eCommerce awareness, confidence and capability in Africa
Carolyn Ashmore - Atrium Plants | ecomafrica.org
Carolyn Ashmore - Atrium Plants | ecomafrica.org

Interview with Carolyn Ashmore of Atrium Plants

Interview with Carolyn Ashmore of Atrium Plants

In this post, I have an interview with Carolyn Ashmore of Atrium Plants

What made you start Atrium plants- more so why did you decide to sell online?

  • I was inspired by trends overseas, with many e-commerce businesses centred around plants opening up, and the growing movement towards floriculture and indoor plants. I saw a gap in the South African market, where although we have many nurseries, none of them have a good online platform and quick, easy delivery system. The Atrium is also just as much about content as it is about plants. An ecommerce store gives people easy access to information and content around your product and that is what sells. Ordinary nurseries don’t provide good content or even care instructions on how to look after plants. Our content is specifically catered to urban millennials, who want the benefits and beauty of plants, but don’t necessarily know how to care for them. They also like the convenience of having plants delivered. It’s something novel and unique in this country, where plants can be couriered to your door.

We hear you created your own website- when did you start, is this a difficult process? Did you have any coding or tech skills?

  • I started creating the website and sourcing my stock about six months before I launched at the end of last year. I used Shopify, which is a really easy platform for anyone to use with no coding skills required. I however had a few special widgets and things I wanted to customise for the site, so I found a programmer through the Shopify freelancer community. It’s a pretty easy process, but it takes time and you have to be prepared to check and cross-check that everything works smoothly. This is ongoing, even when the website is up – there are always improvements to be made and little tweaks. I got a lot of feedback from my initial customers on what could be done better on the platform. Don’t be afraid to ask or take constructive criticism. Another pair of eyes always helps as everyone sees things differently.

As a woman in ecommerce- what would you say have been your biggest challenges?

  • Generally (woman or not), my biggest challenge was (and still is to a certain extent) economies of scale. This is so important to achieve! When you’re starting out you don’t want to buy thousands of boxes, or stickers, or stock. But when you can buy in bulk everything works out cheaper. Getting systems and processes in place is also challenging. In the beginning you’re running around like a headless chicken, but it’s not sustainable. You have to start training staff and managing people. This can be hard because no one is going to be as committed to the business as you are. As a woman managing and working with men, you have to be strong and stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to negotiate or speak up if someone isn’t performing. At the end of the day if you don’t have a business, they don’t have a job. As a woman in ecommerce, I feel that I’ve received a lot of support from friends, and other women who want to take the plunge and start something different. Ecommerce is a great place to be for a woman, as you can work from home and have flexibility – so if you have kids it can be a really rewarding alternative to a corporate job.

What has been the highlight of your ecommerce journey?

  • Getting good customer feedback. When a client tells you how thrilled they are with their plants and that they’re happy with the service or absolutely love the website, your heart just sings! It’s hard putting yourself out there for the world to see, but so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and the feeling keeps you going, keeps you excited and keeps you thinking, ‘I can do this!’

What advice would you give you females looking to get into ecommerce?

  • I would advise going on an ecommerce course as this really helped me along. You can find all the information online, but a course gives you the confidence that you’re doing the right thing. I went on the Insaka Academy course, which really got me going! It also provides a community of support. It’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and your dream 125%. There are always going to be naysayers, or people who think you’re just doing this for fun, or aren’t serious about it and will get over it. I think some people view women in ecommerce as just doing it as a side gig, or for a creative outlet and it’s not viewed as a serious business. But you need to put your foot down and say, ‘I’m committed to this and just watch me grow!’. Part of what drives me is to prove to others that I can do it!

Carolyn Ashmore - Atrium Plants | ecomafrica.org
Carolyn Ashmore - Atrium Plants | ecomafrica.org

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Mpho Sekwele

Mpho Sekwele

Mpho Sekwele has over ten years of corporate work experience in the retail industry, focusing on retail planning, buying and project management for Blue Chip retail companies in Africa. Mpho is passionate about youth and women empowerment, through sintuonline.com contemporary African Heritage Clothing and Accessories made by young women in Africa, are sold globally.

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