How we turned a gap in the market into a fast-growing ecommerce business

Getting personal: gap in the marketGetting Personal started with one clever personalised calendar and has grown into a multi-million pound online business. Rachel Miller talks to Giles Harridge to find out the secrets behind the success of Getting Personal

If you've ever struggled to find a personal gift, you'll understand the frustration that inspired the creation of Getting Personal. The brainchild of Giles Harridge and John Smith, Getting Personal offers a wide range of gifts including some unusual and highly personalised products such as calendars, cards, mugs and more.

When it was started in 2005, the company consisted of two founders plus "someone to make the tea". Getting Personal now employs 30 people rising to 50 in the run-up to Christmas, and has a 10,000 square-foot warehouse.

The idea for Getting Personal was borne out of frustration at the lack of interesting corporate gifts. Giles and John, who were doing consultancy work together, decided to come up with their own product. It was a personalised calendar featuring the name of the recipient included within a photograph — as pebbles on a beach or in the Hollywood walk of fame.

Friends, colleagues and family loved it, so Giles and John built a website to sell it to a wider audience. With one product in two versions (desk calendar and wall calendar), they set up for business in November 2005.

Knowing that the actual product got such a positive reaction, they sent samples to the media in a bid for some positive PR. They really hit the jackpot when ITV's This Morning featured their calendar in late November 2005, just weeks after they had launched. "We got a great response," says Giles. "Phil and Fern showed the personalised calendar to camera and orders came flying in."

As 2006 began, Giles and John came up with a new romantic theme for a Valentine's calendar. And they opened up new opportunities by producing calendars that could start in any month enabling them to sell calendars all year round. "We sold even more calendars around Valentine's Day than we had over the first Christmas," says Giles.

Rapid online growth

Since that confident start, Getting Personal has expanded, adding new products to the range including more personalised products such as champagne and greetings cards, as well as fun and quirky items. The turnover figures speak for themselves. In its first year of trading, turnover was less than £500,000. It has risen steadily ever since and its fourth year in business saw an impressive turnover of £6.3m.

Clever marketing is one reason why Getting Personal is thriving. As well as PR, Giles and John have devoted a lot of time making the Getting Personal website highly visible on internet search engines. "We've always known how important search engine optimisation is," says Giles. According to Hitwise (the competitive intelligence service from Experian which measures market share by visits to websites), Getting Personal is consistently one of the top five websites in the gifts and flowers category. "We were neck and neck with Interflora in the run-up to Valentine's day this year," says Giles.

At the same time, public relations is still an important part of the marketing strategy. "We constantly try to get coverage in the media, from local and national press to TV — it really makes a lot of difference. In November 2008, GettingPersonal.co.uk was awarded the prestigious Manchester Evening News Young Business of the Year.

Customer service

Customer service is also a fundamental part of the Getting Personal approach. "One thing we do is publish customer reviews," says Giles. "We ask for feedback when we take the order and ask for reviews. Our ratings are through the roof. About 93% of our customers give us a four or five-star rating out of five.

"It's not just about getting traffic to the website, it's also about getting conversions," he adds. "We work hard to make our web experience simple and enjoyable, but the customer needs confidence and reviews provide that. Also they can ring us up – our number is clearly visible on the website. That makes a huge difference."

Thanks to its innovative products and high levels of customer service, positive word-of-mouth recommendation is also helping to grow the business. "We know that people come to us because they saw one of our calendars elsewhere. Our products show thought and also deliver the wow factor. We have made it really easy for people to buy a thoughtful and unusual present."

This case study was first published in July 2009. Since that time Getting Personal has continued to grow. Its online range now includes over 6,000 lines.

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