East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we caught up with Ronan Kelly who alongside his Croydon based business partners runs Toyshades; a British eyewear brand specialising in selling affordable, design-led sunglasses online.
How did the idea for Toyshades come about?
British Sunglasses might sound like the dumbest idea you ever heard, given our British climate. But, some of the best inventions started out as crazy ideas! Toyshades British Sunglasses are an alternative and affordable brand. We offer high quality sunglasses at an amazing price point. Nobody is offering a product as good as ours at a price point anywhere close to ours.
How much experience did you have in ecommerce/online selling?
We are just three mates running Toyshades; an Englishman, An Irishman and a Nigerian. That might sound like the start of a bad joke, but we think we know what we’re doing. The three of us came from diverse backgrounds and each bring different skills. My wife (who was born in Croydon) is a maths teacher…so she is the brains of the operation.
What was the first step in setting up?
From the start we wanted to show that despite our affordable price point, our products are of the highest quality. Our sunglasses come with our own, trademarked PENTOPTIC® lenses. Made with five layers of polycarbonate, our lenses are as good as you’ll find in the more expensive brands. As soon as the UK government granted us our PENTOPTIC® trademark, we were ready to go.
How did you go about building your brand story?
We really want Toyshades Brand to have a South London feel. Nowhere has a better community spirit than Croydon. We want Toyshades to reflect some of that spirit. Some of our images are shot on location in and around Croydon and we’re always proud to tag the location as Croydon, Sarf London or The Cronx.
Toyshades does it’s best to reflect and celebrate London’s diversity. We try not to use professional models. Our models are real members of our community , we want real people with real lives and real achievements. We also work with the community as much as possible; for example, we recently partnered with Croydon Harriers by providing Toyshades as prizes for the Croydon 10k.
How do you physically sell and ship the products?
Shopping at Toyshades.com is very simple, safe and secure. We use a Shopify template for our ecommerce platform. It’s actually really easy to individualise the template and adapt it to your specific needs. For payments we use Shopify’s own encrypted payment systems – which are fully integrated with the Shopify template. Whenever technical issues get too tough for us, we call on a small firm of consultants in Brighton. Like us, Innervaters are a small business. So they really understand our needs.
What other tools and apps do you use to run your store?
I am only going to list a couple because they are vital to a business like ours. First, an app that links social media to our webstore. There are a few of them to choose from, but the main one is the Instafeedapp, which creates a link from Instagram to your store and keep images fresh on the homepage. The other useful one we use is Mailchimp for Shopify. A great way of integrating your website and your mailing list.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Getting exposure for your brand is really the toughest part. Expanding – not just our social media footprint, but also our day to day engagement with followers – has been key to our growth.
What’s the best thing about having your own ecommerce business?
The best thing is that we can decide our own direction. Our own branding and our own imagery. There are no shareholders or committees to answer to. It’s just us.
Would you like to have a bricks and mortar store?
We used to sell in TopShop on Oxford Circus and some other high profile retailers. However, with the retailer’s margin, it was impossible to deliver such good value to our customers. By cutting out the retailer and running our own supply chain, we are able to deliver our sunglasses at a great price.
How important has influencer marketing been for your business?
We are all bombarded with “influencers”. Most of whom are just giving positive feedback in return for cash! The public are not stupid and are beginning to see through this sham. I think the next 12 to 18 months will see a backlash against this sort of “paid influencing”. The important thing for brands like us is to find influencers and ambassadors who gel with the brand. People who feel the brand and not just someone who will sell their opinion to the highest bidder.
We have been very lucky to find our current ambassadors. Maddy Smith is a world class winter athlete. She not only wears Toyshades while representing our country at Skeleton, she also gives us invaluable insight when she tests our new products. Toyshades look great, but that’s not enough for us. We want Toyshades to perform well in the absolute harshest of environments. Maddy takes Toyshades to some of the world’s toughest winter sports destinations and pushes our products to their limits. Likewise, our relationship with the South London Punk band Katalina Kicks is very important. British punk is back and Katalina Kicks are at the forefront of that revival. The fact they’re bringing Toyshades to the centre of the UK new music scene is a great honour for us.
Who inspires you in the world of business?
Theme park owners are a bit out of fashion these days, however, I am inspired by Roland Mack. Ignoring expert advice, he opened a rollercoaster park in his home town in Germany, many miles from any real tourist infrastructure. Mr Mack’s Europa Park is now the biggest theme park in Europe, second only to Disneyland Paris in terms of visitors. All from a crazy idea. A bit like the crazy idea that is British sunglasses!
For more information about Toyshades see www.toyshades.com.
East Croydon Cool followers get a 20% discount off all shades when using CROYDON20 on check out.