How to Grow an Ecommerce Business from R0 to R470 Million in just 15 years

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They enjoy an estimated 463 440 website visitors and are liked by over 179 000 Facebook users, and followed by 27 500 people on Twitter. Not bad for a company with modest beginnings, and today Yuppiechef needs no introduction. 

yuppiechef website visitors per month

How did Yuppiechef become a household name and what can startup companies learn from them?

Small beginnings

If you love to keep a beautiful home and your kitchen is your happy place, yuppiechef.com is probably one of your shopping go-tos.

Whether you are looking for trusted brands like Carrol Boyes or silicone moulds to bake waffles in the oven (who wouldn’t want that?), Yuppiechef is the answer.

It wasn’t always like this. If you own a startup, this might sound familiar. Two friends decided to start a business together. So they sold bug zapping tennis rackets, country flags and rat traps.

Yuppiechef was founded by Andrew Smith and Shane Dryden in 2006, and their base of operation was, according to their website, a lounge in Plumstead.

Sharing their success story, Andrew told ExpertHub that they had no startup capital, so they did all the technical work involved in setting up an e-commerce site themselves.

“We only made 11 sales in the first four months, and 10 of them were to friends and family,” he said. 

He goes on to say that it took five years before Yuppiechef could support their families, and even then they still did other work.

They did something right, because five years on, on their 10th birthday, they have grown to having more than 6 000 products, both from local and international brands, on offer. 

For those who are not yet comfortable with shopping online, Yuppiechef also boasts seven real life stores.

Yuppiechef’s success and growth

As time passed their success grew, and the list of awards behind their name is enough to inspire any entrepreneur. 

The most recent, in 2019, was the Digital Company of the Year Award in the SA National Business Awards.

Others include the South African Online Retailer of the Year Award and Best Employer in the South African Tech & E-Commerce Awards. 

The fact that they walked away with the trophy for the Best E-Commerce Store in the South African E-Commerce Awards for six years in a row also deserves a mention.

Yuppiechef’s success recently culminated in the announcement that they would be purchased in full by the Mr Price retail group – for a cool R470 million in cash.

Business Insider reports that the money will go to the US hedge fund Tiger Global Management, who owns a minority stake in Yuppiechef, Andrew and Shane, and Paul Galatis (marketing director/part owner). 

Not a bad payday at all for hanging in there, believing in your work and being patiently dedicated. 

Traffic strategy for a successful E-comm store?

The most difficult part in any business plan is getting the right customers to view your offer. Luckily these days it’s a bit easier, however complicated to get to your ideal customers.

source of traffic ychef1
Traffic sources

Looking at YC’s traffic, they get a large part of their traffic from organic searches, which means they rely on SEO (search engine optimisation) as a source of traffic.

They had a massive increase in organic traffic from December 2020 to March 2021. They are ranking top three for some highly competitive keywords inlcluding juicer, le creuset, carrol boyes, bar fridges and coffee machines.

They also spend around R80k on paid advertisements that bring in 42 000 monthly visitors from Google ads advertisements.

paid ads to brand name 1

The secret to E-commerce success

While the range of products on offer will excite any home lover, a success recipe Yuppiechef followed from the start is simply putting the customer first.

A peek at customer reviews on consumer website HelloPeter provides evidence for their success in this area: 

Your service and products have always been the best in the industry.

I always receive the best service from Yuppiechef. Whether I am enquiring about delivery, returns etc. The response is quick, the staff is friendly and they deliver what they promise.

Stunning customer service and really wonderful products. Such a wonderful and lovely energy in the store. Love shopping here. Will definitely be back.

Yuppiechef understands about customer service and keeping it personalised. Yuppiechef is not the cheapest, but you definitely get what you pay for…service, service and more service!

Overwhelming positive feedback like this is hard to come by these days. Can your customers/clients say the same about your business?

The high value Yuppiechef places on their customers shines through in a visit to their offices, where you’ll see the names of their first 200 customers frosted onto a window.

Small touches make all the difference and is worth paying attention to in your own company. 

Every Yuppiechef customer is thanked with a handwritten note in which the customer is called by their name. A simple gesture, but one that is bound to make the customer feel special.

The intention of the handwritten note was not to merely be a marketing gimmick

The very first thank you note was written after Yuppiechef waited a long time for the first order that didn’t come from friends or family, and their gratitude was real.

“Back then we had no real way of knowing that our simple act of writing a thank you note to each person who subsequently ordered would come to define our brand as much as it has.”

In an interview, Smith explained that the founders asked themselves one question from the first day: “How would the customer enjoy this?”

With everything they went on to do, they continued to ask themselves this question, and made it an integral part of every aspect of their business.

Reliable service remains invaluable though, for its ability to create trust in the people that make use of your business.

Top lessons from Yuppiechef‘s growth

Experience is the best teacher, and looking back, the founders of Yuppiechef have learned valuable lessons.

In an interview with Skillsportal Smith said that they insisted on building everything in their business in-house from the start.

“As a result, the entire business, including our collective effort of over 700 000 handwritten cards and all of our world-class tech systems, is entirely hand-built in South Africa.”

“This obviously means that Yuppiechef is a proudly South African creation, but it’s not the most efficient or cost effective way to scale a business,” he says.

Dryden added that in the beginning, they assumed that the process of growing their business was going to be much easier than it turned out to be. 

“We wrongly assumed that we could build a substantial business with a fairly limited staff compliment.”

“We soon realised that you need to surround yourself with talented and passionate people if you want to create something remarkable.”

Dryden advises entrepreneurs to be confident about what they are selling.

“We assumed that because we were a small business based in South Africa that certain things on the international stage would be off-limits to us.”

“This may just be a mindset which is pervasive with South African entrepreneurs in general, but it’s so not true.”

Bottom line

Andrew Smith and Shane Dryden started out as best friends who wanted to start a business – nothing too special about that. Your story might sound similar.

With unwavering focus on impeccable service and genuine appreciation for their customers, they created an empire out of the fairly simple idea of selling homeware. 

It has been done.

How can you grow your empire to similar heights?

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Noleen Fourie
Noleen Fourie
Animal lover, avid reader, imaginative over-thinker with a weakness for fudge, Noleen resides in Johannesburg, SA. Noleen has vast experience in both the newspaper and magazine industries, and believes that knowledge is power.
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