Meet CREOATE co-founder, Ashley Horn. Spearheading her vision of a wholesale platform designed to help independent brands and retailers thrive, she shares her experience and journey building the brand from the ground up alongside co-founder, Fahad.
Ashley’s retail roots can be traced all the way back to her grandmother’s small business selling antiques and collectables in Northern California. After moving to London and working for Deloitte and Lloyds Bank, Ashley opened a store together with CREOATE co-founder, Fahad Khan, in London’s Covent Garden.
In doing so, they realised how hard retailers really have it; how exclusive the financing options are, and how hard it is to buy the right stock, in the right amounts. From here, CREOATE was born: a wholesale marketplace for independents that’s really for independents, complete with interest-free finance options to help you find your feet.
How did the idea of CREOATE come about?
At the time, I was working with retail clients, which gave me valuable insights into the changing retail industry and the opportunities available to fill a gap in the market. I was particularly inspired by the impact of technology, changes in demographics, and the constantly shifting business dynamics.
So, I decided to launch my first retail store alongside my friend and business partner Fahad Khan. We went in with the intention of creating a space where independent businesses could grow, learn, and thrive. Through this experience, we quickly realised the challenges that independent retailers truly face.
Seeing it from both sides helped me to nail down what a “better experience” would be, which became the foundation on which CREOATE was built.
Where did you find the motivation to start your own business?
When we first started CREOATE, I was completely overwhelmed. I had never done anything like it before, so I completely understand how daunting it can be. But I found motivation in hitting small milestones, like choosing a name, creating a logo, and registering the company. You start to gain momentum from these small wins.
How did you start finding paying clients?
Finding paying clients was the most challenging part for me. Coming from a finance background that was so analytical and structured, I found it difficult to create my own plan from scratch. But after going through a quick learning curve, I figured out who my customers were, where they were, and what the customer journey looked like, all the while leaning on the numbers to get the best idea of what was working, and what wasn’t.
Once I understood this, I found it easier and more predictable to move people through individual stages. Although it won’t be possible for everyone, I recommend starting with paid channels to find your first clients. Starting with a small budget is a great way to gain insight into customer behavior's. As CREOATE began to take off, referrals became our main way of winning new business.
How would you describe your approach to facing and overcoming challenges?
Overall, I believe the key to success in the startup game is being able to enjoy a good challenge. I’m always thinking about how to be better, which I believe gives me a bit of insight into what challenges may be around the corner and helps me prepare for them. I also never get too comfortable or complacent.
As someone who’s very analytical, I believe that when it comes to challenges there are often common patterns. Digging into the root cause of an issue can help you avoid it again later.
What tips do you have for smaller businesses looking to stand out among competitors?
To stand out as a small brand, I think there are three important things: product, price, and a different, unique experience. The experience that you offer is the defining one. Fast service and little extra perks also go a long way in driving customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth marketing.
Any advice for businesses facing the prospect of raising prices during a recession?
When it comes to raising your prices in a recession, I suggest focusing on your margin. Can retailers sell your product for more if you increase your price? Have an honest conversation with your retailer to get all the facts and details before making a decision — focus on the numbers!
Were there any aspects of growing CREOATE that you found particularly challenging?
I struggled with sales because I’d never done it before. My breakthrough point was understanding what it takes to turn a website visitor or browser into a paying customer. Understanding the numbers and the data helped me to optimise the process.
It sounds like you’re well into your data. How do you track CREOATE’s numbers?
We use Google Analytics to analyze traffic and buyer behavior's. Analyzing how they land on our website, which pages they’re spending time on, and how long they’re there gives us an idea of where the quality is.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs just starting out with their business?
My advice for someone starting out is to be prepared for the marathon. There were plenty of times we could have walked away from CREOATE when it got difficult. It’s about seeing it through, being resilient, doing the things, and not giving up. Also, don’t go into this without an income stream. Hold onto the job you already have until your new business is bringing in a flow of cash.
And just for fun…where’s your favorited place you’ve travelled to?
I love visiting new places and would rather go to a new place than one I’ve already been to! If I had to choose, it would be Cuba: a mix of city, nature, and history.
To listen to this interview, a recorded version can be heard on the Lilach Bullock Podcast here.
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