Elliot Alexander embodies the kiwi can do spirit – don’t waste time flapping about and just get started is his attitude. After many years snowboarding, he decided to knuckle down and set up (online) shop in the form of endemicworld.com.
Back in my early twenties, fresh out of uni, I happened to be one of his first suppliers with my then label, The Catalina Necklace Club. Since then, his store has evolved from stocking all sorts of homewares and designer goods, to focusing on his niche – stocking only limited edition art, prints & graphics.
Nowadays he plays shop keeper in real life at his Ponsonby store which is best friends with the online one. These changes in direction reflect his agile, give-it-a-go attitude and his mantra to always give the customer what they want. Elliot tells us how he makes it all happen while staying a happy laid back kiwi bloke.
Name: Elliot William Alexander
What did you study and what was your original intended career path?
All I wanted to do was snowboard really, nothing else, I scrapped through 6th form and I failed 7th form no career path planned, went to Otago Polytech in Wanaka and got a Certificate in Mountain Recreation there, but eventually went to Lincoln uni and got a bachelor in tourism/hotel management. Never used it in a career kind of way, but it meant I could keep snowboarding! Ended up selling art because I was around it since I was born with collector parents and a Dad and sister who were both graphic designers.
Give us a brief background on your career to date:
I started endemicworld in 2008, after arriving home from traveling. I always knew I wanted to start a business; I had lots of ideas, was always researching and talking to people about their businesses. All my previous jobs were in other industries. I had never worked in retail, web or art.
Places and Graces x endemicworld
Who else was pivotal in making endemicworld happen?
The whole family really. Sue and Grant (Mum and Dad) funded the capital and gave me the opportunity in the early days. My sister Kate was creative lead, she was the director of Studio Alexander at the time, a design company she co-owned with Grant (now has started Places and Graces). Studio Alexander did all our web design, branding etc. and that was driven by Kate. But the entire Studio Alexander crew had lot of input early on, especially Richard Unsworth and Natasha Vermuelen. From a business side though I’ve had a few personal business heroes, unofficial mentors and great friends who knew how to listen and provide some valuable input.
What are some of the most exciting parts of having an online store?
Well today the online store is only half our business, but having random people from the other side of the world buy something you created is still an amazing buzz. Then it would have to be the customer feedback we get, the one liner emails from those who are so super stoked with their purchase, they take the time and effort to tell us how super stoked they are.
You stock a lot of indie artist who are just starting out, how do you find them and why is it important to include them in your offering?
We don’t really view it like that, just starting or established, indie or mainstream, famous or not, we view it all the same. It’s either awesome art or less awesome art. So we just try to keep a balance of awesomeness across the endless styles of art that exist.
[line][pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]Ha, finished, we are just getting started![/pullquote] [line]
What was the process from start to finish of making endemicworld happen?
Ha, finished, we are just getting started!
Recently you ventured into the bricks and mortar realm of things, how did you find that process and would you continue to include a physical store into your mix?
Yep, scary as, but fun too, suddenly your looking your customers in the eye instead of emailing them all the time, we also found out that our culture fitted perfectly with a retail offering… its all about mean tunes, cool art …. In fact we move into a bigger space in 4 weeks, watch this space!
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]Instead of viewing it as a “marketing tool”, just be truly social with your customers, it can actually be a lot of fun.[/pullquote] [line]
How important is social media in running an online business?
Stupidly important, even for physical stores. The hard bit is not being able to switch off, you have to be engaged 24/7. But instead of viewing it as a “marketing tool”, just be truly social with your customers, it can actually be a lot of fun.
How else do people find you?
Word of mouth is number 1; that rule never changes, its marketing 101.
What are some of the unexpected results of running an online store?
Logistics! Its crazy, we did the hard work in working out how to efficiently ship art fast and safely, we now provide this as a service to other artists and retailers. You couldn’t get anything less “arty”. We work with box makers, designers, artists, and customers to constantly fine-tune the experience of receiving art in the mail.
What’s been some of the biggest challenges for you?
Learning how to stop and have lunch.
[line][pullquote width=”600″ float=”left”]Open today, like actually open your online store right now, just use a free template.[/pullquote] [line]
What advice would you give to someone starting an online store of their own?
Read the new book by the founder of CD Baby (I wish it was published when I started),
And open today, like actually open your online store right now, just use a free template… then design it and make it fancy, not the other way around… only when you open do you know what your customers want.
What would you say to your 21-year-old self?
Study finance and smoke more pot.
What person dead or alive would you invite to a dinner party and why?
Captain Cook, I want to know what it was like before we chopped the trees down and how good the fishing was.The majority of photos in this article are by Swift & Click for Fancy NZ Design Blog.