Shop is the web identity of Lime Marketing.co.uk Ltd.
The Company is run by husband and wife team Mike & Lynda
Osborne. Established by Mike in the garage at home in
the year 2000, we have seen the Company grow to a staff of
11 and warehousing space of 3,400 sq ft.
It is quite surreal from our point of view to see how we
have taken off especially in the competitive world of
internet selling. Our products can also be found on Amazon,
eBay UK (over 60,000 feedbacks), Pixmania, eDirectory, eBay
Germany and Google.
Apart from being a general merchandiser selling all sorts of
ranges and items, we also sell a number of Retro-related
products, such as Telephones, Jukeboxes, Music Centres,
Radios and a lot more
'Digger' Barnes at Retrosellers.com discusses the business,
life and everything with Internet Entrepreneur Mike
Digger: Hello Mike. How are things going at Lime?
Mike: We're not breaking any records from a margin point
of view, but I don't think anybody will. Margin is on the
decline for online business and it won't get any different
because there are too many people trying to sell the same,
or similar, products online. I was looking at some figures
for the increase in turnover for my company and the increase
year-on-year has been phenomenal but I've got nothing to
show for it.
Digger: There are so many companies coming at the same stuff
from slightly different angles.
Mike: For sure, and it's not necessarily similar stuff.
On the Amazon forum it's the same stuff and the same product
Digger: If I'm looking for a book or a DVD on Amazon, there
are lots of the same item available to choose from but the
price range is outrageous for the same item. Several hundred
percent mark-up on some of them.
Mike: Amazon is all about getting what they call the 'Buy
Bar', because most people who go onto Amazon to buy
something will just click the item. So they'll search
'record player', see a list of all the record players and
then they'll click the picture. If you've got the Buy Bar
then eight times out of ten you'll get the order. You've got
the Buy Bar because you're the cheapest. Most of the
products we have on Amazon I have the Buy Bar on there ...
"Oh, there's a pop-up just came on my screen saying
'David Barnes - now"
Digger: If I could just have that on everybody in the
world's screen that would be a good bit of promotion! (Both
laugh) Reminds me of that daft pop-up that came up from
Microsoft recently for the browser choice. I thought it was
a virus so just deleted it! I think 99% of people still use
Internet Explorer still anyway.
Mike: I do, for the most part.
Digger: What is the history of the business?
Mike: The background prior to the business... I was a
sales director for quite a large engineering company in
Birmingham and I think I got to forty and thought "What
am I doing this for?" So I just got up and left. I
moved to the north of England with Lynda, the lady I'm
married to now. And I suppose the 220 mile each-way trip to
the office was just too much so I then was very fortunate to
become a consultant for three companies in the same sort of
business. But consultancy life is, by its nature,
short-lived. Principally because if you do the job correctly
and turn the company around then you either do it in twelve
moths or the company goes bust. All three of the companies
didn't go bust, so I was doing something right but out of a
job within twelve months.
Digger: You can command a good income while you're doing it?
Mike: Yes, one company paid me for seven days in the
month, another paid me on a similar basis and another on a
commission basis. So then I started trying several business
ventures and the online selling was purely by accident. To
name but a few, setting people's websites up, selling
replacement inkjets but on a stand at the corner shops, I
became a marketing trainer with Business Link. And, just by
absolute chance, a friend of mine put me in touch with
someone who sold redundant stock and I visited his place and
bought forty Coca Cola clocks. These were thin Perspex,
about 4 mil thick, twenty of each style, a Coke bottle, a
Coke cup. I arranged to sell them to a friend of mine who
gives gifts away in his business but he didn't want them.
Somebody suggested I put them on eBay and for 75 pence each
clock for the purchase price each one made £10 inside a
week. And I thought this is quite a good way of making
Digger: It certainly is. A 900% + return.
Mike: So I looked at this and despite people's advice
saying "What are you messing around with eBay
for?" I started putting a couple of items on every now
and again between business ventures I was trying to do
something with. It really wasn't long before I decided this
was so successful that I had to do something with it on a
more sensible scale.
Digger: Thank God you did.
Digger: And you're enjoying it?
Mike: Today was tedious because even when you work for a
company at a high level there are people that will do jobs
and there are fifteen people here but it still seems as
though I'm micro-managing it. Having said that, I guess the
day will come when I don't have to. The advice from huge
business gurus is "Employ somebody better than
yourself." But, of course, it's difficult to do that
and to be able to afford it. They do assure me in the long
term that does actually work.
Digger: Looking after staff and dealing with staff is the
Mike: This business is family and friends, so you think
"Good." But actually it does have its drawbacks.
Of course it does, because it becomes more personal. And one
of my key parts of business is that personal and business
don't ever mix, or it starts to get personal.
Digger: If Gerry Robinson came in he could find a few things
to sort out?
Mike: Oh yes, I would think so. I can, it's just that
there things that you tolerate. At the very beginning when I
decided I was going to go down this route, Lynda was
contracting for a sales and marketing dept. for a large
company that sells gadgets and gizmos and so I had instant
access to about 100 products from the company Lynda worked
for. It was a fantastic start and because I was the only
person selling that product at the time on eBay it commanded
great profit margins. HUGE profit margins at first.
Digger: What are your biggest lines now?
Mike: Of the different categories, it's got to be the
Steepletone retro record players and daft penguin shower
radios which got such a slating in the Sunday Mail -
"The worst presents you could buy." And instantly
sales went up by about 700%.
Digger: So the British public were being very ironic there?
Mike: I don't think there's such a thing as bad
Digger: No. Unless your name is Gerald Ratner.
Mike: Ah, well, he did get it completely wrong. But if
you look at some of the campaigns, like the Benetton one
back in the 80s, they were quite scary but you remembered
it. We have just gone back on to one of the old favourites,
which is why I was booted out of the house to go and
actually get some proper business premises all those years
ago. Grandfather clocks, reproduction ones obviously, and
they're not weight-driven but clockwork-driven and they have
a clockwork chiming system as well.
Digger: What do they retail for?
Mike: At the moment between £159 and £200.
Digger: If you go into an antiques shop for an original
you're probably looking at £3,000 to £5,000 minimum.
Mike: Absolutely, but these don't look anything like
those. Once you would have seen these in Ratners - the exact
one we sell. Now if you go into a jeweller's shop, the same
thing coming out of the same factory in the far east sells
for £400-£500. You can't command that price online because
it's so massively competitive. Lynda arrived home from her
contracted job that day and unfortunately I had a delivery
of 55 grandfather clocks and these weren't flat-packed or
anything. So these stood just under two metres high and the
only place I could put them was in the kitchen. I really
didn't understand why she was upset, there were only 55 of
them. They were funny days - parcels waiting all the way
down the hall for the carrier to collect them
and parcels at the back of the local pub which was only two
doors away 'cos I rented his double garage and parcels in
the shed at the side of the house. That was my stores.
Digger: What does the Internet mean to Lime's business?
Mike: Everything because Internet sales, be it by third
party or direct sales off our own website represent about
95% of all business.
Digger: What's the other 5%?
Mike: We do from time to time manage to sell premium
products, like when we can obtain 40,000 umbrellas at 25
pence and we know clients that will take that sort of
quantity because he gives an umbrella away with every sale
he does through his mail order. The old-style catalogue
through the front door with a free gift. And we are going to
develop that side of the business more and a couple of other
sides. Also, reader offers in the national press, which used
to represent about 10% of our business, but it's becoming
increasingly difficult to advertise something in one of the
national papers. You have to give them 30% of the product
cost and with what's left you've got to pay for it, ship it
and pay for the fulfillment house to take the order because
they are open 24/7.
Digger: We can't predict what's going to happen with
Internet and other technology. We're locked into to Internet
now and that's how our businesses work. I wonder where it's
Mike: This is becoming an increasingly larger cost of
sales for us because you fight between a third party seller
and our own site - Amazon, eBay and several others are the
main third parties we use and it's dominated so much purely
and simply because we have such a vast product range. If we
were more product-specific we'd probably concentrate more on
the website. We probably already spend in excess of £1,000
per month on clicks just to get people to our website. And I
anticipate that figure's got to be multiplied by four or
five. And so it becomes expensive.
Digger: I've got this theory that where there were a number
of websites so eventually evolution means that one becomes
the leading one. Amazon, eBay, Youtube, Google and so on,
all dominating of course, but this also applies to various
other business models. I tend to use just a handful and the
same websites on a regular basis, even though I do research
and view dozens more on an ad-hoc basis for the business.
Mike: If I was going to buy something, I would be aware
of lots of websites because one of the most effective ways
of buying or selling something online is using comparative
shopping. Again you pay for a click but it's not quite as
expensive or extreme as paying for Google clicks. Probably
one website if I was buying something - I buy maybe two or
three times a week on the Net. I guess I must visit eight or
ten websites a week but from a business point of view, like
you, we're looking at hundreds because we're checking out
the competition and so on.
Digger: What are the best aspects of running Lime?
Mike: You can't beat being your own boss no matter what
Digger: What are the customers like?
Mike: We don't get to speak to them very often because
it's an online business. If a customer comes on the 'phone
it's generally because they're not over happy, but I've got
four people who deal with customer service.
Digger: That's an opportunity to turn a negative into a
Mike: Yes, they need to make the customer happy because,
particularly third parties, they are feedback-driven and the
less good feedback you get the less sales you're going to
get. Everybody knows what.
Digger: Whys is retro so big in people's lives?
Mike: I have no idea, but I just know it's there. The reason
I know is because I'm interested myself - it started off
with my passion for vinyl singles and LPs. I've got
thousands and thousands and thousands.
Digger: I hope you've got reinforced floors?
Mike: They are on pallet racking in my warehouse a the
moment! And I bought an old-fashioned jukebox and my
interest was there and this can be quite dangerous in
business, people do try to sell things they like. Not
necessarily the most viable option because what I like may
not be what others like. So we were very fortunate to get a
Steepletone agency. I guess they buy it because it's not
available everywhere and I believe people love nostalgia.
Digger: Everything becomes retro and various retro themes
are always popular or in fashion.
Mike: We did have dedicated website called Nostalgia4U,
and it didn't work as well as we thought or we weren't
prepared to throw a huge marketing budget at it, so all the
stock there got absorbed into the main site. We still manage
to sell lot of retro items via third parties and the main
site. As it's not broke I'm not going to try and fix it at
Digger: People didn't know the website was there.
Mike: Absolutely, people can say to you "I'll
develop you the best website in the world." But it's no
good to you if nobody visits it.
Digger: It's like the Bates Motel, isn't it?
Mike: (Laughs) That's right.
Digger: What are your plans?
Mike: I don't have a get-out plan, which I should have in
business. But my plans are that I've taken the business to
stage four; I started off with the kitchen, (Both laugh) I
then went on to a single 2,000 square foot warehouse, I then
bought an identical warehouse next door and this time last
year we vacated the office side of that and moved into 1,000
square feet of offices and it expanded so quickly in terms
of volume of sales. I say I don't plan to move again but
it's just such an upheaval. But, to be honest, if we carry
on with the growth that we've got and make some sensible
profit... I'm looking over the warehouse as I speak and it
looks like we're two thirds full.
Digger: One third empty.
Mike: Yes, so therefore in reality I can grow the
business by that proportion.
Digger: And finding this wonderful person who doesn't demand
a huge salary but is much better than you and doesn't rub
your nose in it about it?
Mike: I'm now quite fortunate that I spend 100 days maybe
a year in Tenerife. I still work when I'm out there. It
really is not like going on holiday any longer. But it's
very inspirational because you get a chance to think about
the next part of the plan.
Digger: With the Net you can work from anywhere so you could
visit lots of different places.
Mike: Yes, but I actually own a place in Tenerife.
Digger: Yes, I understand.
Mike: But you're right, anywhere with broadband which is
most hotels around the world now. Going back to my plan I'm
already in the process of shaping the company into a highly
professional level and our motto is to under-promise and
over-deliver. And the sales and marketing line is to beat
customer's expectations, because customers online are more
demanding these days. It's very hard to exceed somebody's
expectations, but that's got to be the way to make them come
back. And I have every intention this year to have all
of our customers having that feeling.
Digger: Consumers are very sophisticated these days. Online
they are, like me, impatient in that they'll only wait a few
seconds, they want to get through in one click to where they
want to be, they want to be able to understand what's going
on in a website quickly and they expect a response from an
email within half a day maximum.
Mike: I am seriously impatient and I wonder what
customer's expectations are for a return from an email.
Digger: Not like these government departments, that's for
sure, who say they will respond to emails within 10 working
days and still don't! These are civil servants,
salaried people who don't have the same drivers and
motivations as us in business.
Mike: I have a soap box under my desk and I'm going to get
on it in a minute. I can summarise this in one short phrase.
If I couldn't do my job correctly then I would go out of
business. If the local council screw up during the year they
just add that to the taxation bill that everybody has to
pay. Why don't the monopolies commission have a go at the
council? In fact, why is there only one monopolies
Digger: Good point!
Mike: We're going to go with better quality products -
not saying we have poor quality products! It all comes out
of China these days anyway. I'm dropping products that we
consistently have some form of problem with and by the time
I'm 55 I only want to be the chairman of the company. And I
think Lynda's planning on retiring when she's 55 which is
five years for me but only two years for her.
Digger: Well, best of luck with your plans and it's been
Mike: Thanks David. It's been good talking to you.