all times. By doing so, we think we’ve got away from that unsure stage of [wondering] whether we’re going to be able to keep this going, to actually creating a successful business.
Kirby: Okay. So you’ve mentioned a couple of plans, but what’s next for Snaps?
Josh: What I’m going to be doing over the summer is looking at an iOS application. I’ve been exploring the API and the new updates to that, including all the push and put functions that you can use to basically get your storefront on any platform that you wish to be on.
I learned a lot of stuff about developing apps when I was younger, and it will be really interesting for me to bring them together and see how it goes. And obviously getting your store on another platform is just making it more visible to the general public is never a bad thing.
Kirby: What’s next for you personally? Are you going full-time on Snaps next year?
Josh: That is the plan at the moment. I’m going to kind of manage my time between developing iPhone applications and Snaps. Then I’m just going to hopefully try to expand the business and go from there.
I haven’t signed up to any sort of graduate role. So I’m definitely devoting all my time to it, which is an exciting prospect. Bit of a risk, but what’s life without risks?
Some great insights there from Josh. We wish him luck with his final exams, and the whole Snaps team the very best as they take their business to the next level.
Josh and the team were kind enough to send me over a pair of Tortoise Classics Snaps to try out for myself. I’m happy to report that everything Josh says about them is true. They look great, feel super sturdy, and seem to have a high level of UV protection.
So thanks Josh and the Snaps team for my new sunglasses! Now I just need to take a summer holiday to really try them out…