Pocket Notebooks interview: The niche Newcastle startup shipping worldwide
Headed by two North East entrepreneurs, ecommerce business Pocket Notebooks has had a busy first 7 months in operation to say the least.
The digital startup, which began as a side project founded on a love of stationery, has sprang into life, shipping notebooks worldwide from its Newcastle base.
Setup in June 2015 by Tony Short, 32, PocketNotebooks.co.uk was a natural progression from Tony’s main project, StudioAlt, a website dedicated to selling an array of analogue tools, products and resources.
With notebooks becoming a popular item, Tony believed enough demand existed for such products alone and so, PocketNotebooks.co.uk was born.
He explained: “I’ve always loved notebooks. Even today, when everyone’s making notes on their laptops, tablets or phones, I’m jotting down the same - except it’s in a beautifully created notebook full of stunning paper!”
Shortly after launch, Tony invited close friend and fellow digital enthusiast Dan Smith, 29, on board.
Dan said: “Having worked regularly with startups on a digital level, it was great to get involved with PocketNotebooks.co.uk, as like Tony, I’m a true stationery geek at heart.
“Being able to engage with fellow stationery geeks from around the world has been fantastic, and it’s unbelievable to know we have customers that are both just round the corner from us, as well as right on the other side of the planet. Stationery really does bring us all together!”
Stocking an array of different notebooks, as well as providing a selection of monthly subscription services, the site has established itself as a niche 5European supplier of popular American brands.
Perhaps though, the brand’s greatest achievement to date is in establishing itself as a key UK supplier of the globally popular Hobonichi Techo, a Japanese planner, which sold out on four separate occasions during the Christmas run in.
“The Hobonichi Techos are unbelievable” explains Tony (pictured below). “Having heard about them early last year, Dan and I agreed to test the water with a small order in October, expecting to have a handful left come Christmas - we’d sold out in just over a week, and had to place another four orders of increasing sizes the demand was that large.”
“We also aim to bring new notebooks from around the world to the audience who may otherwise have not known about them.”
The demand and feedback we received [for the Hobonichis] was out of this world“, adds Dan.
“We started with a trial order of 40 in September, thinking we’d have some left come Christmas. We ended up selling several hundred.”
So how do Dan and Tony plan to keep momentum going to grow the business?
“We ship a lot to Europe, with France and Germany probably our two biggest countries outside of the UK”, explains Dan.
“We’re also shipping more and more to the US. This is particularly satisfying, given that many of the notebooks we sell are from US providers, and so a lot of the feedback we receive is that the general experience Pocket Notebooks offers is worth the few extra dollars and delivery days, which is awesome!
“Our plans are to be shipping regularly to a handful of new countries by the end of the year - we’d love to see a customer in Japan, often considered the destination for first class stationery, receive one of our packages.
“What’s more, with the popularity in the US, we’re in talks at the moment with several US fulfilment companies, which would allow us to offer an even better service to our US customers.”
With products in high demand, Dan says he’s looking forward to embracing what should only be viewed as a positive challenge.
He continues: “When I first started working with Pocket Notebooks, I wasn’t really aware of how popular of an industry this was.
“Tony obviously had much more of an understanding, but I think the extent of it has taken us both by surprise.”
Of course, this is indeed true with stationery companies likeKikki K expanding to the UK and Paperchase experiencing a resurgence following prior difficulties.
Dan (pictured above) continues: “[Stationery demand] was cemented for us by the continuous selling out of the Hobonichi Techo planner. Since autumn 2015, we’ve made six large orders - and they’ve now all sold out.
“The progress we’ve seen to date has happened so quickly, if it continues at this rate, dedicated facilities and job creations are inevitable.”
He continued: “We’re already talking to a selection of North East and wider UK distribution and fulfilment companies, as well those in the US to further establish the brand across the Atlantic, but regardless, we’re going to have to expand - it’s the direction our audience are pushing us!”
So what about long term goals? Could we see Pocketnotebook-produce manufactured on Tyneside?
Dan reveals: “In terms of any notebooks manufactured in the North East - not yet, but we definitely have plans to move along this path. It’s largely come about because we’ve tested a few different pocket notebooks from the UK, and although good, we felt they were missing something.
“Drawing on our knowledge and experience, the plan is to create a set of notebooks that tick all the boxes, essentially creating a notebook we know we’d use regularly.”
Yet, with big plans and ambition ahead Dan is keen to ensure the business maintains the ethos which has garnered success so far.
“We focus on the customer”, says Dan.
“From listening, responding and generally engaging on social media through to including bespoke, handwritten notes in each package we send out, we know the importance of great customer service, and really do do as much as we can to make every single customer happy.”
To find out more or speak to Tony and Dan, visit https://pocketnotebooks.co.uk/.
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