In our first customer interview, we meet Enrico Ziglio, founder of women’s fashion brand Sister Jane. Enrico talks about how he started the company, the steps they took to grow the brand, the challenges of their business model and the benefits of software integration for retail businesses.
Enrico, firstly tell us about your business, Sister Jane?
Sister Jane is a contemporary European women’s clothing brand combining current trends with its own eccentric, distinctive style that emphasizes unique details. Sister Jane is available at over fifty boutique retailers internationally, as well as Topshop, Asos, and Urban Outfitters. We also sell online around the world.
When was Sister Jane formed and what was your inspiration for starting it?
A long time friend and I started Sister Jane between London and Madrid in 2010. We had a strong interest in fashion and saw that fast turning, newness and trend driven fashion was something that only large retailers can achieve. We saw the opportunity to do it on a small but growing scale and to work outside the orthodox fashion calendar.
How did you take the brand from Spain to the UK?
I was based in London, my business partner was based in Madrid. We intially started with a foot in both cities, but we soon had to take a decision on where to grow the team. It was a natural progression to move to London, having very important customers such as Topshop and Asos based here, and with the background of the most dynamic fashion scene to be found anywhere.
Where there any major milestones or factors that helped Sister Jane take off from humble beginnings to being the unofficial uniform of style bloggers etc?
Building a brand is done through thousands of little steps. I like to think there are many milestones every day.
What has been your biggest challenge in growing the business to date?
As in every growing business, the more the teams become larger, the more complex the organisation. My goal is to manage an ever increasing team while remaining quick, effective and fast at making decisions as we did when there were only a couple of us. This is a very big challenge at times, but one that I think we are handling well.
What makes Sister Jane unique?
Most importantly, our quirky yet beautiful clothes. Our team is constantly focused on creating new looks which are fun, fresh and in touch with the most up-to-date trends.
Secondly, rather than following the traditional fashion calendar, our model is to release new ‘capsule collections’ on a monthly basis. This lets us offer a fresh range of new, relevant styles in stores. Our capsule collections are only in store for limited periods which makes every piece an exclusive item, giving Sister Jane a sophisticated playfulness that makes it popular with top style bloggers, indie trend setters and celebrities including Florence Welch and Paloma Faith.
However, the capsule collection model has its own business challenges, including the need for very tight coordination between sales, ecommerce, logistics and finance.
What was your reason for looking into software integration options?
As the business started to grow I realised we needed better software systems to manage it. I considered having bespoke software developed, but it was too expensive, and it’s hard to find a ready-made, all-in-one solution that ticks all the boxes.
I prefered the idea of using off-the-shelf software because then I knew it would be supported, and I strongly believe SMEs should get ”best in class” systems for each area of their business. You can take the best pre-existing parts then build a system that fits your business.
That led us to start looking for cloud-based software to run the four core areas of our business; finance and accounts, for which we use Xero; shopping cart software, for which we use Shopify; a POS (point of sale) solution, where we tried a few cloud ones but we’re still using on-premises software from RetailPro; and lastly, CRM and stock control software, though we have recently switched that out and are considering what to use next.
But with all these different systems, I wanted to avoid manually transferring data and all the wasted time and errors that come with it, so we needed a way to seamlessly connect the different applications, to fill the gaps where the apps didn’t connect.
Why did you choose to use ConnectMyApps as your integration platform?
ConnectMyApps allows us to customize integrations so we can connect the apps to fit our own processes and make sure the data goes where we want it to.
Plus, we knew from experience that as our business grows, our needs change. If we had customized software built for us, we might outgrow it. By using individual software applications and integrating them with ConnectMyApps, we can change specific parts but still have one connected system.
How easy was it to get set up with ConnectMyApps?
Getting set up was pretty straight forward, it’s easy to see how it works and the concept is simple to understand.
There have been times when workflows stopped working, or data didn’t transfer across, but it was usually because the application server went down, not because of ConnectMyApps.
Overall I like the idea of using an integration platform that connects lots of apps so you can switch out a specific application if you’re not happy with it, but still have a seamlessly connected system throughout the business.
How much time do you estimate your business saves using ConnectMyApps?
That’s hard to say, because if I had to do data transfers manually, then I would have gone with some other solution. The reason I chose those apps was because I knew we could integrate them using ConnectMyApps. From past experience though, I know that if we didn’t have our software integrated it would take us at least an hour a day just to do an Excel export/import of invoices between Shopify and Xero.
Plus, ConnectMyApps saves one person spending 2-3 days a month transferring data from our CRM system to Xero, which for a small business like us is a huge time saving.
At the moment, because our Point of Sale software isn’t connected, we spend between 1-2 hours each week uploading daily sales manually from our PoS into our Xero accounts software.
I’d estimate in total, ConnectMyApps saves us 3-5 days each month just on data inputting.
Have you found any other benefits of using an integration platform?
It helps our business run faster! Data is synchronized almost instantly, so I don’t have to wait for data to come across, it’s like it’s all one system.
Another really important benefit for me is now I trust my data is accurate and safe. Having evaluated the data transfers, I know that it carries across correctly. The system doesn’t make mistakes, unlike with manual data entry, so I don’t need to keep checking it. This saves me personally a couple of days each month.
Did you look at other integration options?
Yes, I did lots of research into integration options. Some applications have a few specific integrations to other apps, but the choice is limited and the integrations are not very deep, so I could only connect a couple of the apps I wanted.
At the other end of the scale is the integration platforms, competitors to ConnectMyApps. I tested one of the better known ones, but realized it couldn’t actually support our business processes. It has lots of apps, but the integrations are very basic, and when I looked more closely into how the connection works and what it does, it didn’t serve the purpose, at least for us. It only went 50-60% of the way.
What do you like best about ConnectMyApps?
You can customize workflows easily to do what you want. It has ways to tweak the integration. We have very specific data we want to transfer and sync. It’s important to do it in a way we can control and adjust so the system does what we need it to do. With ConnectMyApps, we can make data transfers between apps that fits our processes, we don’t have to adjust our systems to fit it.
Thanks for your time Enrico, and best of luck with the business!