In this podcast, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who uses Facebook to understand her customers in order to overcome the obstacle of selling a product that appeals directly to your sense of smell.
Mei Pak, is the founder of Tiny Hands, a store that sells super cute scented jewelry and food-shaped jewelry that will make you and your loved ones smile.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How to balance what you want versus what your customers want.
- How to get valuable feedback and data out of social media.
- How to sell a product that requires the sense of smell online.
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- Store: Tiny Hands
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Felix: Today we are joined by Mei Pak from tinyhandsonline.com. Tiny has so super cute scented jewelry and food jewelry that makes you and your loved one smile. It was started in 2006, and based at Minneapolis, Minnesota. Welcome Mei.
Mei: Hi Felix, thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to just talk about business, talk shop.
Felix: For sure, I'm very excited to talk to you too. I think your store, I think your project is really cool. I've never seen anything like this before. Why don't we get started with that. Tell us a bit more about your story. I know you sell a bunch of kind of different products but what are some of the most popular ones?
Felix: The opposite.
Mei: Her name is Amy Poehler but her character is Leslie Knope in the TV show Parks and Recreation. That's definitely up to this date is still the number one best seller.
Felix: Tell us a bit more about the type because this is not just any type of jewelry. This is I get a very, I've never seen this before. I'm male, I don't know much about jewelry but I think I've never seen this kind of jewelry before. Tell us a bit more about the style of jewelry that you create.
Mei: Everything is modeled after food. Everything is like miniature food jewelry. I make an assortment of baked goods and sweet treats. I have a small collection of the salty savory stuff too like pizzas and bacon, fried egg. Everything is normally under one inch in size. What's really special about them is I add fragrance oils to what, they are actually made out of polymer clay. I add fragrance oils to them that match what the look like. For example the waffle necklace I just mentioned. It has a maple syrup scent is one of my favorite scents, it smells so realistic. That's something that I really take the time to make sure that I source fragrance oils that actually smell like the real thing.
Everything is handmade and hand sculpted here in Minneapolis. I work with two production assistants that I trained up from scratch, found them on Craigslist and they had no sculpting prior, polymer clay experience at all. That was definitely an adventure for sure. That is kind of what it is in general. Did you want me to go any deeper into my history?
Felix: Yeah, we'll definitely talk about that. Let's start with the history. How did you get into this, were you in the jewelry industry previously or how did you, I guess not to stumble into this particular niche, but how did you get involved this kind of category?
Mei: I started as you mentioned, I started Tiny Hands in 2006 and back then I was still in high school. Obviously when you are, I don't want to give away my age but I feel like I already have. I'll just say it, when I was fifteen I started Tiny Hands. When you are fifteen you are just a kid, you don't know anything. You don't know how to do marketing and you don't know what it takes to start a business and all the branding stuff that goes behind it. When I'd started it was truly just I think a pure passion. It was out of, it was just fun. It was a hobby. When I started they Tiny Hands brand, that was actually how everything started. I created the Tiny Hands brand but I was selling all sorts of different things under that Tiny Hands brand. Some jewelry, I was making head bound journals and whatever I mad I sold under that name.
It wasn’t until I was inspired, I think it was on Livejournal in Deviantart where I saw there was this other artist that was making little tiny sculptures out of polymer clay. At the time I was like, “What is this polymer clay? It sounds so cool that you can just make anything out of this clay and then you can cure it in conventional oven and that would be, it will just cure to rock solid state and then you can just use it as jewelry.” I thought that was really neat and I went out to buy some and then I looked around online, bought some books, borrowed some from the library, taught myself how to sculpt all of this stuff. At the time, I feel comfortable sharing this because this is an entrepreneurial podcast. Typically, with my other customers, I just give them kind of a different happier story.
Really, how the scented food jewelry idea came along, I take absolutely no credit in inventing this. I definitely was not the first person to have done this. At the time, kind of at the cusp of, when I was just figuring out what I wanted my unique selling proposition to be. There were two other brands at the time that was already selling scented food jewelry. I followed their journey and I was a big fan of their work. Almost at the same time, they both closed their doors and closed shops. They just disappeared off the face of the earth, just like that. Here I was, one of their super fans. I was like, “This is an opportunity for me. There is obviously a niche in the market that had no suppliers for.”
It’s demand and supplier, there is obviously demand for it, but there wasn’t anyone who is creating it anymore. I was like, “Let me see what I can do with this.” I took on the idea for the scented food jewelry and through a lot of trial and error, figuring out the techniques to get the fragrance on the polymer clay and through the whole process of building my own brand and through changing one website to another website, that’s all the in-between stuff and what you see now at tinyhandsonline.com is what we have today.
Felix: You mentioned just now that you weren’t the first person to do this, the scented food jewelry. I think this is a, kind of a, I guess a crossroad a lot of entrepreneurs face where they come to this point where they think, “I really want to focus on creating something from scratch, my own idea, very original and never taken it from any outside influences.” Then there is the other side of that I guess the camp which is that, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, find what’s already working and then build off of that.” Did you have that kind of conflict at that time thinking like, “Should I focus on doing something that’s already, basically trying a product that already exist.” Obviously with a spin on it versus starting something from scratch, did you ever have that conflict?
Mei: Yes. I think a lot of creative entrepreneurs out there who make some sort of art based jewelry or clothing or graphic design kind of work, greeting cards for example. I think we will all struggle with this. There is that urge to create something that’s so different and so new and so special. Then you risk creating something that maybe no one will buy. I think there is a fine balance between coming up with something that you know is going to be somewhat trendy. I know at the same time there are people out there who are like, “I don’t want to follow any trends. At the same time, you really got to listen to market demand.
People are, it’s been picking up with social media. People are always taking photos of their food, “This is what I ate for lunch today.” Definitely, the rise of food bloggers out there, people that just follow these bakers and these foodies and they are just, it’s definitely a huge community basically. These are the people that I target. They are foodies, people who absolutely love food.
That was kind of what I personally for Tiny Hands, that’s kind of the strategy that I took. At the same time, in order to kind of get over this conflict that you addressed was I think just figuring out what I could do to make it different. At the time, even though these two brands were already done. The fragrance part wasn’t anything special but I then created a bunch of different designs that I took a long time to research. There are a lot of different designs I created that were like, “No one really cares about lemon bars.” I made it, but then no one bought it, so then I discontinued it. I continued to design a range of products that I knew people would continue to buy because these are the American favorites.
People are familiar with cupcakes, people are familiar with corndogs and snow corns. I think it’s important to just figure out either within the design element or within the branding element what you can change about the product or about the brand to make it different than what’s already out there. For me it has a lot to do with the fragrance. I know there are a lot of other shop owners out there, designers who are also making scented food jewelry right now. Then I also really spend the time to make them look really cute and also look really realistic.
Felix: It’s one of these, it sounds like when kind of put your own flavor, your own spin on something that already exists, it’s a very nuanced. It’s not like crazy changes that no one has ever seen before. It’s almost like very intangible almost. You can’t really put your finger. You described it in a very kind of tangible way but when it comes down to it. The work you put in, day in day out, it’s kind of hard to almost measure, or figure out what you need to be doing every single day to make sure that you are differentiating yourself. Is there a process that you are going through, you are having in mind that you want to, maybe some proposition that you want to make your scented food jewelry very cute and have this particular look to it, how do you make sure that you are actually making progress towards that every single day?
Mei: I think that is something, for the listeners anyway, it’s not something you can expect to just happen overnight. I think if you work with a business coach or a mentor, they can help speed up that process, but I didn’t have the luxury at the time. In a way it was a process of just figuring it out on my own and kind of soul searching in a way. I think part of how it helped with this process was in hearing my existing customers, their feedback and hearing what they had to say about their purchases. People would email me, happy customers, they’d email me to say that, “I love your jewelry, I know there are others out there but yours is the cutest, yours is the most realistic.”
I hone, I focus in on that and I take that and run with it. I know people come to me, if they are already telling me, this is what they come to me for. I should stay true to that part of my brand and this is what customers come to me for as I mentioned. I should continue to make sure that in all parts of my design process that I make sure that in whatever I create, that it continues to keep looking good and that it also looks realistic. Because you cannot imagine the number of requests I get for people asking me to make a plate of spaghetti or something, people love eating spaghetti but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily translate into miniature form. There is definitely a lot of thought that goes behind designing a product, and not everything is a suitable miniature replica.
I think as I mentioned, this is a process that will take time, just hearing from people’s feedback. If you have existing customers, that’s a great starting point to kind of just ask them, “Why did you buy from me and not from my competitors for example?” That’s going to help you really hone in on what is your USP. From the start, if you don’t have customers. I think this is something you just have to kind of do a lot of market research, see who is out there, who is creating a similar product as you and see how you can be different from them. What unique spin can you put on your own line to make it different?
Felix: I love that about how you listen to your customers or happy customers and listened to how they described your brand and especially talk about why they bought from you not your competition. I also think what you were getting at a little bit earlier was about the balance, the whole spaghetti plate thing. It was, how do you balance the difference between what your customers are asking you to do, the kind of feedback they are giving versus your kind of vision as well? I’m sure that you come across this all time, the spaghetti example is probably just one of many. How do you know when you should make that decision to say, “No, I’m not going this direction, I’m going this other direction even if customers are asking for something specific?”
Mei: I wanted to point out, just to agree with what you said that it is very important if you do have an existing audience and they’ve been telling you, “Mei, you need to make this, and this.” If you start, I think that’s probably some of the best designs I have in terms of sales. Those designs have come from customer ideas. Definitely don’t discount customer feedback for sure. That’s actually something I do a lot with my social medias. I’m always asking them, I actually even involve a lot of them in the design process. Do you like blue cotton candy or do you prefer pink cotton candy. Do you prefer that the cotton candy stick has a swell in it or if it’s better if it’s just better if it’s white?
People would just love being included that way. I think with your question; how do I find the balance between what I should create into a design versus what I shouldn’t. I think first and foremost for that design that I keep hearing over and over again that people keep asking for. I think that’s definitely a sign that this is something I really need to make. One of that example is, people have been asking me for some sort of coffee related products, like a mug of coffee or a cup of coffee or latte or something related to coffee. I can totally see that being a really great idea but personally I just haven’t found a great way to actually, the technique to actually make it yet.
It’s a priority for sure. There are other things where it’s like, “Out of the hundred people who’ve given me feedback, there is just one person who wanted this really obscure thing.” In that case, I would either tell them, “If you want me to make a custom piece for you, here is how much it’s going to cost.” Obviously a lot more expensive than just buying it right off my shop. “Otherwise, I appreciate your suggestion and I’ll consider it for future design updates.” For example.
Felix: Makes sense. I want to ask this question. I think that your answer is going to be like, you don’t encounter this issue but make it more some tips for others. You said that you often solicit feedback and include your customers early on in a process. I’ve heard from many entrepreneurs as well, the store owners are the brands. That’s one of the best ways to get their customers engaged early on. I think there is still this kind of fear for some entrepreneurs where they think that, when the customer says, “Mei, you are the designer, you are the expert, why are you asking me for advice?”
It’s almost like a lot of entrepreneurs are worried to step down from ‘throne’ I guess and hang out with the people that are buying from them. Maybe asking you too, have you ever faced that kind of fear early on. If you haven’t, maybe some tips if you have any on how did you kind of get over that particular fear of, I guess nobody is going to ask but basically coming out and asking for advice essentially from your customers?
Mei: That’s a really good question. In retrospect, I don’t think I ever had that feeling of afraid of, I’m supposed to be the authority here, I’m the expert, I should be knowing these things. For other people out there who might be feeling those things. I think this is a very important thing to touch on, especially when it comes to social media, basically your audience engagement community building kind of stuff. I think it’s very important in this day and age, maybe ten years ago it was not so important. Right now, it’s very important that you as the authority, if you want to be seem as more relatable, if you want people to like you more and people being your customers, your potential customers, maybe even your peers or your competitors, just whoever, anyone out there.
If you want to be more known, liked and trusted, that it’s important to show some small element of vulnerability, some form of rawness. I think when you put yourself in that position of asking other people for their opinion, for their feedback. You don’t necessarily have to take their feedback but just the form of asking says two things; one that you don’t know everything. People, that’s kind of endearing. People appreciate that. They are going to like, know and trust you more. That’s going to help push the sale better. The second thing it’ll do is it’ll tell people that you appreciate their opinion. That’s going to create some sort of a more improved brand loyalty to you.
Felix: I like that. I think what you are saying, this whole vulnerability aspect of coming out and showing you don’t know everything. If you go to your customers and show that you like and trust them. Obviously if they know I can trust them, they are much more likely to give it back to you because again you’ve already put all your cards at the table and shown your own vulnerability. They are much more likely to kind of give it back as well.
There is saying I’ve heard about how you don’t want to lead from the front, you want to lead from the middle. Be as a part of your audience, be a part of, the type of customer that you are going after and lead from there rather than being like, “I’m all the way up here, catch up.” You don’t want to be that way. You want to be part of the group as they progress and learn more about you and learn more about your products and your brand. I think that makes a lot of sense.
Mei: Another thing that you could do is if you do have that fear and it’s really hard to shake off, you could start small and maybe just ask a very small group of people to become like your beta testers, to give you feedbacks. You don’t have to go to your social media profiles. You could start with your email list and see if you could get together, ten to twenty different people who would be open to giving you feedback on product design. In that way, it’s not so public. In that way, you don’t have to feel so nervous about being …
Felix: I like that. There is almost like, you might be calling it a customer advisory board or something. basically a smaller group of people that, so you don’t have to broadcast it to everybody. Get comfortable with the smaller group and then if it makes sense expand to entire audience. You mentioned, I just want to step back to the very beginning because you mentioned that there are already a couple of stores, a couple of companies that do something similar but they all closed shop. I think at that moment there is going to be the person who says, “This is discouraging. There is no market for this,” because they couldn’t exist anymore, because they closed down. You say you saw it as an opportunity, why do you think that you saw it that rather than thinking that this was a bad industry to be in?
Mei: The first thought that I had was because I loved it so much. I felt so sad that these shops had closed down. The next thought that you could have is that, “Am I the only person that likes this type of product or are there other people out there that are like me?” It’s interesting you pointed that out but I guess I just had thought that there were other people out there like me. I just felt that it was a really good idea. Even from the entrepreneurial business standpoint, the jewelry that look like food and that would appeal to people who like food. I think this is a reason why the restaurant industry is booming so much. Just people will never stop eating. People will never stop loving food or appreciating food.
I think in some sense I saw that this was a big opportunity and that it was, it’s such an interesting idea as well. It’s not something that you see a lot. It’s funny because at the time I started it, it wasn’t so trendy yet. I think in the last one or two years, it’s definitely something that’s picked up. everywhere you go you’ll see pencil cases or skirts, or dresses with food patterns on them, cell phone cases. The food theme has really taken over America at least.
Felix: That definitely is true. I’ve noticed that as well. You said you started this when you were fifteen. You are ten years in business you. I don’t mean to age you again. This is I guess a formative time in a lot of people’s lives. Fifteen, you are driving, eighteen, people are going to college. Were you ever distracted along the way or like trying to figure out, I’ve never had anything for that long, especially not from a much younger age like that, a lot of things are going on there. Tell me, how were you able to stay focused on this business?
Mei: I think for me especially, for this business it really just boils down to just my passion for it. It’s funny that you point out the staying focused because it was the other way around where I had trouble focusing on school, because I just couldn’t stop thinking about all of these cool ideas.
Felix: True entrepreneur.
Mei: Right. It’s really ironic. I went to college in Wisconsin and I got a degree for actuarial science, which is a very math, statistic, probability type of thing. You end up working in an insurance agency. It’s one of those professional degrees where you have to, kind of like accounting, law or architecture, you have to sit for ten different professional exams. I just remember, during the summer when we are on summer break from college. I had to spend all this time just really going through math problem after math problem. It was so hard to be focused on that because I kept thinking about, “What can I do with my email list on Tiny Hands? I should do this on social media and I should do this with marketing. I really want to try this.”
It was very clear that my heart was in my business and not so much in what I was professionally studying for. I think just, if you were to ask me, “How did you decide between going to the professional proper cubicle job,” versus continuing with own business? I think it was just a matter of me listening to my heart. It’s kind of woo woo what, as that sounds. I’m definitely very passionate about business in general.
Felix: That makes sense. I think speaking of focus. I think you were saying earlier that tinyhandsonline was selling a lot of different things for a while and then you finally I guess settled on scented food jewelry. Was it hard to focus and I guess niche down on just that because I’m assuming at that time you were doing a bunch of other, kind of products and different categories as well. Did you have to go through a phase where you were cutting out parts of your business that might have been doing decently?
Mei: It’s interesting you point that out because I think what happened in kind of that transition was that I started just to see that a lot of the food jewelry were selling better than the other things. That to me was a clear sign. It was an indication that, “Maybe this is kind of what I want to work with, instead of all the other stuff.” I think also in terms of sustainability. I was making the other product, I was making with head bound journals. It’s so incredibly time consuming and it was not something that I would be able to charge a decent price for, considering the time that you put into something like that.
In my mind that was already a strike on that product with, “It’s not going to be very profitable, it’s not sustainable,” I axed that fairly quickly. Something I wanted to mention also was that after I focused on the whole scented food jewelry part, there were definitely a lot of times where I’ve considered, “Maybe I should take the scent out.” Because it’s definitely something that is a little harder to control, because it’s not like I can tell my customers, “This piece of jewelry is 100% fragrance. Then this next piece of jewelry which is the exact same, but it might be not as smelly as the original.”
We know we do our best in terms of quality control but scent is such a subjective thing. One person might like this scent while they might not like another scent for example. There have definitely been challenges throughout my business journey and there have been times where I felt like I need to change my focus. I need to change my USP and sometimes even just getting customer’s feedback. Sometimes they are negative and sometimes you just feel like you just want to change or swivel, change your direction. I think so far I’ve just been sticking to my guns and just going with it. That’s been. I think that’s important. At the same time, I don’t discount, as I mentioned before, don’t discount the feedback that you get. Sometimes it is important to really consider that maybe the USP that you have isn’t the right one. To answer your question, it is hard to choose your focus and stick with it too.
Felix: It sounds like you do get a lot of guidance from paying attention to market demands. When you were first getting into this industry and now that you are continuing to focus on it, you are working with your audience, your customers to understand more about what they want. Do you have a process for understanding what the market will be interested in or is it as simple as just paying attention, or do you have some kind of, every once a month or once every six months you do some kind of research to figure out if you are still going to stay on this path or change direction, do you have a process for that?
Mei: I don’t have a process and I think the only. I do like to think very step by step in that manner. Unfortunately, for something like what you are asking is, I think very much an internal process. Just kind of keeping mental notes on the same feedback that I seem to keep getting over and over again and then maybe paying more attention to something that’s specific like that versus a one off comment that you would hear from some random person who is never going to be your customer anyway. No, I don’t have any specific process where like I don’t, I think it’s a great idea for at least once a year you send out a customer survey to just kind of gauge your audience.
For the most part, since I do so much with social media. I just, I think it’s very important … I think most businesses these days are on social media. It’s very important, I feel like not enough people do this but it’s important you actually take the time to listen to the data. It is all data ultimately but to listen and to analyze the comments and the feedback that you are getting from people.
Felix: Let’s talk about social media. How do you use social media to, let’s start with the listing side of it, because obviously you can be on there to push your products or posting content? When you are listening to social media, I’m assuming you are not just spending your day watching your twitter feed. Is there like a step? Because you are mentioning, before you were kind of step by step with this and you went to school for a very analytical degree. Do you have a process for this too, to understand and actually to get the data that you need out of social media?
Mei: The first step you have to do is you have to actually create the content for people to respond to. Whatever comments they leave you, that’s the feedback. I don’t mean feedback in the sense of saying something like, “I like this product. I think this product should be a different color.” Not necessarily that directly but even in terms of feedback. For example, with my Facebook page, I really loved and I’ve had a lot of great success with sharing other people’s content. As you probably realize, video works really well on Facebook these days. I would find like a really cool video on one topic and another cool video on a different topic and I’d share it on my Facebook page.
A week will go by and I’ll go back to these posts, of these two separate videos on different topics. I’ll see kind of one, how people have responded to it and how many comments, how many shares, how many likes they’ve gotten. Also, if people have left a comment, what did they say? I think the first, the easiest thing you can do is to look at the engagement numbers, likes, comments and shares. That will give you a really great idea for how much people like that topic that you just shared. A really good example and this is, I feel like social media is a great place for you to learn more about your ideal customer. Sometimes, if you don’t want to go the customer survey route, to actually send them a survey for them to fill out, social media is a great place for you to do that kind of research.
For example, one thing, a really specific example, I learned about my audience was, when you think about the food market, there are some of the more healthy food eaters, the vegans, the gluten free type recipes, really healthy fruit stuff. Then there is another kind of extreme where you are like eating the most decadent high chloric content sort of like, I’m just thinking about things with a lot of butter in it, a lot of chocolate and a lot of sugar. It’s just obviously very bad for you. For example, I would post two different, either photos or videos of say, one of them is like, how to make a fruit salad, super healthy, really clean eating stuff. Then another video would be about, here is the recipe on how to make the most decadent brownie Sunday you could ever have in your life and that would set you back like seven days of your calorie dieting program.
I’ve noticed that people, my people at least, they prefer the more decadent, the more amazingly, fatty, sugary stuff. They don’t so much care for the healthy things. That’s a very important piece of information to have because that will guide on creating products that will guide me on the different social media content that I’ll share, email list content, blogging content. Just basically my whole brand, what it stands for.
Felix: That makes sense. This is why you site has mostly desserts and not like I think bowls of salad like that as jewelry. That makes sense. I think this is a really important topic and I’ve never heard of anyone talking about it this way. I think a lot of listeners might be interesting learning more about this. You are saying that first start off by creating, sharing, reposting content, so that you can get a feel for the interest level or particular interest itself from your customers and prospective customers.
Let’s kind of walk through this. Let’s say that you are sitting down and thinking about sharing content or creating content to get a feel for what your customers might be interested in, for a new product line or maybe you are thinking about how to re-brand your company. How do you find the content, what are you looking for, where are you looking to find the right kind of content to share, to get feedback?
Mei: If you are just starting out. It’s important that you sit down and make a list of the different topics that you think your audience is interested in. Then what I like to do, I think it’s kind of different with every social media. In terms of Facebook, I think this really works really well. It’s a great example, twitter, maybe not so much. With Facebook, if you are not familiar with this. With Facebook as your personal profile, you’ve got a newsfeed, where it shows you all of the posts from your friends and families. Then as your business page you have a separate newsfeed for your business page as well. I’m not sure if they actually recently kind of took away the use Facebook as your business page. If you are able to sign in as your business page, then you are acting as Tiny Hands.
Then I can go and look for bloggers out there, for new sites or just general websites out there that talk about the topics that I have on my list. Then I’ll start liking those pages. Then what will happen is then my business newsfeed will start to be filled with all of these different posts that come from these specific bloggers, websites and new sites for example. That’s a feed of content that’s just waiting for me to share. What’s important as you are just starting out is to not be too limiting to what you choose to share. It’s very important that you choose content to share that you think your customers will like. Remember, it’s all about your customers. It’s not so much about you, it’s what they like, not what you like.
There are a lot of times where those two, what you like and what they like are the same thing. At the same time, it’s really about your customer. When you find a piece of content that you are like, you are scrolling through the newsfeed, you see posts that you are like, “I think my audience is going to like that. Schedule that to share to your page for the next week, whatever your schedule is like. Then just schedule out a whole bunch of different posts about a bunch of different topics. Of course because with Facebook there are so many different forms of posters. The video posts, there is the regular photo post, there is just plain and simple text post. Those are all different variables too that might affect how people respond and engage with your post.
Definitely pay attention to that as well. Then once you’ve got like a good kind of calendar or schedule of different posts that you’ve created. Then let it run for like one or two weeks, have a bunch of post schedule for the next one or two weeks and then kind of come back and check your engagement to see what people have been responding to, and then check your data, check the likes and comments that people have commented, check to see what they said on those comments because people might be like, “Eeew, that’s really gross.” Then maybe that’s a good indication that this might not be something that’s interesting or that’s a good fit for your audience.
Felix: I love this. I’m going to have to definitely steal this strategy because you are going around liking different content or pages from other influencers in the space or in the particular category niche that you are in. Then you are waiting for the content to come to you rather than having to actively seek it out. You also kind of get to rely on Facebook’s algorithm to the highly popular content itself. You are almost like, you are basically getting a lot of great content to share without having to do much work. It’s pretty passive it sounds like. I think this is going to be very useful for a lot of people starting out that maybe don’t have a lot of time to go and hunt for content. This is a great strategy. Do you find that this is more valuable than just like a direct survey or poll, or do they have different kind of uses?
Mei: I think they have different kind of uses. My reservation with a direct survey for example, I think the traditional sense of it is, you create a survey on survey monkey. You’ve got all sorts of questions on it, multiple choice questions, then you send it out to your email list. I think that can, normally what you would tend to do too is you give them $10 gift card or whatever sort of incentive for when they finish the survey. I think a lot of times that can skew the accuracy of the results that you get because it may not be so natural, people may not be so honest. They may be in a hurry to finish it just so they can get to the finish line and get their incentive. The $10 gift card for example.
I feel like with social media, a great advantage that we have is that people are pretty much honest when they leave comments. There is not much of a barrier or a bubble that you need to kind of decipher. With surveys it’s a lot like, you got to think about, do people really mean that, could it maybe you are targeting the wrong people or may be your set of people who took the survey are skewed towards this different target age range that you wanted. I feel like with social media there are some advantages to just be besides doing the traditional survey.
Felix: I think surveys are so hard to get right. It’s not just deciphering the results of the survey but you have to ask the questions the right way too. There is this idea of how you really can’t trust what people say nearly as much as watching what they do, their behavior. I think the example you gave, posting the content and then waiting to see how they react to it as watching behaviors, rather than asking them, “Do you like doughnuts?” It’s going to be a lot different.
Mei: You said that way better than I did. I think what you mentioned too was, when you do create surveys, I think few people understand how important it is to craft the right survey questions because your survey question, if you don’t have the right copyright for it, if you don’t ask it in a most objective way, your question could manipulate the answer subconsciously. Then, the whole survey, the whole result is going to be skewed to maybe what you want to hear. There is a whole art and science behind creating surveys. I definitely recommend that if you do decide to create that you hire a professional.
Felix: For sure. Let’s talk a little bit more about selling jewelry specifically because maybe not a lot of people are in this particular spin or I guess niche of jewelries but I think there are a lot of listeners out there that are selling jewelries or other kind of accessories. One of the hardest things about ecommerce, selling online is getting over this touch, feel I guess for your situation. The smell gap, this whole tangible aspect of, especially jewelry, if you want to see it on them or you want to touch it. I think that’s why jewelry sells so much better in person. Is there a way that you’ve been able to find, to translate this online, to make sure that people are able to get as much of the real in person experience as they would if they went into a physical store?
Mei: Yes. I think it’s really funny how people, because my jewelry is scented, you would think that I don’t maybe get a lot of sales online, because if they can’t smell it, then they are not going to buy it. I found it an interesting thing to think about too. I think there are a bunch of different things that you can kind of replicate in terms of the online experience. Instead of, when someone walks into a store, you are kind of looking at their décor, you are looking at the people who greet you to say, “Hello, do you need any help, what are you looking for?” Then you are going through the racks and the different tables and the displays and kind of putting your hands through things.
I think that they are the same things that you could do with your online store. I think that’s, I love Shopify for this reason is that things are so intuitive and they are so fast. That’s definitely going to help with the whole online shopping experience. Great pictures, those sorts of things are going to help. Great product descriptions are going to help. An important thing just in terms of pictures I think is, when people want to try something on, it’s important that you have those lifestyle pictures. If you sell something that you can try on, definitely spend the time to take pictures on a model for example.
In terms of the scent. The best thing that I found that I can do is to just talk about scent. What does it smell like? The product description here is what’s really important for me. A lot of the times, I’ve hired this copywriter who, she a lot of the times writes about, this is going to bring you back to your memories from when you were watching Mean Girls with your girlfriend on a Saturday night for example, or the popcorn that you had when you were watching Captain America. These little things where we kind of touch on the feelings and the emotions is really important, especially for our jewelry line. I think it’s important for everyone but for us especially, it’s what we really do a lot of.
Then the site design, the checkout process. That all adds to a great shopping experience. I’ve done a lot of online or offline events myself. A lot of craft shows, and I sell in a lot of different stores. It is a lot of work and I found that I can do just as well selling online as offline. I’m just going to stay online.
Felix: For sure. I think the whole making sure you have great photos goes a long way. I have your, whenever I do one of these podcast interviews I always have the store owner’s store open. I’ve been staring at this scented heart cookie with sprinkles necklace the entire time. I can almost smell it just by looking at it. I think the great photos goes a long way to overcome even the smell aspect. I can almost imagine what it smells like even without having to read the description just because of great detail of photos. I think you touched on it, great photos, different angles. If it’s something that’s wearable, getting on a model so that people can picture themselves wearing it as a well.
Mei: I forgot to mention that the thing with the scent also. Because it’s such a vague thing and people can’t experience it through, you can’t scratch and sniff the computer screen.
Felix: Not yet.
Mei: Not yet. I think it’s important when you have a product when you have a product that maybe is a little bit harder for you to communicate the features or the benefits with your customers. If you can foresee that this might be a barrier to someone actually buying it from you. I think it’s important to have those guarantees in place and exchange and return policy. What we do is I think for the most part. On my website I say returns and exchanges on a case by case basis. For, I think 100% of the time, if a customer is unhappy for whatever reason, we always either try to range a return or exchange or to just refund them their money. I think customer service adds a lot to making it easy for people to buy from you.
Also to add to that, great press mentions really helps as well. It helps, people trust you more. They get the sense that, “This must be the real deal. This must smell pretty good.” Customer feedback as well. If you’ve got on Shopify, there is the Yotpo Review app. There is also the Shopify need if review app. But if you can get people to pass customers, to talk about the scent. That’s going to really help. I think video would really help.
I don’t use a lot of video on my website but I have had the idea of going to a live event and actually video record people coming to my booth to smell the jewelry and to just see their expressions because it’s amazing. People walk by and be like, “This is so cute. This smells like what?” You are just getting their, just tape recording their expressions on camera and then putting them on your website with the scent pack. With the more vague aspects of your product.
Felix: I love that the aspect of, first of all, those returns are going to be really important. That’s why the compliments example has come along and dominated so well is because again, you don’t really know how a shoe fits until you tried it. That might be some objection as strong enough if you people are not to buy but if you give them an option, there is no risk, buy it, try it and if you don’t like your return I think that goes a long way. I think the whole unbiased opinion makes a huge difference to whether it’s be from customers or from the process, just hearing other people talk about it, rather than the brand itself also goes along way. Much further I think than the brand talking about it themselves just because there is no bias.
Speaking of PR and publicity. You got this on like Leslie Knope like you said on Parks and Recreations. You’ve been in Rachel Ray magazine. You’ve been in a lot of different publications online. I think I was asking you before the recording when we were first arranging this interview. You had mentioned that press was a big kind of I guess, not as a factor but a great way for you try drive traffic in and sales to your store. Tell about this, how did you get features on Parks and Recreations or in publications?
Mei: Some of them were people who found me and some of them were me actively pursuing these features. How it all started was, I think my very first feature on this website OhMySoCute. This was back when I started out, they featured some of my really, my earliest designs which when I look back to them I’m like, “I made that, what?” They are just embarrassing to look at. That was years ago, that still sends me traffic to this day. That was kind of, they found me and they posted about me and I saw. They brought me traffic, they brought me sales and then I was like, “This being featured on someone’s website, that might be a great way to get more traffic and sales.”
Then I started doing more advertising on blog. There are sites that you can do this where it’s not doing Facebook advertising but at the time, and actually now you can access doing Facebook ads. You can access doing side bar ads and blogs. Two resources for that is project wonderful and passion fruit ads. You can check that out and it’s a super easy process where you can buy a thirty day spot on this popular influencer or blogger.
Felix: Very cool.
Mei: Pretty cheap for most of the time. I did that a little bit and then I started figuring out how to actually do it for free. Instead of paying for advertising, I would actually pitch to some of these bloggers, influencers or websites. I would pitch to them, “Here is my product, maybe you can do a giveaway, or maybe here is a free coupon code or maybe I’ll just send you some free product that you can wear for your outfit of the day sort of thing.” Just actively pitching these people, finding the right people that works for your brain and for your product is very important. Once you have gotten yourself in so many different media outlets, eventually your brand awareness is going to keep going up and up and up. That’s ultimately how the wardrobe stylists of the Parks and Recreation TV show found me.
Was they found me because I was featured on someone’s blog. I didn’t even know I was featured on that blog. It was just one of those blogpost where it was like, kind of a product roundup. Here are ten different products for the whatever fashion lover. One of my food necklaces was featured on there. Like I said, I didn’t even know that I was featured on there. The wardrobe stylist reads that blog and saw that I made food jewelry and because Leslie Knope is a fan of waffles, the wardrobe stylist connected the two and two together and sent me an email to say they wanted to buy some of my products for one of their episodes. That was really cool, but I think PR is a really amazing way for any brand to get the work out there quickly.
Felix: I think I’ve heard this time and time again from these restaurant business owners was that PR that really snowballs it builds on top of each other.
Felix: That’s what happened for you it sounds like you got featured and then it started spreading more and more. People started writing about you even without you knowing about it, before you know it, people started reaching out to you to get your products in front of many millions of eyeballs. I think that’s a really great approach. For someone that, or maybe for you specifically, did you have to position or did you have the pitcher products? Your product is really unique and I think that by itself it tells a great story already. Did you also have to do any convincing when you reached to any of these publications?
Mei: Sometimes I did. I think what you mentioned too is important is, if you have a product that’s different. That’s so unique. If you’ve got a really strong USP, that’s going to really help with the pitching process. In that way you don’t have to convince people as much. Like you said, the product itself, the idea kind of just tells us a story in itself. There have been people that I’ve reached out to, that I had to kind of drive the idea home a little bit. You just need to tell them like, “This is totally different.” In my pitch, depending where you are at with how many press mentions you’ve got, and sometimes it’s helpful to include saying, “By the way, you might have seen Tiny Hands on Rachel Ray magazine.”
Talk about where you’ve already been featured and that’s going to kind of increase the desirability of, “May be you are the real deal, let me check you out a little bit more.” There are definitely some very specific but very subtle things that you can say in your email pitch to make it more attractive to the person that you are pitching to.
Felix: I think the big lesson with this and also when you are talking about reviews is that the less you are selling your business, the easier to kind of get that pitch across. You get other people to pitch you even better, whether it means mentioning, “I got featured in this place.” It kind of validates that you are a legit company, or a legit brand and you are worthy of writing a story about because someone already wrote about you.” Same thing when someone comes to your site and they are looking at your product. Your product description goes a long way but then the unbiased kind of feedback, comments and reviews from other people goes I think even further kind of closing the deal for you. I think in general the less selling you do yourself, the better then you rely on other in relying on other people to pitch for you.
Mei: One more thing that I wanted to add to that. There have been times where I have really wanted to be in for example this specific media outlet, magazine or blogger. If I feel like, they may be not very interested, then I would definitely be more, kind of, I guess I don’t want to say kowtow but it is kind of kowtowing. I would like say, “Just pick anything you want from my store. Even if it’s not for you to wear, you can give it to your nieces or your daughter or your friend’s daughter, whatever. They are great as gifts, and I’ll send it to you on the house.” I think extending free product there is, people love free product, people love getting free stuff. Just put yourself out there if you really want to get, that’s a great way to convince someone, it’s the best way I think, to just give them free stuff.
Felix: It definitely makes sense. Of course I want to a little bit about running the business itself. You said that it was you and then you had hired two production assistants, what makes up the team?
Mei: It used to be that I had four people but one of my mentors actually gave me some really great advice which I’ll talk about just really briefly. If you are looking to hire on help for your business always hire more than you think you need because half of them are going to drop out. I thought it was really crazy, strange that she said, it made sense but that was exactly what happened. At one point I had four production assistants, but two of them dropped out.
Now I’m left with the two best ones that I have. I do have a virtual assistant based in Canada. She is just kind of a friend but whose also very familiar with the polymer clay work that I do and who is also very familiar with my market. She makes for a great assistant to just help me with the social media scheduling, the email newsletters. Setting up product listings and descriptions and things like that. That’s the core team. The two production assistants, one of them does also do shipping for me, which is great because then at that point my business is pretty much hands off, when you include the virtual assistant. That frees me up time to do more product design stuff or to set up new businesses.
Felix: Very cool. I know you mentioned Yotpo earlier, and project wonderful and PassionFruits Ads for your cyber ads. Are there any other I guess services or apps that you rely on to run the business or market the business?
Mei: Yes. I use Remarkety which is my email marketing software. I love it because it’s so ecommerce driven. I think a lot of people there they are using like Mail Chimp or AWeber. I think with Mail Chimp now they do have ecommerce integration but I do think as an ecommerce store it’s very important that you have the ability to sent automatically emails for abandoned carts or for example, if you know you have a customer who spent X amount of dollars with you in the past six months, that you want to give them some sort of reward. For example, if you have someone who hasn’t bought from you in the last six months, then maybe you want to send them a 20% coupon code. With something like AWeber it’s not possible for you to do something like that. It’s important that you pick an email service that has that capability.
Klaviyo is another example but I chose Remarkety over it just because the price point was more affordable for me. Another one that I use, Ship Station. I think a lot of a lot of people have probably mentioned that, I cant do without it. Some retargeting apps that I’ve used for Facebook ads, I’ve tried Shoe Lace and Retarget app, both of them are very good and it’s very automated to just, you connect your Facebook ads account to it. It will just do it for you. if someone has visited a specific product listing but didn’t do out and buy it, then it’ll start showing that picture to them on Facebook.
That’s been very effective in terms of ROI and bringing me sales. I also use recurring billing by recharge. I do have a subscription product that’s been very successful at bringing a constant income which is important for entrepreneurs I would think. That’s a great option too if you sell a subscription product that requires recurring billing. Those are the few. I would say Receiptful, I use that, I love that too. Another one for my emails, for my invoices now at the top of my head. I’m looking at my Appstore and now I cant find it. I think it’s order printer template is another good one. That allows me to print out a packing slip that kind of has my logo on it, has the person’s address on it, has the items with the little pictures of what they ordered as well as a few of my own custom messages.
On my packing slips I would say things like, “We are only happy if you are happy. If there is something wrong with your order please email us right away at this email address. Again touching on that happiness, satisfaction guarantee sort of thing. That’s a great place to put that message because this is the packing slip that they get with the order when they open their package. We say a bunch of different things too on the packing slip for example like, “Did you love your order? If so, we’d love for you to talk about it or give us feedback or send a picture via our social media. Here are all the social media links,” and hopefully converting them to social media follower along the way. The order printer templates app has definitely been very helpful with that. I think those are the few core apps that I’ve used and has really helped with our business.
Felix: Awesome, what are the plans for the remainder of this year, what kind of goals do you have in mind for Tiny Hands?
Mei: I think definitely adding more different subscription products. The one that I mentioned is called the necklace of the month club. Subscription products really can feel. It is kind of like a different pieced all together. Because then you are really dealing with a lot of customer expectations and making sure that you are giving them the best experience possible. The way that I have it set up is people get a mystery necklace in the mail, once every two months. You can already see what the challenges are with a set up like that because then people, they don’t know what they are getting in the mail. Some of them aren’t going to like the designs I make for them. Some are going to love it.
Keeping retention rates now becomes a problem because you’ve got a subscription product. I think it still a great key to having more of that consistent income and just overall increasing your income levels. I think the next steps would be for example, a bracelet of the month club where the first month you are started off with a, like a starter set. You get the bracelets, the chains and then you get one charm. Then for the next eleventh months you get eleven different charms. I think there are different changes, there are specific changes I could make to the existing club that would make it more effective. I think that’s doing more social media, getting more price mentions. That’s kind of always an ongoing thing. For the most part, because as I mentioned before, the business pretty much runs by itself, freeing me up time to pursue other business ventures.
It’s definitely with all the press mentions, with all of the social media and the brand awareness that I’ve been able to accomplish that has definitely helped make this whole marketing thing pretty much hands off for me. I still get sales daily, even though I don’t really do anything to get those sales.
Felix: That’s definitely the dream. That’s awesome thanks so much Mei. Tinyhandsonline.come T-I-N-Y-H-A-N-D-S-O-N-L-I-N-E.com is the website. Anywhere else you’d recommend the listeners to check out if they want to follow along with what you are up to?
Mei: Yes, I love talking shops. I document a lot of the things that I try out on Tiny Hands on my separate business, it’s called creativehiveco.com. You can find blogposts, articles and free email courses that you can get that kind of walk you through step by step on for example how to get more press, how to do your prices, how to set up your Shopify store. Definitely check that out, that’s at creativehiveco.com.
Felix: Awesome, you’ll link all that in the show notes as well. Again, thanks so much for your time Mei.
Mei: No problem, thank you so much for having me Felix, it was a blast.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify masters. The ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com for a free fourteen day trial.
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About The Author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.