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The Beach People is an iconic Australian beach brand that started with a simple idea between two sisters, Emma Henderson and Victoria Beattie, who dreamt of creating a 'round towel’ that sold out in its first season and has since become a go-to item for beach lovers.

Shevon De Almeida from the Alavi team had the opportunity to speak to Emma on the inspiration behind the brand and how the brand's journey transformed from selling out of a garden shed to a million-dollar Australian eCommerce company.

Shevon De Almeida: Could you tell us about the brand ‘The Beach People’, what inspired you and your sister to start the brand and how did you go from selling beach towels to growing into a thriving e-commerce business within just a few years?    

Emma Henderson: My sister Victoria and I founded The Beach People in the summer of 2013. The goal was to earn an income while being mothers and not be tied to a 9-5 job. A goal which I’m proud to say we have achieved. We launched with a small collection of sea essentials and our entire website sold out in 4 weeks! That was the start of our journey. The Beach People is most renowned for being the original makers of the round towel. Changing the textile industry on a global level has been a career highlight for us. The idea for The Beach People came to me while sitting on the beach one afternoon with Victoria. I turned to her and said, ‘round towels could be cool’ and that’s where it all began. What was meant to be a small side hustle turned into a large, profitable business. All you need is one killer idea that is new to market and a willingness to spread the word and get your design out there.

Shevon: How does the brand stand out from others in the market and how do you continue to build trust and engage with customers online as an e-commerce business?    

Emma: We design products that enhance everyday life and create a lifestyle experience for our customers. Many other beach towels on the market are made from materials like polyester which are harmful to the environment, whereas all our towels are made from 100% luxurious cotton. We continue to build trust through designing quality, earth-friendly products and creating engaging content. We are not perfect in our sustainability journey, but getting better every day, and I think our community appreciates that too.  

Shevon: What are some of the challenges the brand faced during its initial stage of selling online?    

Emma: What challenges didn’t we face haha! Cash flow was a challenge, as well as having a new to market product that had an 8 weeklong waitlist of people wanting a towel - this put Victoria and I under huge pressure. Many other brands have copied us along the way as well, which is always disappointing to see. Let’s just say the challenges have been non-stop, however each challenge teaches us a new lesson and that’s worth so much!

Shevon: With nearly half of Australia’s population under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, retail and e-commerce has turned upside down. What are some of the recent challenges The Beach People has faced and how did the brand overcome these challenges?  

Emma: For us we have two main challenges: one is that we are border zone residents. We live and work on the QLD and NSW border. I have four staff members that cannot cross the border to get to work. We also have a pop-up store that I cannot get to. It’s really a hard time for border zone residents. Secondly, getting stock has been challenging with other countries in lockdown and shipping backed up, but there is not much we can do about that. Thankfully our staff can work from home, although it has increased Victoria and I’s workload as we now have to help out with things like shipping, etc. We also decided to stock some products from external, like-minded brands at the start of Covid, as we knew their product was more accessible and would be well-received by our customer. There is a lot of beauty during this strange time. We all must band together. I’m so grateful for our staff and our beautiful community for continuing to shop and support our brand!

Shevon: How does The Beach People create stronger online engagement and experiences for its customers online using technology?

Emma: We place a lot of importance on nurturing our email community. We treat our subscribers as VIP customers who receive exclusive access to new products, promotions, and content. Furthermore, we have completely overhauled our US website, and are about to redesign our Australian website, so they are more user-friendly and aesthetically beautiful. We have also always placed a lot of focus on our social media platforms, particularly Instagram. We have built such a loyal community on there; we love talking to our customers on a daily basis and providing them with engaging and inspiring content. We use tools such as swipe up links, Q+A boxes, polls, and reels to gain insight from our customers and to help boost conversions online.

Shevon: By 2023, global e-commerce is expected to nearly double, and technology continues to be the driving force behind e-commerce growth in Australia. What trends and big ideas are you excited about?  

Emma: We are so excited by this! There is so much opportunity in advancing our technology, we do have a secret project in the pipeline, you will have to keep following our social media channels for updates!

Shevon: What is one piece of advice you would give small to medium businesses that are looking to expand globally for the first time?  

Emma: I know it’s simple but trust your gut! I would also say find a mentor who has walked the journey before you, someone you can call and ask for advice. My sister would say get a good accountant and keep your books clean haha…

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