NotOnTheHighStreet.com founder Sophie Cornish talks awards, New Year's resolutions and this year's must-have gifts

NotOnTheHighStreet.com is an online superstore featuring hundreds of independent British brands. As the name suggests, we're not talking Paul Smith or French Connection; it's a portal for small businesses across the land to showcase and sell unique, hand-crafted products.

NotOnTheHighStreet.com sells a whole variety of wares, from clothing to home furnishings, jewellery to kids toys. The business has grown from a turnover of £100,000 in its first year to an impressive £14m in 2010.

So what made NotOnTheHighStreet.com stand out for the Nectar Business Awards judging panel, which included Dragons' Den investor James Caan? "I think it's the fact that the business is greater than the sum of its parts," says Cornish. "We work with 1,600 incredible small businesses. Add the amazing team here who are killing themselves every day to achieve targets and give fantastic customer service, and you have a big community all working towards the same goal - the business."

Some of the brands on the site have been with NotOnTheHighStreet.com since it launched in 2006. Cornish receives around 60 applications a day from small businesses looking to be featured on the site: "We can only accept about 5% of the companies that apply," says Cornish. "And we have an experienced talent-spotting team that actively hunts down great businesses too."

Like online shopping portals Etsy and eBay, the business makes money by claiming a cut of each sale made.  Not On The High Street has doubled in size year-on-year in 2010. The business added 600 new businesses this year, helping the firm to beat its £14m turnover target by November; a number that Cornish hopes to double again in 2011.

"We've done it before and we can do it again but each year it gets harder to meet these crazily ambitious targets," she says. "We're not doing it on our own, however. Earlier this year we closed another round of funding, raising £7.5m from Index Ventures and Greylock Partners. Index is behind Skype and Net-A-Porter - a great online success story. And Greylock are equity holders in LinkedIn and Facebook. We're very lucky to have their expertise on board."

This cash is earmarked for a number of projects. The first is marketing: "We're looking at investing in a lot of new, fun marketing avenues," says Cornish. "We also want to develop new product sectors and push the UK brand as much as we can. Next year, we're also looking to test out international markets. And, despite the fact we only relaunched it this year, there's so much more we want to do with the website."

Cornish has a number of New Year's resolutions for the business. The first is to make her first foray into mobile and cross-media technology. "We want to communicate with our customers in a new way," she says. "Things like iPads are very interesting. But if I actually told you our plans, I'd have to kill you!" It's also the company's fifth birthday next year, so Cornish plans to make sure that 2011 is a real milestone for the business: "We have to make sure we do that justice," she says.

But 2010 isn't over yet. Christmas is the busiest time of year for NotOnTheHighStreet.com. Over a three month period, half the company's annual revenue floods into the business.  "We are very seasonal," says Cornish. "Although we do really well on Mother's Day and Valentines Day too."

So does Cornish, with her unique perspective on the gift market, have any recommendations for uninspired shoppers? "Personalised art does brilliantly," she says. "Personalised products generally seem to be the key trend. Jewellery is very big for us too. You can write a message on a bracelet, or engrave an initial on a necklace

Here are NotOnTheHighStreet.com's best-selling Christmas gifts this year:

  1. Personalised freshwater pearl bracelet - £23.00
  2. Personalised house portrait -£35.00
  3. Ceramic notepad - £15.00
  4. Personalised fingerprint cufflinks - £99.00
  5. Personalised map cufflinks - £52.00
  6. 'Pint' and 'Half Pint' twinset - £29.75
  7. Personalised heart fingerprint key ring - £85.00
  8. Personalised silver location bracelet - £67.00
  9. 'Love you...' heart key ring - £38.00
  10. Personalised  friendship bracelet - £34.00
  11. Glasses case -£18.00
  12. Black Ella lace dress - £119.00

Watch our video interview with NotOnTheHighStreet founders Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker

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