Toggle takes off as local creatives cotton on

Toggle takes off as local creatives cotton on

Toggle, a self-styled online marketplace for designers, is expanding overseas after enjoying rapid growth in New Zealand.

It’s undergone a number of changes since the initial launch two years ago, but founder Todd Welling thinks they’ve cracked it with the latest refresh.

Toggle brings together buyers and creators in one place, or as Welling puts it, “iconic Kiwi design under one roof”. He says it’s the biggest site of its kind with the broadest range of product offerings – and free shipping (within New Zealand) is another point of difference for customers.

Toggle doesn’t hold any stock itself, but acts as a middle man, handling everything from the hosting and creation of listings (design, writing, SEO and content management) to the interacting with clients, leaving designers free to create while outsourcing the bulk of sales efforts.

Welling says the model offers lower risk and higher returns for artists – a better “bang for the buck”. There’s no fee to list, though they do need to be willing to list their entire portfolio (not just selected items); if products don’t sell, the company doesn’t make anything. A 25 percent commission covers shipping, transaction fees and admin/marketing services, compared to the 40 percent they might get from regular retailers.

 “They can’t lose,” he says.

Last Christmas saw business soar to a new high, with orders topping 100 some days. And come July Toggle is going into Australia, which is currently its second-biggest market.

Welling was approached by an Australian, he says, who loved the Toggle model but had no technology experience. They reached a deal that will see her launch a version of the site into her own country, while Welling will continue to handle the technical back end of things.

“It will be interesting in six months to see if the Australia branding works,” he says, because Aussies don’t seem to have that “same sense of pride” that we do in supporting local talent (he noted a huge surge in sales by Christchurch designers after the Canterbury quakes). But while it’s a big job ahead, it’s also a huge market with good potential for payoff.

“If she succeeds we succeed,” he says.

If all goes well, the UK and Canada could be next. He says Toggle could one day rival Etsy, or the model could even become a franchise.

Learning curves

Welling says it’s taken just over a year for Toggle to find its feet. With a background in IT, he set up Toggle with wife Roberta after a short stint running their own bricks-and-mortar gift shop. In the early days they tried a couple of daily deals to attract new business, which didn’t pan out. Back then, the site focused on crafts and Kiwiana, but today it’s a much cleaner, gender-neutral store with jewellery, art and homeware making up 90 percent of sales.

The new site has a button that allows direct pinning to Pinterest boards, which Welling hopes will help drive traffic, and eventually it will incorporate product videos to better show customers the scale and detail of individual items. All up, its catalogue boasts more than 6000 products from about 180 designers, with their “meat and bones” being sales in the price range of $30-70.

“We believe in our ability to present product in a medium that’s appealing to the average Kiwi,” he says.

“In terms of a shopping experience you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere with the breadth of talent we do.”

Welling sees Toggle in competition with Endemic World and Clever Bastards (and to a lesser extent, Felt).

Unlike sites like Etsy and Felt, he says Toggle is highly discerning about what it sells.

“By retaining complete control we make sure there is that continuity of style and quality,” he says.

He reckons Toggle accepts one out of every three to four designers who approaches them; some may have work too close to what’s already on the site, while others undervalue themselves and won’t price accordingly. And there are a few he’d like to get on board but are too big in their own right for Toggle.

Toggle designers, he says, range from “weekend mumsies” to small outfits with a handful of employees, with souvenir brand NZ Identity being the largest on the books.  Most of them run their own websites, too, and he says close to half also sell on Felt.

The Toggle ethos is local design, although that doesn’t always translate to local manufacture. But Welling says standards are high when it comes to production, citing label Playhouse Kids, which regularly checks on its processes in Bali, as an example of ethical business practice.