Modern Retail Interview: The Mug Co

Company Name: The Mug Co

Interview Contact Name and Job Title: Nel Wharton, MD of The Mug Co

Website URL:

Social Media Links:



Number of outlets: Online only

Market(s):  Gift, homeware, kitchenware

Other relevant info: Established 2013

Modern Retail talks to Nel Wharton, managing director of the personalised mug store ” The Mug co ” to help you create and find your favourite mug. 

MR: How do you aim to stand out as a brand?

NW: As a shop, my goal from day one was to provide an easy gift option by focusing on one type of product but offering a huge choice of designs so our customers would always be able to find the right mug for their gift recipient. I would consider the choice The Mug Co provide as our main USP but we supplement this by offering a hand personalisation service and free delivery on every UK order. However, in terms of branding, I haven’t spent a lot of time building a unique brand and telling a story through branding so this is something I’m aiming to improve on over the course of this year.

MR: How would you sum up your target customer?

NW: Our target customer tends to be women in the 30-55 age bracket with a good level of disposable income who prefer higher quality gifts that fall within the £12-£15 price point but likes free delivery over fast delivery. I have found that women in relationships are more likely to be responsible for buying gifts for friends and family and single women are more likely than single men to give gifts although there is always a spike in male customers over Valentine’s and Christmas so we always ensure that relevant gifts are as easy to shop as possible as men don’t generally enjoy browsing as much as women. Our product offering is also based around providing higher quality products to our older customers and unique, personalised products to our younger customers.

MR: What challenges do you face as a business, and how do you aim to overcome them?

NW: I would definitely say our main challenge as a business is how long it can take to reduce knowledge gaps when you’re part of such a small team. I take care of almost every aspect of the day to day running of the business so have to act as a buyer, marketer, web designer, administrator, picker and packer, and customer service agent all-in-one so finding time to learn how to improve in the areas that I’m not so confident in can be really hard. The business is also still very young and needs to be expanded fairly aggressively so deciding where to push and where to play safe is also, I would say, one of our biggest challenges.

MR: How do you use technology/media/ecommerce to improve your offering?

NW: As an online-only business, I would definitely say that technology plays a central role and making sure that The Mug Co stay up to date is vitally important. In the beginning, I tried a number of different ecommerce platforms before deciding on one that offers the ability to create a modern, responsive website that can be easily customised and, crucially, that is optimised for mobile phones. Almost half of our orders are placed via a mobile device so this has been absolutely key.

MR: What advantages/disadvantages does your location bring?

NW: My background was in online retail so opening an online store was what I always knew I wanted to do when I branched out on my own but it definitely comes with some disadvantages that not everyone realises. The overheads of running a bricks and mortar store are replaced with the cost of storing, packaging and sending out products so it isn’t the cheap option that many people think. A lot of established brands in my sector also won’t sell to online only retailers as they worry about being unable to control their brand on the internet so there are some brands that I would love to stock but can’t. It can also mean that stocking products from brands that do allow online only retailing can lead to them having a huge amount of competition online as people are able to hunt down the best price for a particular item in a way that isn’t always possible on the high street. I have definitely seen minds beginning to change over the last few years though as online retail becomes a bigger and bigger part of the overall sector.

MR: What advice would you give to a new retail start-up based on your experience?

NW: Something that has really helped me and that I wish I had done from the start is to capture as much data as possible and keep track of the numbers very closely. Data on your customer and on sales allows you to make better decisions going forward and work out what’s working and what isn’t. You really need to know, when selecting products to stock, what you need to sell it for in order to make a profit based on your costs and the competition. As a new business, treating the numbers with precision will help you to make money – I know, down to the last penny, exactly what each parcel that goes out the door has cost to put together. I’m not by nature an analytical person but learning to be this way with my business has been the biggest help.