Features: Business surgery: Rainbow Zebra
Company name: Rainbow Zebra
Year established: 2011
Where the company is based: Ashton/Thornbury
Sector: Online furniture store
Number of staff: Two
Company owner: Paul Randall
Key clients: MOD, NHS, Seven Invest, Stowe Family Law
Launched in January 2011, Rainbow Zebra is an online office furniture retailer. Founder Paul Randall saw a gap in the market for a customer focused website which clearly displayed product information and prices.
The name Rainbow Zebra was decided upon because many of the chairs are available in a myriad of colours and fabrics, from yellow to pink, green to cream. The Zebra part was added because quite simply we’re not part of the herd.
With a few very big competitors in the market place, Rainbow Zebra differentiates itself by providing ‘unmatched’ customer service. The firm makes sure to answer customers’ question, such as how they should lay out their office, in a way that provides advice and information without the hard sell.
In August 2016, they launched The Office Co to cater for bigger corporations looking to buy quality furniture in bulk. The firms commit to longer-term projects, with support from the point of purchase to fitting.
Paul, who left a potential retail career with Marks and Spencer to set out alone, taught himself the basics of online marketing and internet best practice before working with web developers to launch the site.
Starting out as a small, bedroom start-up, the company has grown surely and took on its first additional employee in 2015. “My mind is constantly buzzing, thinking about new ways to expand our services,” says Paul. “It’s great that I now have a team member I can share ideas with.”
He now helps to inspire the next generation with talks at Plymouth University, where he undertook a Business Studies degree.
‘The challenge now is to grow the business in a very crowded market place. How do we do that without losing the customer service focus that has brought us this far?’
Andrew Hodgson, senior partner at KPMG Bristol
“A lot of ecommerce businesses such as Rainbow Zebra get started because the costs of starting them are relatively low and a lot of those businesses face similar challenges.
The key to being able to grow is to drive enough traffic to your website. The majority of people will never have heard of Rainbow Zebra so the chances of them finding the website in amongst the billions of other websites that exist are obviously pretty low. Larger businesses address that challenge through online marketing – Google ad words or buying traffic. Smaller businesses can’t afford to do that so they often find it’s very difficult to get themselves at the top of the search engines.
You’ve got to find other ways of driving traffic to your website and one of the best ways of doing that is doing offline, rather than online marketing.
Get yourself profiled in magazines. Support local charities, as Rainbow Zebra has done. All of that is designed to increase your profile and reputation in a local geography which then results in traffic being driven to your website.
Customer service: I don’t believe that you can have a long-term business model that is not focused on both customer service and best value-for-money. Price, quality and service are all critical. They may believe that they deliver exceptional customer service, and they may be right, but if they want to survive they’ll have to continue to deliver exceptional customer service and they’ll have to always have the products in stock, and they’ll have to be the best price. A business model that compromises in any way will not be sustainable in the long term.”
Peter Quintana, director at High Growth Knowledge Company (HGKC)
“When a company is small, it is relatively easy to stay on top of what is happening and ensure each order is dealt with promptly and effectively. As Rainbow Zebra grows the level of complexity of its operations will increase, so Paul is right to be concerned about maintaining service quality levels. This will rely on him being able to explain both what he does and how he does it to new members of staff.
Having processes mapped and documented will make this easier. Having scripts will also help, but can risk removing the genuinely personal element. Even though Rainbow Zebra is an online only company, people still buy from people. So when recruiting, it is important to try to recruit people who are better than you are at what you want them to do. Finally, online companies can exist in a bubble. Is service really the reason why customers buy from them? I’d recommend conducting research with existing customers and prospects to ask them what they really want. Armed with this information, then it is about ensuring they become not just bigger, but better at all aspects that their customers love.”