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Business Type:

Multichannel retailer

Industry:

Swimwear

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How this swimwear business went from retail to multichannel success with DEAR + LifeSync, Shopify, Xero — and a modern software stack

 

Sand Dollar Dubai says that other businesses need to dive into DEAR.

 

If you were looking to start a new swimwear venture, there might not be a better place to do it than Dubai. The city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and its many five-star hotels are often right on the sumptuous 40-mile beachfront. With warm, sunny weather all year round, and shallow, safe water, it might just be one of the world’s top beach spots.

Lucy Gibson, founder of Sand Dollar Dubai, certainly thought so. After living in and working for the UAE government for a number of years, she noticed a gap in the Dubai swimwear market, which inspired her to take the plunge into business. She founded Sand Dollar as a multi-brand store, importing top swimwear from all over the world, and servicing the Dubai resort market.

“I was working for the government here, and wanted to do something for myself,” Lucy says. “I started Sand Dollar about 12 years ago, with just one standalone store — but then I had children, which slowed me down a bit!”

Lucy didn’t let it slow her down for long. Within a few years, she’d opened up two more stores in Dubai, and expanded from bricks-and-mortar by adding a fledgling ecommerce operation. Despite her family commitments, Lucy managed to make it all herself, using a DIY website builder. “I was learning as I was going, so it was very slow! It went on like that for about two and a half years – there was very little traffic to the site, and there wasn’t much revenue.”

However, retail revenue was enough that Lucy was eventually able to employ more staff to help her manage the business.They opened up new stores, and ramped up the ecommerce. But then, despite everything, they found themselves floundering.

The only thing getting in the way of Sand Dollar’s continued success was their inventory management.

 

Taking the plunge

A lot of businesses find that growth is hampered by inventory inefficiencies, and Sand Dollar was no different. They tried out a few systems, including Odoo, but they didn’t do what they needed them to.

“It was a nightmare,” Lucy says. “We went to so many companies — I wanted to find someone local, so I’d have support and no timezone challenges. We went from one to another. I can’t remember them all, but I remember they were tens of thousands of dollars – I’m talking crazy investments. And they didn’t all do what we needed them to do.”

What Sand Dollar needed was a multichannel system — something that could keep track of inventory across their retail operations and their website, and be a single source of truth. In between spending mornings selling swimwear and spending afternoons with the kids, Lucy kept searching.

“Literally, I was just Googling, and one night I found DEAR,” Lucy says. “I thought, finally, this sounds perfect.”

As well as offering the features Sand Dollar needed, thanks to DEAR’s extensive partner network, Lucy could depend on local help in Dubai. “We got in touch with a local DEAR partner, an accounting company called LifeSync. I took them on as my accountants, and they set me up on DEAR. It was the solution we were looking for. From then onwards it’s been great — no looking back.”

 

Making a splash

The quickest win from Sand Dollar’s DEAR implementation was instant inventory visibility. With shops in Dubai and the UK, merchandise spread across multiple locations including third-party warehouses, and ecommerce sales, there’s a lot of moving parts to the business. But DEAR makes all this complexity simple — as well as highlighting any issues that need to be addressed.

“DEAR gives me a good indication of stock levels — where we’ve got high inventory, where we need to restock, what inventory still needs to be paid for. It’s just good to be able to login and see a live record of all the inventory figures, to date.”

As a mom, Lucy needs her inventory management software to be as flexible as she is. The cloud-based nature of DEAR means her inventory information is always with her, whether she’s at a Sand Dollar store, her home office, or even waiting to pick up the kids in the car.

“I love to log on to DEAR and instantly see the status of our shops and ecommerce,” Lucy says. “It’s a quick, easy way to see what’s selling, and how much revenue we’ve had that day. I love that aspect of it.”

But there’s more to business than just inventory visibility. Behind the scenes of their retail stores and website, Sand Dollar Dubai is running a world-class, highly-integrated software stack that encompasses everything from accounting to customer service.

And none of it would be possible without DEAR, says Stephen Watson, Director of Digital Strategy at Sand Dollar.

 

“DEAR is a business-critical infrastructure piece for us,” Stephen says.

He lists the applications that make up their software stack, which gives them functionality that equals or exceeds a traditional ERP. For Sand Dollar, Xero powers the accounting, and Shopify sits behind their ecommerce store. DHL Express Commerce is used for shipping, and there’s also a host of other apps that tie directly into Xero, Shopify, and DEAR, or utilize their ability to “talk” to each other via open APIs.

“We couldn’t do business without DEAR,” Stephen says. “It’s the most critical out of all the apps, because it manages such a sensitive part of the business.”

DEAR, Stephen explains, is the reason that Sand Dollar can offer great customer service. Shoppers will reach out via Sand Dollar’s website or email, which connects to Zendesk, and request a particular item – typically a swimsuit or accessory they really love. Moving the item between locations means an inventory transfer — typically a headache for businesses — but DEAR makes it easy, and the customer walks away happy.

“We’ll get a message saying ‘Hey, love this. What location has it?’ or ‘I’m closest to this location.” They’ll pre-purchase it, we’ll initiate an inventory transfer, send the item, sell it, and make sure that location is the one that’s counted for the sale,” Stephen says. “That way, we’re keeping track of what stores are doing the most business.” DEAR keeps things simple even when much bigger operations or transfers are required, like when Sand Dollar opened a new store. “With DEAR’s bulk editing, we were able to do it with one bulk edit versus having to go product by product, or collection by collection.”

DEAR is also playing a part in Sand Dollar’s ongoing plans for expansion. In 2022, they’re looking to open a new location in Abu Dhabi, expand their ecommerce offering, and push into online marketplaces. “The ability to have that inventory control and that visibility is crucial for us in order for us to expand online channels,” Stephen says. “As well as expanding into more marketplaces and physical locations. DEAR is one of those softwares where maybe it’s not sexy, but it’s absolutely necessary.”

With DEAR powering their inventory operations and acting as the firm foundation for a nimble, modern software stack, Lucy says that Sand Dollar is now a true multichannel business.

“Everything’s live, across all locations, and everyone within the organization has the ability to sell any of the stock. That’s what we were looking for when we came across DEAR.”
The one piece of software Sand Dollar Dubai needs to manage it all
While many pure retailers struggled with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, systems like DEAR have made it possible for fast-moving operators to lean on ecommerce. Now that retail is bouncing back in a lot of locations, like Dubai, businesses with true multichannel operations are able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

In the Sand Dollar shops, DEAR’s native Point Of Sale functionality makes it easy for staff to sell to customers, and Lucy has peace of mind knowing that all in-person sales made are instantly updated in their inventory. Another benefit of this POS system is that DEAR easily handles multiple currencies, something that other systems either don’t do or charge you more for. As a tourist hub, the UAE accepts payment in a number of different currencies, which would create massive problems on other systems — but DEAR handles multiple currencies effortlessly, both in-store and online.

“With DEAR we can use US dollars, and we can take payment in US dollars in-store, rather than just the local AED currency,” Lucy says.

The multichannel, multi-market model also has the potential to create trouble staying compliant with tax regulations in multiple jurisdictions, but Lucy says that DEAR helps here too. With DEAR, they’re able to offer prices that differ between in-person shopping and online, and that take tax obligations into account.

 

Life’s a beach with DEAR

Looking back over the last few years, Lucy says that it’s incredible to see how far Sand Dollar has come with DEAR. Efficiency has hugely increased, and revenue is up too.

“We’ve really moved on since implementing DEAR, compared to what we’ve started off with. We didn’t even have barcodes at one point!” she laughs. “Now, we can sell our whole inventory via ecommerce, rather than just what we had sitting in the main warehouse. Revenue has definitely increased, because we’ve got the whole product range on offer.”

Stephen agrees. DEAR has helped Sand Dollar Dubai ride out the waves of the Covid crisis and grow to where they are now, and he says it’s impossible to imagine the business without the system. “You couldn’t scale. You would spend so much time. Trying to think of how we would operate without DEAR — that’s good for a laugh!” he says.

“I just think we’ve got a lot tighter control over the financial situation,” Lucy adds. “With product ordering, we haven’t got as much dead stock because we know what we’ve got, and we can easily visualize it. There there’s so many different things. DEAR really has just taken us on to the next level.”

Is it worth the money? “Oh God, yeah. Definitely.” When it comes to calculating a return of their investment in DEAR, Sand Dollar says the amount they pay is totally negligible, compared to the incredible benefits the system has brought the business. In fact, this was a huge factor in their purchase decision, as the bespoke ERP systems offered by other vendors had massive upfront costs, and were going to take upwards of six months to implement. “I don’t even really notice it, paying monthly! With DEAR, there was no huge initial investment, and it just keeps everything running smoothly,” Lucy says.

With the benefit of several years with DEAR, Sand Dollar reckons other businesses should absolutely take the plunge, “if they’re looking for a solution that’s perfect for small and medium enterprises.”

“Not everyone has a massive outlay or reserve of cash to put into a system,” Lucy says. “DEAR is cost-effective, super-efficient, and readily available to implement in the least amount of time. We’re very happy with it.”

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