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“Marketing is no longer an arts subject, it’s a scientific one. We value an approach that obsesses over data and puts the analysis to use.”

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www.cartridgesave.co.uk was co-founded in 2003 by Jonathan Clark and Ian Cowley and has become the UK’s largest dedicated printer cartridge company. Since Sean Blanks joined in 2007 to become the Marketing Director the company has undergone incredible growth and recently secured a second consecutive placing in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100.

The company offers next day delivery on the largest range of printer inks, more than 6,700 printer ink and toner cartridges from 34 big brands and compatibles, plus printer paper and labels.

The company offers free next day delivery with a highly praised 5-star service (acclaimed by eKomi, Google, Pricegrabber and Shopzilla)

MO: What influenced your decision to get into the printer cartridge market?

Ian: What excited me most was that printer cartridges are consumable product, you always need to buy more. The cycle of acquiring customers and keeping them as customers to get their repeat purchases really excited me. It seemed like a great way to build a business.

MO: Can you talk about the early days from having the concept for the business to actually getting it up and running? What were some of challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Ian: The biggest challenge in those early days was finding the point of difference for the company. It’s an extremely competitive market and getting our voice heard wasn’t easy. We deliberately chose to make our point of difference a practical one, price. Ever since, we’ve been guaranteeing the best prices and with every cost saving we make we pass it on to customers.

We also found managing a large product catalog difficult. Making an accurate database of printer compatibility for over 10,000, and keeping it up-to-date was very time consuming. By creating systems and putting together a fantastic Products and Data team were now ahead of the game, and often first to add new products and have the most complete product information.

MO: Can you provide some advice or lessons learned to entrepreneurs on pivoting while keeping your business moving forward at the same time?

Ian: Assemble a stellar team. Sean, my Marketing Director is able to share my workload and drive through all kinds of work. Similarly the rest of our managers are incredibly talented, so we can trust them to deal with the daily workload while Sean and I invest significant time in other revenue streams or improving our transaction process.

MO: Can you elaborate on your very unique scientific approach to marketing that has radically transformed your business in to the UK’s largest online printer cartridge retailer?

Ian: Sean joined in 2007 and brought with him an AB testing approach to marketing. Marketing is no longer an arts subject, it’s a scientific one. We value an approach that obsesses over data and puts the analysis to use. To do this we recruit scientists and mathematicians to our marketing department, a job that many graduates don’t realise exists for them.

We look to make incremental steps forward, not always large leaps by working on our variables one at a time in a controlled way and testing them through to the end. To improve our conversion rate we patiently tweak a colour or some copy or a minor step on the transaction process and test the results. If it works we’ll implement it and test another variable against the newly introduced change then we repeat the exercise with another variable, test, repeat, test, repeat.

There is so much data available, especially from an e-tailer’s point of view with Google analytics, and Facebook insights all for free, so if you’re not testing, you’re not improving.

MO: How does it feel to have become the UK’s largest dedicated printer cartridge company and how do you plan to keep the momentum going?

Ian: Really great. It’s testament to a great deal of hard work from a fantastic team. Now though, it’s more important than ever to work hard, because if we rest, we lose out.

We’ll continue momentum by working with suppliers, old and new, to make sure we’re getting the best of everything and passing on these savings to customers. We recently switched our courier company to gain better IT integration with our warehouse stock control back-end software; this has reduced costs and improved stock control management, with an added bonus of reducing our carbon footprint.

We’re also investigating further revenue streams that I can’t reveal too much about yet. I can say though that I am meeting with potential suppliers and working on contracts to introduce a new product line to the business.

We’re also considering freshening up the brand image, but that’s all in the pipeline at the moment.

MO: What’s one mistake that you’ve made that our readers could learn from?

Ian: Trying to do it all myself. Learning to delegate is crucial if you’re going to be able to steer the business. Whilst I would always recommend that managers frequently check the customer-facing side of the business so as not to lose touch, it’s vital that you get the right people in who you can trust to take on responsibility for you. That can be suppliers as much as senior staff.

I used to invest a lot of time in recruitment, working very hard to make sure I get the right person in, but now we outsource our recruitment, get staff in as temp-to-perm and hire them if they make a good impression and fit in with the business ethos. Your time is one of very few commodities that cannot be scaled so, even if it costs extra money, get other people to cover off the tasks you can afford to miss.


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