Nova Smith, the winner of PCR’s Woman of the Year award 2015, is an entrepreneur and founder of tech brand IT Tablet PC which sells a range of affordable tablets through Amazon.
With nominations now open for the 2016 Women of the Year awards, PCR looks back on our interview with Nova from late last year, where we asked her the secret to selling successfully on Amazon, her retail ambitions and how she’s secured coverage in national newspapers.
How does it feel to have won PCR Woman of the Year 2015?
I feel really fantastic, because it’s like the first time I’ve actually thought about what I’ve achieved. I think the recognition has really made a difference to my outlook on everything; in business I’m a lot more confident. I feel like I’m in a bigger league, it’s given me kudos. I really enjoyed the event, and all the people there were really friendly.
It was very natural, the correct amount of time and informal – which made the networking easier – I think it was just right.
What’s changed since winning? Has anyone approached you about any partnerships?
Yes, I’ve spoken to CompTIA, they want me to speak at their big conference in February in Leeds and do some networking there. I also spoke to Adam Simon from Context – he wants to see if he can do anything for me. Local businesses have also heard about the awards – they’re asking me to go in and speak to women in their businesses.
I’m also now one of the three finalists out of 3,000 entrants in the Natwest Everywoman Awards, which is run by the Daily Mail and Natwest. That’s at the Dorchester Hotel in London on December 2nd, and Karen Brady is heavily involved in that.
You’ve had real success with Amazon, getting your products featured in its top ten sellers list. What do you think of the company, and what would you say to some indie retailers in the industry who perhaps look unfavourably on the etailer for its low prices?
All I say is that I could not achieve the exposure for retail that I do without using Amazon. The only overheads I have are a few apprentices and myself; I know exactly what my bottom line is, and how much Amazon will take from me per sale. I use their logistics – they store products for me and ship them to the customer. It’s a flat fee, I pay ten per cent for everything. That includes the exposure on the website, the logistics and shipping to the customer.
All my website orders go through Amazon, and all my eBay orders go through Amazon using a plugin, so it’s seamless for me. If there are any returns in the 30-day period, they ship them back to me, and I ship them back to the supplier.
The way to sell on Amazon sustainably is to have your own-branded products that you have full control of, so you can control your margins. That’s why we branded our tablets, because if you’re competing with generic sellers, or something a lot of people are selling, it’s price- driven and you can’t compete with some of the sellers based in China, because they don’t always pay VAT or register their companies properly.
You mentioned you’d like to strike some partnerships with High Street retailers and distributors. What are your aims there?
I’ve just brought out some fantastic products that will be absolutely ideal for retail. They’re still under the £99 bracket, featuring ten-inch IPS, gorilla glass, and will compete with an iPad. The ‘ittle’ kids tablet I had with me at the PCR Women of the Year awards has been received brilliantly – the reviews for it are amazing on Amazon. Then I’m bringing out a seven-inch IPS one, which is £59 and doesn’t have the case, but it has 16GB of storage. I want to put those into retail, or go into a partnership with a retailer to create a brand that’s specific for retail.
I’ve never ventured into retail, but I’m hoping the PCR Woman of the Year award will give me a bit more kudos, so when I approach people, I can say I’m Nova Smith, I’ve won this award and these are my products. It gives me that bit extra over competitors.
I also want to go into duty free in airports or on airplanes. Another thing I want to do is to have a disposable tablet – one you can buy in a train station or airport from a vending machine, for around £25. It would be a fully functioning tablet, but if it gets damaged or falls in the swimming pool or anything, for £25 it’s kind of throwaway technology. What we’ll do is recycle it and keep it going.
Image: Attendees at PCR Women of the Year 2015
Tablet sales have declined over the past year. Do you think it’s sustainable to retain your core focus on tablets, or do you plan to expand into other product categories? What’s next for IT Tablet PC?
Our ethos is we’re an independent brand. We’re technology for the people, by the people. So we don’t have the big marketing budgets or advertising budgets. We’re always on the lookout for things, but nothing has taken my fancy. We could have gone into smartwatches but I’m not sure about them.
I don’t think tablets are going anywhere soon, not by my sales (which have doubled this year). When you’re looking at iPads, you’re looking at hundreds of hundreds of pounds. Mine is technology that anybody can afford.
We will be looking at other products, instead of ‘It Tablet’ we want to be ‘Gadg It’ - a one-stop shop for competitively priced technology items that work. So we’re looking at becoming a universal gadget supplier, but I haven’t found a new gadget that has taken my fancy yet.
You’ve had some great PR coverage with national newspapers. How did you go about getting?
As I became so established on Amazon, I approached them to give some promotion to the sellers, because without them, there would be no buyers.
Amazon took me up on my suggestion – I was in the right place at the right time.
In one of [Amazon UK boss] Chris North’s focus meetings, he was looking at sellers and doing some PR coverage, so I put myself forward.
Now it’s just feeding on top of that. People are approaching me because I’ve been in The Telegraph, The Times and high-end broadsheets – people want more of a story on that. Amazon has asked me to do some Black Friday coverage.
You started with a £3,000 loan and turned it into a £3 million business, after working with a Chinese supplier to bring your tablets to market. Tell us what you were doing before you started the business...
I trained at Microsoft in Reading and I used to train Microsoft Office. But day-in, day-out, running the same courses, after doing it for six or seven years I decided to have a complete career change. I had a group of investors and we were buying up incomplete building opportunities, finishing them off and then selling them off to investors. I did it for about four years, then in about 2009 with the financial crash, that’s when we went on holiday to Cyprus, and when Lukas was born – the rest is history.
Today, I’ve got five apprentices who I’m training. There’s me and Jeremy [Smith, IT Tablet PC MD], and that’s it. Our products are in the UK, America, France, Germany, Italy and we’ve just gone into Spain.
If you keep things simple, it tends to work. Our ittablet. co.uk website is really simple and reflective in our pricing.
How challenging is it to balance your work with your family life?
I’ve got an eight-year-old girl called Nellie, a six-year-old boy called Lukas, who was poorly, and I have a four-year- old called Celia.
It’s tricky to balance it all. It’s a challenge. I do have a nanny and she comes in at 7.30am and takes them to school, then they’re back at 3.30pm I’m always home for 4.30pm if I can. When they’re in bed I’ll start my night shift. At the moment I’m working long, long hours. I’m not going to bed until 3am, but it’s got to be done.
About Women of the Year 2016
Nominate a colleague, friend or mentor (or yourself) in any of the six categories - the deadline is Wednesday July 20th.
Once the nominations are in we will publish the finalists, and then a carefully put together panel will then choose the winners, with the trophies being presented on the day.
Tickets to the event are just £59 (plus VAT) and this will include free drinks and nibbles. Tickets can be bought here.
Limited sponsorship opportunities are available – for more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.