Gary Lyons founded Plastic Box Shop with his wife Lisa in 2003. Since then the company has gone from strength to strength, winning the Retailer of the Year award at The Press Business Awards in 2015 and aiming for a revenue of £10 million this year.
In this interview, Gary shares his business success story and opens up about how innovation has helped Plastic Box Shop grow.
What did you do before you founded Plastic Box Shop?
We had a discount retail outlet in a small North Yorkshire town.
Where did the inspiration come from to begin a new business?
We were looking for opportunities to increase our sales with minimal outlay, and online shopping, which was in its infancy, seemed like a great opportunity.
Each year, the biggest seller in our retail outlet was our plastic boxes, and we always found ourselves offering advice to customers on this one product range. When we set up our online store, we took a gamble and specialised in plastic boxes. We’ve never looked back since.
How did you go about setting up the new venture?
We initially started selling on eBay and, while I recommend this as a starting point for anybody with a budding business idea, we eventually grew to the point where we wanted to create our own image and stand out from our competition in the online marketplace.
Setting up the Plastic Box Shop website allowed us to create our own voice and stand out from the crowd. This is the next step for any business looking to take their startup operation to the next level, as it gives you a platform to build your brand voice and develop a relationship with your customers through your levels of service.
How did people react to your products?
They loved the site, and we were even getting orders through before it officially launched, which was a great sign. This was the point that we realised what a good choice we’d made specialising in plastic boxes.
When did you decide to grow the business? How did you achieve it?
The company has always been market led — it was busy from the word go and we just went with it, doing everything we could to help it go as far as possible. While the business has always grown organically, moving into our last warehouse and investing in packaging machines really helped us to move it to the next stage.
We grew the business by listening to what our customers were asking for and responding to their needs. One of the biggest changes in direction that came from this approach was a massive expansion of our product range, which has been one of the best business decision we’ve made to date.
As an online retailer, our position on Google has a huge impact on our bottom line, so we pumped as much revenue into our SEO strategy as possible in order to grow. This all helped us to move on to bigger and better things, and along the way we’ve made sure to invest in retraining long-standing staff, finding the right courier service, redeveloping our website to move with the trends, and moving to a larger warehouse. These have all been essential parts of our growth.
What have been your biggest challenges to date?
Our biggest challenges have definitely come during major changes, such as a warehouse move or site redevelopment. It’s extremely difficult to maintain a seamless service during these periods, but as we feel great customer service is the foundation of any successful business, these periods involve a lot of hard work and long workdays.
Have you undertaken any innovative promotional activities that have helped to grow your business?
As our business continued to grow, we wanted to start really getting our name out there, so we were proud to bring Jesse McClure of Storage Hunters fame on board as our brand ambassador. Over the last two years, Jesse has undertaken a lot of promotional work for the company including recording videos and adverts. We also invested in some talking Jesse dolls which we give to our customers when they spend over a certain amount — the doll has our company logo on and is a fun little reminder of Plastic Box Shop.
Additionally, we have had the opportunity to sponsor Accrington Stanley FC since the 15/16 season. This has brought some fantastic exposure for our brand, and has gotten our name out there. The company logo was re-designed for this so that it really stood out for all marketing opportunities with the club. This has brought us a lot of coverage, and it’s a great feeling when you see your company logo on television and even on the FIFA games, which our children were certainly impressed with!
What plans do you have for the future?
Going forward, we are looking to find even more areas through which we can grow the business. These include increasing our range of plastic boxes even further and also expanding with some completely new product ranges. We are also looking to stock some really innovative products, some of which we’ll be developing in-house.
We have also recently moved for the third time into a bigger and better warehouse facility, and we are now in the process of installing a new fully-integrated warehouse management system that will help to streamline our dispatch process and keep a much tighter control on our inventory.
We are also planning on redeveloping the website again so it’s fully responsive. We’re hoping this will improve our delivery and checkout options and provide an even better experience for our customers.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start their own business?
Keep focused on your vision and always keep moving toward it. Be prepared to work extremely hard, and move on quickly from the lows while basking in the highs.