SIAR’s picture-perfect move into e-commerce

With 95pc of sales now directly from online channels and thanks to the Trading Online Voucher Scheme, Ennis-based SIAR Photography founder Gary Collins is in no doubt that e-commerce is the future.

It was while touring the world with Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, Collins developed a passion for photography that has only grown through the years to the point where it is now a full-time business.

“Dancing shoes on and camera in hand I began documenting the landscapes and cultures of my travels from 2003 to 2005. On returning to Ireland I worked as an accountant, all the while continuing to progress my photography and soon found myself shooting local sport and then progressing to family, wedding and commercial photography.

“In the last 30 days, our online traffic has grown 484pc with online sales increasing by 1,032pc”

”For three years, I worked both jobs in sync: Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 I was business manager and tour accountant for One Direction’s world tour, while weekday evenings and weekends I was a freelance Photographer. Eventually the time came to focus solely on photography and my first company, Gary Collins Photography, was founded in 2014.

“It’s a fantastic industry to work in – I nearly become part of people’s families on the day of each wedding and while I always incorporate the Irish landscape into this work, a niggle remained within me that my personal passion for landscape photography remained unfilled.”

Collins is also the owner of SIAR Photography, a business that has through the help of the Trading Online Voucher from the Local Enterprise Offices managed to thrive throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

“SIAR Photography was created due to this lack of a home for my passion projects involving the Irish landscape and culture. My beginning was as a hobbyist landscape Photographer and my personal collection of Irish landscape and culture photographic work, past and present, was simply stored on numerous hard-drives in my office with nowhere to showcase or share them.”

The idea never left the back of Collins’ mind and he decided to pursue it as a business.

“And in early 2019 with a renewed investment in developing my continuing passion for Ireland and the outdoors, the idea for SIAR Photography came about – a new brand, separate identity and home for my contemporary landscape and cultural photography of Ireland. This idea was teased out and really came into being its own entity while taking part in Irelands Best Young Entrepreneur – Best Idea Category through the Local Enterprise Office in May 2019.”

How the West was won

SIAR meaning “West” or Westward” in Irish, is a range of contemporary photographic prints of the Irish landscape and culture by Gary Collins.

“Established in 2019, our products are captured, printed, packaged and sold from county Clare on the Wild Atlantic Way. SIAR arises from looking at the Irish landscape and culture in a unique way, with a local perspective, portraying the environment, Irish culture and heritage along with traditional landscape photographic shots. SIAR prints are presented in a contemporary style; on archival quality matt paper, with modern presentation and framing, available in A4 and A3 sizing, unframed and framed. SIAR also recently launched a boutique range of notebooks, greeting cards and tote bags.”

SIAR prints are printed, signed, framed and shipped by Gary from his home studio in Ennis, Co. Clare with the help of Rua, the office cat.

In 2019 SIAR Photography was a Finalist in the County Clare Round of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur in the Best Business Idea category and in 2020 a Finalist in the Clare Final of the National Enterprise Awards.

In January 2020, SIAR took part in ‘Showcase Ireland’, with the support of LEO Clare, where we launched our brand and products to the retail world. Prior to the event, we were selected to be a featured supplier in the national campaign ‘LEO at Showcase 2020’ developed by the national Local Enterprise Office organisation, with features at Showcase 2020 itself and online/media coverage in the lead up to the event.

At Showcase Ireland, SIAR successfully secured retail partnerships with a number of retailers both locally in Clare and internationally in the US. In Ireland, SIAR has an active retail relationship with Irish Crafts in Doolin, Seoidin Crafts in Ennis and Dublin, and in 2021 will be stocked by Shannon Group in both their Bunratty Castle & Folk Park Irish Design shop and their Cliffs of Moher visitor centre.

“We will also be developing a SIAR X Bunratty Castle original print range exclusively available in the folk park Irish Design Shop. Internationally, we have partnerships with retail outlets in Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and Germany. In 2021, we will be focussing on developing international retail, in particular in the North American (CTA) region.

“SIAR is also in the final stages of partnering with Wayfair.co.uk as a supplier/online retailer, where our prints will reach a potential audience of 15.5m customers,” Gary explained.

Impact of Covid-19

When Covid-19 restrictions hit in March 2020 Collins saw a 75pc decline in his wedding photography work for the year.

“Coupled with lost commercial opportunities, income was projected to be down over 80%. With the projected return to normal for weddings not expected until mid-2021 I decided to shift my focus to SIAR Photography.

“SIAR was officially launched in November 2019 and the initial focus was to wholesale to Irish retailers and international stores with an Irish diaspora connection. At Showcase Ireland 2020, a number of retail partnerships were agreed, however, before peak tourist season could kick off, these retailers had to close their doors and orders were paused. SIAR itself then had to pivot its focus to our own e-commerce and direct sales.

“SIAR was granted the LEO Trading Online Voucher and used this to put in the groundwork from July to September on our SEO, backend e-commerce functionality, online brand awareness and digital product advertising campaigns. Our aim was to be at an advanced stage of readiness for Christmas campaigns. At the initial lockdown in there was a large push towards Support Local and SIAR was ready to take advantage of this for Lockdown 2.

“In September and October, our strategy was to align with the ‘Support Irish’ and ‘Shop Local’ campaigns to drive sales via our own e-commerce website and also to increase on online retail channels (e.g. MarketStreet.ie).

“We interacted #with BuyIrish influencers via our social channels and submitted for listing on a number of Irish Craft websites, locally and nationally, such as LoveGreen.ie and the #ClickforClare initiative by LEO Clare and the Clare Echo. On foot of the online opportunities we responded to, SIAR was published on the RTE Christmas Gift Guide and the Irish Examiner Munster Click and Connect guide.

“Both of these articles have driven large volumes of traffic and sales to our SIAR website. Our online presence has grown through all these interactions / listings and overall SIAR Photography as a brand is becoming more familiar with our target customers.”

Online odyssey

SIAR’s website launched in November 2019 to align with Showcase Ireland.

“In October 2020: 95pc of our sales were online direct sales, we have a small retail element, who are now selling mainly online themselves and generating 5pc of sales.

“In the last 30 days, our online traffic has grown 484pc with online sales increasing by 1,032pc. In terms of sales reach, orders have come from nationwide within Ireland and also internationally, with recent orders shipping to Toronto, Berlin, Barcelona, Perth and Rio de Janerio.”

Collins said the support of the Local Enterprise Office has been invaluable and very much the catalyst for SIAR’s creation.

“Through the SIAR Photography journey so far, I’ve availed of a number of mentor sessions that have been invaluable on different topics including, developing a business plan, presenting at international Trade Fairs and on contracting and dealing with large online retailers, e.g. Wayfair. Furthermore, participating the Clare Enterprise awards in early 2020, offered further mentoring and support that has been extremely beneficial in focusing SIAR to grow in the future.

“LEO also supported us for Showcase Ireland 2020 and helped us become one of the featured content businesses where we appeared on the Local Enterprise Office visitor section promotion material, both print and video. From this opportunity we have also been accepted to virtually exhibit at Showcase Ireland 2021.”

He said that virtual training sessions since March 2020 have been a fantastic addition to the knowledge gained from LEO supports.

“Some of the courses I have participated in have included ABC Sales and Marketing Techniques, where I gained insight into using social media to close sales and how to further improve my sales and marketing action plan for the coming months. There was also Managing your Online Business, a comprehensive guide and discussion on how to generate leads, capture data, convert sales and nurturing online commerce partnerships.”

SIAR received the Trading Online Voucher in July 2020. “This gave us the opportunity to develop our ecommerce site strategically in terms of attracting customers and enabled us to be in a fantastic position to take advantage of the online purchase trend at present.

“The 90/10 payment ratio was invaluable to a small business in the current times and has enabled us to progress our online presence in a faster and more streamlined manner than if we did not have this support and were self-funding.”

Video: How to get your business selling online

With Christmas 2020 now past, the year ahead 2021 still presents retailers with a challenge to go online to not only deal with closed premises if they are deemed non-essential but to address the expectations of an increasingly digitalised consumer.

To get the message out to SMEs, Bank of Ireland collaborated with online shopping platform Shopify as well as Pointy, the Irish platform recently acquired by Google that helps shoppers find via the internet the products they need in your physical store, and the E-commerce Association of Ireland (eCAI), to highlight the opportunities that exist online.

 

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 26 January 2021