Ellie Ellie Case Study
From 2012, Danielle Plowman has watched her award-winning gift brand Ellie Ellie grow and evolve. Their brand ethos, which is to bring people together through all life’s moments, has set the business in good stead, from launching on national online platforms to meeting consumer demand during the pandemic. Teaming up with Cardens’ Partner Carol, Danielle says, has given her the confidence and stability to tackle business challenges and growth.
About Ellie Ellie
Ellie Ellie is a personalised giftware company based in Worthing, specialising in unique, personalised gifts for all occasions. One of its many strengths is its hyper reactivity to new trends thanks to its in-house printing capabilities.
Early investment in machines that could produce distinctive items, combined with new product launches within 24 hours, now means that popular lines can be manufactured and sold quickly and directly to consumers.
The business started selling jewellery, before incorporating different surfaces to include personalised products in metal, wood, clothing and more. Over time, Ellie Ellie has grown to a height of 70 staff working over the Christmas season and during the pandemic when online sales hit a new high.
Starting out in business
Having graduated from university with a fashion degree, Danielle wanted to put her design skills to good use. After working with clothing brands and opening a high street shop in Steyning to sell her children’s clothing collections, it was time for a new direction. Once Danielle heard about Not On The Highstreet, Ellie Ellie relaunched online.
After a few learning curbs at the beginning, Danielle has confidently built the business back stronger. With fewer overheads and a 24/7 online service, the business pivoted to gift gifting and made £50,000 in its first year.
A catalyst was trying out its listings on Not On The High Street. As Danielle points out, there are approximately half a million products on the site, so when Ellie Ellie products were featured in the top spots, sales took off. Now, Ellie Ellie is one of the top grossing partners on the online platform.
Meeting the challenges of a pandemic
With its early adoption of the personalised gift market proving profitable, Ellie Ellie went into the COVID pandemic in a healthy position.
In April 2020, sales were up by 390% compared to the previous year. In the product-led world of Ellie Ellie, this was largely the result of a mug which read ‘I wish you lived next door.’ That product alone turned over approximately £250,000.
With half the team working from home, the challenge was to keep up with demand. People wanted gifts to check in on people or to say ‘I miss you’ alongside annual events that Ellie Ellie prepares for.
“It was really about bringing people together during a time when they couldn’t be together”, Danielle says. The retailer provided support to help people write postcards to loved ones for free. Through this initiative alone, Ellie Ellie connected approximately 45000 people through COVID.
Why Ellie Ellie approached Cardens
Danielle needed an accountancy to complement her business background. She started off managing her own books for the first two years. However, Danielle needed a straightforward, transparent service to ensure deadlines were met and more.
She found an accountant, advisor and support system in Cardens Partner Carol, who takes an interest in the business to understand the accounts and help Danielle make financial decisions over the short and medium term:
“I sing her praises all the time. It’s the support you need when you’re a small business and don’t come from an accountancy background. It’s more than just looking at the books.”
Carol acted as an emotional support and anchor to ensure that goals were met when the business needed to scale down – giving Danielle a “straight head.”
Carol has always overseen the management accounts, the bookkeeping and took over payroll and pay runs to cover maternity leave at Ellie Ellie. Sometimes Danielle and the team require her services more at peak times of the year. Sometimes things tick over with the occasional check in to ensure everything is fine.
Ellie Ellie and others appreciate how we take that flexible approach without extra charges – in particular a seasonal business with peak trading times during the year. It’s also what makes Carol an extension of the business.
Cardens’ ‘Profit first’ model
Through challenging periods for the business, the team relies on Carol’s integrated budgeting and forecast work. If it hits a bump, a cashflow forecast provides the confidence and insight needed.
Budgeting, coupled with a lot of planning, is important for knowing where money is being spent. Carol advises on getting payment plans for VAT, for example, so that the business knows how much to pay and when.
Danielle cites Carol’s ‘profit first’ approach as one of the most important models that the business has adopted. Money is put into separate pots for tax, income, savings, profit and more straight away. This tackles one of the biggest problems with cashflow, which is dividing up what you have in the bank with what you need to pay: tax bill, rent and the rest.
Crucially, Carol helped Danielle to recognise the importance of paying herself! Many business owners spend money on staff bonuses, machinery and other ways to improve the business rather than themselves. Having an accountant’s eye has been important for developing a bigger picture, away from the nitty gritty work that goes on every day.
Until Danielle adopted the ‘profit first’ model, cashflow was one of the main reasons why she kept changing accountants. Nobody could fix the monthly stress of knowing that all business costs were covered in advance.
“I wish I did profit first from the very beginning. Now, everything is so simple and it’s changed the way that we deal with our money. “
Count On Cardens
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