Growing up with two artistic parents in the Midlands of KZN and frequenting the nearby Drakensberg, Alistair was setup for a deep appreciation of nature and aesthetic. How he would arrive at manufacturing sustainable eyewear and apparel in Cape Town is quite the story.
Origin: Arriving at Ballo 1.0
Following some time cutting his teeth in design, marketing and strategy for an advertising firm Alistair was set on working for himself. He started off freelancing doing web design and development. Helping other businesses launch online stores surely helped him develop skills that would later prove useful with Ballo.
One day a friend of his sent him a link to a company in the US selling sustainable sunglasses made from wood. He was drawn to the concept and decided to reach out to see if they'd be interested in selling wholesale. Some time later Alistair was all set with a batch to sell through local markets and retailers. After 18 months of growing this small business while freelancing Alistair was becoming increasingly frustrated with a number of aspects of running his business. One big realisation was that the sustainable products he was importing were not actually coming from the states as they were marketed. A huge part of his passion to be part of this space was to create something unique, special and sustainable. This led Alistair to explore engineering and designing his own line of glasses. He hired a contract engineer and spent 6 months creating Ballo 1.0. His experience with glasses helped him understand the nuances and problematic details of eyewear functionality.
The Product: Sustainable to it's core, locally made.
Locally made. Ballo products are all designed and handmade in Cape Town. South Africa has a big challenge with unemployment which is why they choose not to automate Frames move from hand to hand, process to process, being refined and checked before they are set free.
Upcycled. Ballo runs their business differently by using recycled offcuts and other sustainable materials to create every product which leads to reduced waste.
Focused on Doing Good for all. Ballo is carbon neutral and setup with the business model of giving back with each purchase. For each pair of eyewear they sell, they plant a tree with GreenPop.
Ballo products are all designed and handmade in Woodstock, Cape Town.
OWL / AFRICAN FABRIC 4
Alistair was fortunate enough to start Ballo from his own savings. He put R150,000 into the business to get the first batch of Ballo sunglasses to market.
Building an Online Store. Choosing a platform and getting it built.
Ballo.co.za was built and designed by Alistair himself.
While freelancing his had built a ton of sites on WordPress and WooCommerce which he was a big fan of. One of his clients wanted to migrate to Shopify which gave him the opportunity to see what it was all about. He was won over by the built in functionality, ease of use and UX. When preparing to launch Ballo he weighed the options once again and realised just how innovative and established Shopify was and he went with it.
What theme do you use? Why did you chose it?
Ballo is using Turbo a premium theme from Shopify. As part of a recent redesign they decided to invest the money in a theme that had a bit more flexibility and functionality.
Are there any challenges with the Platform you are on?
The only issue is Just cost. Shopify is priced in USD which makes the monthly fee fluctuate. Also, the transaction fees are pretty high compared to other platforms. As we grew we decided to move to the $79 a month plan to get the Shopify transaction fees down to 1% (from 2%).
What Apps and Services do you find most useful?
Primarily the integration Shopify has to Facebook and Instagram are where we find the most valuable. Social is a huge driver of traffic and product discovery for us. For mail marketing they use Mailchimp, it's easy, cost effective and works well. They tried Shopify's new mail marketing platform but it seemed a little buggy.
A few other apps they've found useful are Multi-currency switcher and Multi-Country Pricing. Both of these apps are by MLVeda.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business? How have you responded?
Ballo has 3 retail locations so the lockdown in South Africa has hit that part of their business particularly hard. They were able to pivot quickly to have their team manufacture mask and for each mask they sold we gave away a mask. They found a lot of joy in being able to distribute over 800 masks to community organisations that can identify needs. Alistair has been really blown away by the generosity of their customer base who have been keen to give back to causes throughout Covid-19.
Ballo began creating and selling masks duing Covid-19.
Growing your business: Tips of the trade.
Spending money for high quality photos is worth every cent. If you want to be a world class brand you need to look like a world class brand. A lot of businesses miss the mark on this. Shopify's direct and easy to use integration has made Instagram and Facebook Ballo's top acquisition channels.
Alistair attributes much of Ballo's early success to getting his product in front of people. In the early days they were selling at the Old Biscuit Mill, today they have 3 retail locations. While retail sales aren't looking great with Covid-19 it has historically been a great way to win over new customers from local and abroad.
Who do you use for Payments and Shipping? What are the pros and cons of these services?
Ballo uses Payfast for payments, it works but the fees are quite high.
For shipping Ballo has three different providers they use depending on the use case. For international they go with DHL, for metro areas they use Fastway and for all other areas they use Courier Guys.