Andy Hill from Bangor has operated e-commerce and digital marketing agency Dokoo Digital for a decade. However, the pandemic made him think about selling products of his own. As lockdown commenced, he founded his own e-commerce business with his wife and HillView Prints was born.
HillView Prints is an online business that sells prints of cityscapes designed by Nicole Hill and marketed by her husband, Andy. The business started as a welcome distraction from the lockdown bleakness and has surprised the couple with its success.
It all started when Andy and Nicole were looking for the perfect gift for their friend, but struggled to find what they wanted. They wanted to send their friend a memory of one of their favourite places, Galway, but couldn’t find anything they liked. Nicole had an idea to showcase her graphic design skills and sketched an image of Galway city herself.
The gift was well received so Andy decided to upload the design of the Galway prints to Etsy for sale. Before they knew it, people were requesting dozens of new prints and the Bangor couple soon had a fully functioning e-commerce business exporting products from Northern Ireland to customers around the world.
However, like any business, success doesn’t happen overnight, and it is no surprise that Andy’s 20+ years of experience in the marketing industry has been a key factor in the company’s success.
“It has always been my intention to start my own e-commerce company,” said Andy. “You could say the business has been in planning for 15+ years. Throughout my career, I had the chance to see what works for clients and what tools are necessary for a successful business.”
Last March, Andy was supposed to lead a social media course for a public sector client in London, however, this wasn’t possible as lockdown hit. Noticing some free time on his hands, Andy decided this was the perfect opportunity to finally start his own e-commerce company.
Andy has worked with some of the biggest e-commerce brands in the UK and has helped them grow through social media, it is this experience that has gave Hillview a head start in attracting customers.
“Nicole is the person behind the creative ideas, and she also takes charge of the logistics of the business, whereas I work behind the scenes on the marketing. My day job is still to run my digital marketing company and I treat HillView Prints like one of my clients. I see it as an opportunity to show clients that I can practice what I preach.”
It is no secret that there are risks involved when starting a new business. Andy stresses the importance for any type of small business to have a marketing mix in order to be successful.
“Social media is just 30% of your marketing mix – you also have to think about your website, the SEO, email marketing and Google Ads,” said Andy.
“I’m not saying you need to be an expert in each of these areas, but it is important to know about them and to understand what would work best for your business. At the moment, Social Media Ads are performing exceptionally for us and our social media is directing a lot of traffic back to our website.”
It is apparent that Andy’s plan to expose the brand has worked wonders, as over 75% of HillView Prints’ sales are outside of Northern Ireland.
“Often, it’s not about how good the actual product is,” said Andy. “It’s about how many people see it. England makes up 60% of our sales, Ireland and Northern Ireland are 15%, meaning 25% of sales are from the rest of the world.”
What is it about HillView Prints that makes them so popular to customers around the globe? Andy attributes a lot of the company’s success to nostalgia.
“People aren’t necessarily looking for their current hometown. They buy a place where they grew up in or have memories in, which is why a lot of our sales are from outside Northern Ireland.”
“There are certain places that lend themselves to this type of art – small, colourful places with nostalgic landmarks. For example, Portrush is one of our most popular prints because people have childhood memories with Barry’s or the Ramore restaurant. It brings out an emotional attachment to the print.”
Andy’s natural flare for statistics and interest in analytics has helped the company identify what their customers want. This has proven a vital part of the company’s success and Andy believes it is important to cater for their customers’ needs.
“50% of our sales are for gifts, so we make that process as easy as possible. We include a gift-wrapping option at the checkout and a handwritten card for the person receiving the print. We want the purchase to be as easy as possible for the customer and the gift as special as it should be for the receiver.”
Have global events in the last 12 months helped HillView Prints? Andy believes so. He said: “lockdown has helped the business in the sense of gifting. People are unable to go on holiday or visit their friends, so when someone receives a print from a loved one of a place they shared memories in, it makes their day – it’s a thoughtful, unique gift.”
We receive over 50,000 people on our website every month and we love the fact that our prints are giving people an outlet in these bleak times.”
HillView Prints has already proven that Andy can practice what he preaches and market his own e-commerce business. After just one year, people from all over the world are buying the prints, they have been seen on TV sets and have been purchased by celebrities, but this is just the beginning for the company.
“Anyone in business will tell you that one of the biggest joys in e-commerce is hearing that ‘cha-ching noise on your phone that indicates a sale,” said Andy. “We plan to keep growing and keep doing what we love.”